Remembering the Rutland - Remembering the Milk Trains

Walter Dunn recalls handling the B&M "Milk Train"

Interviewed by Jim Dufour


The following is an excerpt from an oral history that I am working on for the Rutland Railroad Historical Society's quarterly publication, The Newsliner.  It is based on an interview that I conducted with the late Walter Dunn in November of 1990.  At the time of our conversation Walter had recently retired after a long career in engine service on the Fitchburg Division of the Boston & Maine Railroad.  Why a B&M engineer in the Rutland Newsliner?   Believe it or not Walter's home terminal when he first hired on with the B&M was Rutland!  Remember: the B&M and the Rutland pooled power and crews on the Mount Royal and the Green Mountain Flyer and the home terminal for these crews was Rutland. During the early 1940s Walter's usual assignment was firing on the Mount Royal to Troy and back to Rutland. He was even called to handle an occasional extra for the Rutland. 

Eventually Walter was able to bid a job closer to Boston and this meant that he often handled Cheshire Branch trains to and from the Rutland connection at Bellows Falls.  Among these assignments were the milk trains, the subject of this excerpt.

Jim Dufour: You mentioned the milk trains.  Did you ever run any of the milk trains?

Walter Dunn: Yeah, oh yeah.  I sure did.  The milk train itself was a [first class] passenger train going north towards Bellow Falls.  It terminated at Bellows Falls and it had no connection with the Rutland other than the milk cars.  The passenger run terminated at Bellows Falls.

What that generally involved was a train of about seventeen or eighteen milk cars in each direction.  We'd take seventeen or eighteen empties up and probably pull seventeen or eighteen loaded milk cars back to Boston. Coming back to Boston, of course, was a non-stop run.  We used to leave there (Bellows Falls) around eleven o'clock at night [this was B&M train #5500, a second class train - jd] and there was no passenger travel at that time of the night anyway so it made an excellent run because you really ran non-stop.

JD: This was down the Chesire Branch?

WD: Yes, right.  You'd leave Bellows Falls and the next stop was Yard 10 in Somerville.  They used to call that "The Milk Yard."   That was originally a big milk terminal.  In the days when the B&M hauled many, many milk cars from all over, that's where they were concentrated, discharging and unloading, Yard 10 in Somerville.

JD: What was the typical power on the milk train?

WD: At one point they had the 2700 series Consolidations, the K-8 series, on there.  And then later on they put the Pacific class, the P-2 class 3600 Pacific-type engines, on there.  They were all hand-fired.  The 2700 class K-8s were all hand-fired up until about the middle of World War Two when they started to put stokers on them.  That greatly increased the ability of those engines to haul a train, but we never saw them on the milk train on the Chesire again.  They used them other places where they could really pull some tonnage.

So right up until the end of the steam era the 3600s were generally the power that was used on there.  And if one was available they'd put a P-3 on, which was a low-numbered 3700 Pacific [3700-3709 - jd]  They were stoker-fired.  They were nice engines for that type of a run because they could handle the train and make the running time.

And of course after that they replaced them with the (RS-3) Alcos.  A pair of them would haul any of the milk business that they had left.   Of course at the end of the milk train era, at the time that the McGinnis management did away with them, there was virtually no milk (traffic) anyway. McGinnis was just dedicated to getting out of that milk-hauling business. It was one of the most lucrative things that the B&M had.  The milk companies paid them, I think it was $250 a car, to haul it from Bellows Falls to Boston.  Seven nights a week, a solid train, bring it right in and drop it.  McGinnis said, "We've gotta drop it."

JD: Did most of the milk come off the Rutland; did it come down the Conn. River?  Both?

WD: I would say that most of it came off the Rutland.  That I'm not that knowledgeable on because I never had anything to do with the train consist.  In other words, on the locomotive we were only concerned with how many cars we had and what the tonnage was.  What the origin was was reflected by the waybills, which the conductor handled.  We never had any interest in where the cars came from.  But I do know that most of them came off the Rutland.

Of course a lot of milk came down from White River Junction through Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Lowell, into Boston that way [via the B&M's New Hampshire Division].  They had regularly scheduled milk trains on that line.  In fact, one of the freight trains that used to go to White River hauled some milk.  But that was a division that I wasn't familiar with although I worked on it as a fireman, but never as an engineer.   I really can't say just what the situation was regarding milk on the other divisions.

JD: Were there any pickups or drops of milk cars on the Chesire Branch itself?

WD: No. Those were solid trains.  We picked them up at Bellows Falls and hauled them right in [to Boston].  In the old days there were, but that was before my time. I guess at one point they used to stop and actually load milk cans - forty quart milk cans - into the cars.  You know, like a local [l.c.l.] freight would do. But that was gone before my time.  The demands on sanitation on the milk cars increased and they cut out that type of handling because it was precarious at best due to the bacteria which milk generates.  The last milk cars they had were really very efficient - glass-lined tanks.  It was just incredible the distance that they could go and hold the temperature of that milk.   


5507 at Roberts

Image courtesy of Bob's Photos

To illustrates Walter's narrative, we have Boston & Maine P-2-c Pacific #3681 leading Train No. 5507 around the sweeping curve above the reservoir near Roberts (Waltham), Massachusetts with milk cars destined for Bellows Falls, Vermont. In order can be seen a CPR express reefer (unusual for this route), a Whiting's car (two "triangles" and a single, green "rectangle" placard), a B&M milk reefer, a B&M 4-door milk car, another B&M milk reefer, a wood combine and a steel coach. The last three milk cars all sport Brookside placards on their flanks.

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