So Now I Own a Railroad?

Several weeks back I hinted to one of my regular contacts that I was considering creating a Model Railroad. This would be quite a departure from previous models that I have made which were staunchly British practice and leaning heavily towards the London Midland region in the British Railways era. The little I know of US Railroad practice stems from driving various routes on Railworks and occasional TV programmes, so why am I thinking of going American? Put it down to a desire to do something different! Space will be limited, so any layout will be a terminus with the emphasis on shunting. But before I start (if I ever start) I need to research the subject and come up with a viable true-life or what-if scenario on which to base the model.

The Portland area of Maine as driven in my A Day Out in the Geep post suggested a good starting point with its connections northwards to the Canadian border. So I started looking in that general area – researching the Guilford and other companies. I was really looking for a Shortline outfit or the potential to What-if one out of the wide blue yonder. One shortline leads to another or the research does and my eye was gradually drawn further north and deeper into the history of the US Railroads that is so different from the UK. I also looked at some UK vendors of US rolling stock and stumbled upon a model of an ALCO RS-11 locomotive in Central Vermont livery. It was this that triggered my research in the direction of Vermont where I discovered The Addison Road…

There is little left of The Addison Road today. If you were to look for it passing through Addison, VT, you would be wasting your time. The county town was not on the route. A little aside here – In the UK Addison would just about be considered a Village, as would most of the other town’s in Addison County and perhaps that lack of population was always going to be one of the key factors behind the line’s ultimate decline and closure. However, at the time that it was proposed and constructed (1870-71), the nearby Rutland Railroad under the Chairmanship of John B Page needed an alternate route to provide an outlet for their freight to Plattsburg and thus to the Grand Trunk Railroad and Canada – circumventing an embargo by their local rival, the Central Vermont.

The Addison Road connected with the Rutland Railroad at Leicester Junction from where it routed to a depot on South Main Street, Whiting, before continuing to its Shoreham depot close to the Lemon Fair River, over which there was a covered bridge that remains to this day. Next stop down the line was Orwell – located some distance north of the town on North Orwell Road. From there it went to Larrabees Point on the edge of Lake Champlain. If the connection was to ultimately be made with the Grand Trunk, the Lake would have to be crossed. This was achieved with a trestle bridge and a floating pontoon section that could be swung out of the way to allow boats to pass up and down the lake. If the trackwork of the Addison was laid in a poor fashion (there was pressure to complete the line within a year) such that it would have caused concern to the railways inspectorate in the UK, the solution to crossing Lake Champlain would have brought on fits of apoplexy and the line would never have been passed for traffic – but this is the US and such things were acceptable in a purely commerce driven environment. Thus the Addison was able to connect to the Whitehall and Plattsburgh at Ticonderoga.

Page’s gambit proved successful – the Central Vermont saw no option but to take control of the Rutland Railroad by leasing it, including the Addison Railroad, from its bondholders for a considerable sum of money. However, this made the Addison less important and in many ways it was allowed to wither on the vine. It wasn’t helped when the bridge was declared unfit for trains to cross and wagons had to be pushed onto the bridge for collection from the other end. Consignments ending up in the lake were common and one locomotive spent a year on the bottom. The floating bridge was finally closed in 1923. From then until the 1950’s the Addison was operated as a shortline before being trimmed back one stop at a time to be finally closed in 1961 – ironically because its owning railroad, the Rutland, could not afford to operate it and needed the cash from the scrap rails!

The Rutland track still runs through Leicester Junction though it is now owned by Vermont County and leased to the Vermont Railroad. You can still follow the route of the Addison from Leicester as it wandered across the Vermont farmlands. It once shifted loads of cheese, butter and grain to serve Boston, Baltimore and New York but there is little sign of that past now. Both Shoreham and Orwell depots seem to have become homes for local farmers. Of Whiting and Larrabees Point there is little to see but the crossing point on Lake Champlain is easily identified.

I was so engaged with the story of the Addison Railroad as told on the Vergennes Union High School site at http://www.vuhs.org/arrhs/index.html and also on the Rutland History site at http://www.rutlandhistory.com/documents/RHSQVol.40No.12010.pdf that I subsequently tracked down a copy of an excellent book by Jim Shaughnessy called The Rutland Road. It has proved to be an absolutely fascinating read and a thrilling ride through the politics of Vermont railroads. Such intrigues were never a part of the UK railway scene even at the height of railway mania!

So how are my What-ifs? Well, there are a number of ideas based on the current situation and some possibilities that were proposed in the days of the Rutland. One of the most amazing is the possibility of a railroad operated by a farmers co-operative! Believe it or not, that was actually proposed as a way of saving the Rutland Railroad which was operating as itself again (and by association, the Addison) at a time of crisis in the late 1940’s! You can imagine how such a radical idea was greeted in McCarthy Era America?!! It smelled of Communism and was quickly duck-shoved yet it could well have made all the difference for the railways in the area. Ironically, farmers co-operatives were common but I guess farmers doing something industrial like driving a train was a step too far!

It’s not improbable that in a more favourable economic climate the Addison would have remained as a shortline as far as Orwell serving the local farming community – it could be operated by the Vermont Railroad or by its own locomotives. Again, the creameries and grain of the area would provide outgoing traffic whilst farm machinery and feed would be incoming. A third possibility could be a preserved line – a number of these run passenger trains for enthusiasts/tourists but also operate freight services to generate cash, so there is a precedent. Lots of ideas there 🙂

Anyway, what started out as looking for an excuse to build a Railroad became a deeper investigation into local American Railroad politics and I suspect that I will return to tell some more of the tales of the Rutland Railroad as well as the Addison in the future 🙂

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Comments

  1. I certainly hope so! You may discover a family connection, it is, after all, the Addison Railroad!
    America has always had a love/hate relationship with railroads. When I was a young girl, love was in the ascendency, and American trains criss-crossing the entire country were very good. These days I’m afraid hate rides the tracks! Where I live we could so use local railroads — but no one wants to spend the money. Sad sad sad. It’s exciting to read your account so filled with excitement, somehow it makes me a little hopeful. Writing history gives something importance.

    • Hi Judith, I have stumbled across a number of green shoots regarding a restoration of Rail in the US – some people are alive to the environmental advantages of getting some of the freight off the roads and of offering regular passenger services.

      I fear that the biggest issue for the US Railroads has always been one of decentralised government and the need to make a profit. With each state having its own legislature and with such a strong emphasis on capitalist achievement it becomes difficult to do what was really needed to save the US Railroads. In the UK our railway system was made the ‘peoples’ railway by a Central Government law in 1864 requiring some London Suburban companies to run two ‘workmans’ trains per day at a fixed affordable fare. Then, after the 1st World War with many companies likely to go to the wall with their equipment worn out from lack of maintenance during wartime service the government stepped in with the 1921 Railways Act, merging over 120 companies into the ‘Big Four’. The second world war once again brought the railways to their knees and resulted in their Nationalisation.

      Effectively, the difference between the UK experience and that of the US is that the UK’s central government recognised from very early on in the history of railways that they were an essential public service and when they could no longer turn a profit the nation would have to subsidise them. Can you imagine such a level of central government interference ever being acceptable in the US? Of course, that’s just my take on the situation and I’m sure many different readings could be applied by others!

      Ironically, it was a central government act that mortally wounded the Rutland Railroad – the Panama Canal Act of 1915. That’s a tale for another post perhaps…

      As for Addison County – I note that the current ShireTown is Middlebury though presumably Addison was originally? I guess the seat of local government moved as Middlebury grew to be the largest of the County’s towns.

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