Bay Colony means business on Cape Cod

by Leo King
Editor

A Destination:Freedom Feature

June 1, 2004

Destination:Freedom - June 1, 2004 - Page 1 - Here

Story & all photos © 2004 - Leo King


  The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

The Cape Cod Scenic Ry. Tourist train

All photos: NCI: Leo King

The Cape Cod Scenic Ry. Tourist train flashes by Yarmouth at 25 mph – it looks faster – and disappears into the woods on this dark, gloomy, rainy June 19, 1996. Its next stop is Hyannis, just two miles away. Bay Colony GP-9 1789 is on the point with a Budd dome car immediately behind. In a few minutes, X1702N – the trash train – which has been stopped for a few minutes waiting for the meet, will resume its journey.

 

Bay Colony means business on Cape Cod

A seemingly disjointed line keeps an ex-New Haven route busy

The writer lived in New England in 1996 and had an opportunity to spend a day with the Bay Colony Railroad. The story remained unpublished until now.

By Leo King
Editor

Buzzards Bay, Mass., June 19, 1996 – John Fitzgerald Kennedy sat at the desk some 20 feet above the nearby track waiting for a northbound extra train to come creeping over the Cape Cod Canal vertical lift bridge. John, who was named after his grandfather, was dispatching this afternoon for the Bay Colony Railroad. The year was 1996.

A ballast regulator had been out tamping earlier, and now was nearing the end of its journey toward a spur to tie up for the day, but it was running ahead of an extra. Meanwhile, the extra had been held at its clearance limit until the track equipment was in the clear.

Dispatcher John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Dispatcher John Fitzgerald Kennedy lines the route for the Cape Cod Scenic Budd car “dry run” in Buzzard’s Bay Tower, barely west of the Cape Cod Canal vertical list bridge, west of the cape.

 

Engineer Phil Nickse called bridge operator Frank Williams for the bridge, while his train was between MPs 54.9 and 54.6. Frank lowered the deck 135 feet to line up the rails. The bridge is one of the few spans in the world in which both ends rise.

The span’s bottom was barely some seven feet above mean high tide.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers had dispatched its patrol boat to stop any northbound canal traffic (moving with the current) while the bridge was down.

The bridge was built “between 1933 and 1935,” Frank said, “and replaced a bascule bridge.” The Bourne and Sagamore highway bridges were built during the same period, he added.

It takes about three minutes for the span to descend, and after Frank had it down and locked, John rose from his desk to turn a group of levers on the interlocking machine, also installed circa 1935 for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.

Clouds and fog draped listlessly over the scene. An enormous low-pressure system had entered New England on Sunday, then stalled, blanketing southeastern Canada, all of New England, the Ohio Valley and northern Virginia with rain showers, a little thunder and lightning, and fog. The temperature was around 68. The weather stayed that way for more than a week. Taking pictures of moving trains would be tough for any passing photographers, even with high-speed film.

The extra train, a pair of Budd cars from the Cape Cod Scenic (CCS) Railroad, was operating this Thursday afternoon as part of a celebration for the New Bedford Standard-Times, which had opened a new Cape bureau at Wareham, Mass.

Rita Thieme, speaking for the Standard-Times, said they were hosting an open house at the bureau to also celebrate its new main plant location.

“The Cape Cod Scenic offered to bring a train” to help in the celebration, she said. “They donated their services as good corporate citizens.” The CCS operates partly over Bay Colony’s tracks.

The first trip, a “dry run,” was supposed to depart Hyannis, at milepost (MP) 79.0, at 1:30 p.m., but that slipped to almost two o’clock. One of 30 Forms D to be issued this day gave the Extra 6143 North permission to occupy “Cape Main Track between Yarmouth [at MP 75.5] and Sagamore,” at MP 59.7, and eventually to Wareham (MP 49.3).

Just like a scene from the 1950s, when the New York, New Haven & Hartford plied these tracks, Extra 6143 North exits the Cape Cod Canal railroad bridge enroute to Wareham. The privately owned 6143 passes Buzzard’s Bay Tower trailed by the second car, the 6126. Both were operating units.

 

One lever locked the bridge, another lined and locked the split-point derails, yet another lever lined up the switch on the south side for the Cape Main, and the next pair, first the 4R signal then the 5R, displayed a “restricting” signal (red over red over yellow on a vertical searchlight stack) to allow the train to cross the bridge. Another signal on the north side of the bridge displayed another restricting to permit movement into “Form D Control System” territory.

At last, the former Boston & Maine 6143, carrying McGinnis B&M logos on its ends and Cape Cod Scenic 6126, crossed the long bridge at track speed – a leisurely pace of 5 mph. The paired Budds crossed the 544-foot span at around 2:30 p.m., and John dutifully performed his dispatching duties by recording the time the train passed by the tower on his train sheet.

Buzzard’s Bay station

It looks like a postcard. Buzzard’s Bay station is at the left, the track is to the right out of view, the ex-New Haven railroad tower is still in service on Bay Colony’s only interlocking plant, and the big bridge in the background.

 

Conductor Fred Pegnato, who acquired the 6143 last summer, waved to the tower as his train passed by it and the station next door, now the Bourne Chamber of Commerce office. The Cape Cod Scenic picked up the 6126 in 1990 for an undisclosed sum.

This is the only place on all of the Bay Colony with a working interlocking plant. Everywhere else, the trains operate on Ford D authority, and all of the other switches are hand-operated. A signal system was installed about six years earlier, but it has yet to be turned on and motors Installed on the switches. The new centralized traffic control model board sits on the tower floor collecting dust. When it is installed, however, the dispatcher will be able to control routes from just south of Middleborough to Falmouth, Yarmouth, and Hyannis.

When he isn’t dispatching, John runs engines, as does Dave Guathier. Dave owns the early morning job that reports to the railroad’s operating headquarters at East Wareham (MP 50.3) at 5:30 a.m., where he takes the southbound empty “trash train” back to the trash station at the town of Yarmouth, at MP 2.05 on the South Dennis Running Track. On this morning, after they delivered the empties, there were only three loads to pick up, and, because there were so many trains that would be crossing the bridge this day, Superintendent John Pimentel asked him to go to the tower to work the rest of the day dispatching. The afternoon crew would finish the work.

He and Kennedy (who relieved Dave around 1:30 p.m.), are both qualified conductors as well. Like many short-line, non-union railroads, each person is expected to learn how to competently do jobs other than his primary task.

Alco S-4 1058 is stored out of service

Alco S-4 1058 is stored out of service on the shop track at East Wareham – virtually the junk pile for the Bay Colony as well as its nerve center in a small office. Alco RS-1 1064 is stored on the siding adjacent to the main, as is GP-8 1750.

 

Kennedy, for instance, is also the railroad’s rules examiner, and qualifies everyone in the operating department on “Operating Movement Form D” procedures, how to perform conducting duties, how to operate the GP-9s, GE-44 tonners and lone CF-7 the road operates, to understand signal rules, (they have so few signals, that’s easy), and so on. Gauthier has worked for the Bay Colony for more than 10 years, and Kennedy for four years, but he worked for the former Cape Cod & Hyannis between 1981 and 1988, when the road folded after failing to get an expected state subsidy.

Back in March I queried Superintendent Pimentel if I could visit his railroad in June. I didn’t get an answer until June, but it was worth the wait.

Pimentel is a pleasant man who has “been with the railroad since day one – June 12,1982.”

“Our new schedule began about a month ago,” he explained. The morning trains leave from Yarmouth and Otis [Air National Guard Base] (MP 6.8 on the Falmouth line) with solid waste and haul the loads to the SeMass waste-to-energy plant at Rochester (MP 44).

“SeMass” is pronounced “see-mass,” with both syllables getting the same stress.

The crews do their switching and blocking wherever they can find room.

“Yard? We don’t have a yard. What you see is out there,” he said, pointing to a short passing siding and repair-in-place track just outside his window. The offices are housed in two long house trailers. One is for the “super,” and the other for Mechanical officer David A. Pina and his staff of Richard Rebell, his assistant, and Anesti Tirnko, recently landed from Albania.

Engine 1750, the Gordon H. Fay, was restored to service, repainted, relettered, and stenciled in June after being out of service since 1992. It has one of the railroad’s owner’s names newly stenciled on the side, as well as its designation as a “GP-8.” David said they “replaced the ‘B’ block with a ‘C’ block.

“We put in a 567C power plant.” Only a few minor parts need to be added, he said, otherwise it’s ready to go.

“We’ve had it out to try it, and it ran just fine,” he said proudly.

Two first generation diesels, Alco RS-1 No. 1064 and former Cape Cod Alco S-4 1058, remain stored out of service at East Wareham.

Just before the Budd cars arrived, two young men entered the tower bearing payroll checks for the dispatchers and bridge operators. They were the crew enroute to the South Dennis Running Track to start the 1702 and the afternoon’s work.

Dave Briggs starts his day

Conductor Dave Briggs hauls his stuff into the cab of ex-Conrail and Providence & Worcester GP-9 1702 as he and engineer Kashin Weeks prepare to start the engine.

 

After the “first trick” crew ties up for the day, they drive a leased company car back to their headquarters at East Wareham where the p.m. crew picks it up and drives back to the transfer station in Yarmouth, at MP 2.05 on the South Dennis Running Track. The superintendent had arranged for me to ride with this crew today, but because the Budd extra was running so late, I thought I had missed my ride.

Wrong, fortunately.

”Uh, listen, I said, if you fellows can wait until the extra goes by, if you have the time, I can ride out with you. It’ll be by in a few minutes.”

Kashin Weeks responded, “Sure, we can wait. I found your name in my mailbox; it said you’d be riding with us.”

I explained that I thought I had missed my ride, but because they had been kind enough to deliver the paychecks, all was well on this summer solstice day – the longest day of the year in terms of daylight hours. There was a pot of gold at the end of my rainbow, after all.

Kashin, the engineer, and conductor Dave Briggs – who had qualified just three weeks earlier – watched the Budds roll by. Kashin is the “old man” of this crew, all of 23. Dave is 21.

The ride was filled with mostly small talk. Kashin discovered that the Enterprise rental car’s windshield wipers didn’t work after some light showers began. The windshield wasn’t completely obscured, but we had to slow down. By the time we got to the silent 1702, the sprinkles had stopped.

The trash collection point is behind Bay Colony’s GP-9 1702

The trash collection point is behind Bay Colony’s GP-9 1702. The derail will come down before the engine goes anywhere.

 

Conrail owns the engine, leased it to the Providence & Worcester several years ago, and P&W subleases it to Bay Colony. It still wears P&W paint.

We loaded our gear aboard the engine, and Kashin cranked the 1,700-horsepower beast. It started on the first try, but after idling for about five minutes, it began to sputter. Kashin caught it in time. He showed me a button on the end of the power plant.

See that button? You have to hold that in a few minutes during the startup, otherwise it’ll stall.”

Dave walked ahead to flag a grade crossing not far from where we were parked.

The locomotive ended its burbling reverie and roared to life, ready to work. The trainmen had checked the air pressure, set at 90 ppsi, and Kashin tugged the throttle up a notch or two and released the air. We began inching forward.

The move was that after the engine came out of its stubby parking track, Kashin would back up the engine to the six waiting loaded cars at the Town of Yarmouth transfer station. He is a qualified conductor, so he could have made his own hitch and tie the air lines together, but Dave performed the chores. Dave had opened the switch so the engine could get out, and, after we cleared the points, he lined the switch normal again, and we picked up three recently loaded cars, then tied onto the three cars the morning crew had gathered. He added the period to the end of his sentence with a flashing rear-end device, then came back to the engine.

We were ready to operate north on the running track with verbal permission from the dispatcher to occupy the iron. It took just a few minutes to get to Yarmouth, which is a junction point.

The dispatcher told us over the radio that we would have to wait a few minutes at Yarmouth until a CCS train passed us on the Cape Main. It wasn’t long before we saw the train coming out of the woods around a sharp curve at about 25 mph only to disappear into the woods again a moment later.

That’s a sharp curve there, and the train appeared to be going faster than it was, but that’s mostly because the train is nearly on top of an observer so quickly.

Now it was time to get a Form D to occupy the main track. Kennedy, still dispatching back at Buzzards Bay tower, spelled it out:

“Form D number B-20. Today’s date, June 19, 1996.

“To C&E, [conductor and engineer] Extra one-seven-zero-two North at Weymouth.

“Line thirteen... Operate in north direction on Cape Main Track between Yarmouth and Sagamore.”

The conductor read back the Form D.

“Roger. Time effective 4:57 p.m. Dispatcher Kennedy.”

We were ready to go. Kashin brought the engine up to the switch, Dave lined it and gave us permission to proceed, and after we passed the points, lined it normal again. He walked back to the now stopped engine.

Dave Briggs flags the nearby crossing

Dave Briggs flags the nearby crossing.

 

Engineer Kashin Weeks nudges the 1702 ahead.

Engineer Kashin Weeks nudges the 1702 ahead.

 

After he was aboard, we continued our journey. Our next stop would be at Gallo Construction Co. in Sagamore to pick up a covered fly ash car, which would later be interchanged with Conrail at Middleborough.

The Cape Cod Scenic Railroad’s dinner train was out by now, enroute from Hyannis to Sandwich, “Canal” and return. The other trash train was also out with three loads from Otis Air National Guard Base en route to SeMass (and running far ahead of us) – all in addition to the CCS’s Budd car extra.

The CCS operates an excursion train three times each day, and a dinner train daily-except-Mondays through the summer. Bay Colony co-owner George Bartholomew also owns the Cape Cod Scenic.

All the Bay Colony’s engines are restricted to 30 mph because there are no enhanced safety features, such as event recorders or a cab signal system.

With the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority rebuilding the former Old Colony line to restore commuter service between South Station in Boston, Braintree, Middleborough and Kingston, the day may be approaching when the railroad will be required to install the cab signals.

Another unknown factor is how the pending takeover of the Conrail lines by New England Central, a RailTex company, will affect the Bay Colony. Their primary interchange point is at Middleborough for all Cape Cod routes. Everyone I spoke with, from the superintendent on down, had no answers because no one knows. RailTex is supposed to take over in August if the sale proceeds as planned. The Providence & Worcester is also taking over a few lines, but New England Central is getting the lion’s share.

Add to that mix Amtrak’s Cape Codder trains which would begin operating on June 29. This year, the train leaves Boston at 7:35 p.m., stopping at Back Bay and Route 128, then goes to Providence. It leaves the Rhode Island capital city at 8:40 p.m., makes a right turn at Attleboro and makes station stops at Taunton, Wareham, Buzzards Bay, Sandwich, West Barnstable and arrives at Hyannis at 11:20 p.m.

On the return trip, it leaves Hyannis at 4:15 p.m., makes the same station stops, departs Providence at 7:10 p.m., and arrives in South Station at 7:03.

Approach to Cape Cod Canal bridge

The 1702 and the trash train approach Cape Cod Canal vertical lift bridge.

 

About a half-mile before our train got to Sagamore, we dropped our six loaded cars on the main and ran light to the facing point switch at Gallo Construction.

Dave hopped off, lined the iron for us to enter, and tied us onto the first car, KEYX 4005, which was the loaded car we would take with us when we resumed our journey. The car was a 50-foot, high-sided “bathtub” gondola with sloping sides, and widest at the top, just beginning its journey to Arkansas. Its top was completely covered with white plastic sheeting to keep the ash dry inside the car.

They set the car out onto the main, went back and grabbed a couple of more cars, shuffled the deck, put them all back except the car we came for, then grabbed the load.

A 41-car capacity passing siding is nearby, so we ran southward on the main (technically we were merely returning to our train; the six trash cars were an “iron flag”), dropped the car clear of the switch, took the siding (with a good amount of grass growing between the ties), and ran all the way to the other end. When we came out, we went southward again, tied onto the ash car, backed up to our train, and tied on. We now had seven loads, no empties.

Cape Cod Canal movable bridge

The movable span is 544 feet long on the Cape Cod Canal movable bridge, and it rises 135 feet. It weighs 2,200 tons, says the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the bridge, and it takes four motors to lift it. There is a 10-foot tide in the canal and 32-foot draft vessels can ply its waters. The bridge bottom is a mere seven feet above mean high tide.

Builder's Plate
After the train’s air line pressure was back up, we rolled up to the Sagamore station sign planted in the ground and came to a stop. Our form D had been fulfilled, and now it was time either for a new one or a “line 2” addition.

To understand how the mileposts are measured, one has to go back to before the turn of the century. The Old Colony Railroad had laid tracks as the railroad boom began, Ca. 1850. By the time they leased their tracks to the New Haven Railroad in 1895, the granite mileposts had been permanently planted all along the west side of the tracks, so, milepost 75.5, Yarmouth, on the Cape Main, is measured from South Station in Boston.

Dispatcher Kennedy opted to give Dave and Kashin an addition to their current Form D. The written instruction was permission to operate from Sagamore to Canal Jct. (MP 54.9) – the south side of Cape Cod Canal railroad bridge. The time effective for the addition, coincidentally, was 5:49 p.m.

While we were en route, Kennedy gave us a second Form D addition, which the conductor recorded, giving us the track between Canal Jct. to MP 44, just past a switch that would get us into the SeMass arrival track and yard.

For the day, Kennedy said later, “We wrote 30 Forms D plus additions. We wrote about 50 or 60 permissions that day.” Not a record, he said, but busy.

Some time after we got the okay to go, we passed a permanently displayed approach indication from an elderly upper quadrant semaphore signal, located about a mile in advance of the home signal protecting the movable bridge. We rolled over the canal bridge at the prescribed 5 mph, picked up speed on the other side, and continued on to “East Wazoo.”

After a while, we got a new Form D, B-130, giving us authority to operate in both directions between Yarmouth and Middleborough (MP 36.3) and return, including the destination for the solid waste cars in Rochester. The faint odor was just enough to let us know what we were hauling.

By the time we passed “East Wazoo,” as some folks call East Wareham, it was too dark for any more picture-taking. Track speed on this part of the layout is 60 mph for passenger trains, 40 for freight... if the engine has an event recorder. FRA rules, however, prohibit engines without the recorders from traveling faster than 30.

Double-track begins just south of Rochester, and a hand-operated crossover is semi-permanently lined from single-track to track 2, and leads to a double-ended, five-track yard at the waste treatment plant. SeMass owns the yard. Bay Colony doesn’t have a station there, so in the railroad timetable it’s simply treated as an industrial spur.

When we got there, the Otis train was standing still. The waste treatment workers had only unloaded one car, and still had two more to go.

It wasn’t until a few days later I learned that the plant had been sold that very day. Apparently there had been some kind of job action because not all of the 200 unionized employees were rehired when the new owners took over. An American Ref-Fuel spokesman said 65 unionized workers were on the payroll, but a union leader claimed only 54 were rehired, according to the New Bedford Standard Times the following day.

It took about an hour for the Otis train, with the engine 1752, to get itself together and get out of town. While we were still tied to our train, the 1752’s crew tied their cars onto the front of our engine, backed off and got into the clear on a yard track, waited for us to shove their cars north of their location, then, after we were out of the way, tied onto their cars for their southward journey. They got a Form D giving them authority to go back to Otis. They were gone as soon as they read back their Form D to the dispatcher.

That short, five-track, double-ended yard at Rochester is useful.

Kashin and Dave set out the ash car on a track (the yard was now completely empty), then went about the business of pulling the trash car string off the arrival track and inserting the last car into the dumper.

The train crews can only insert one car at a time, although they are permitted to bring the entire string with them.

A trash car is placed onto a rotating dumper, after which the engine uncouples and pulls away with any still-loaded cars it may have with it.

A rolling, lifting door drops down and closes, and a signal guarding the entrance goes to red. Inside, the dumper locks up the car in place with several large clamps along the sides, a mechanism lifts the roof off the car, the dumper rotates (compacted back at each transfer station) spills the contents, then rotates around again to level track, the red signal changes to green as the door opens, and the engine moves ahead to get the car and set it off onto an adjacent track.

While the cycle starts over, the crew goes back to the now-empty car and sets it out on a yard track... and so it goes until the job is done. All that takes about two hours – on a good day. During the peak summer months, they may handle a dozen cars in a train. This day, it took about 90 minutes to complete the task.

The crew left the now-empty trash cars in the yard, and went behind the ash gon to shove it seven miles northward. They had to push the car because it was going to go into an industrial spur at a facing-point switch for Conrail to get.

After Dave tied the engine and car together, he clambered aboard the leading end of the ash car, and we were off. As we approached each of four grade crossings, he called out on the radio that the flashers were working as soon as he could see them. It was dark by now, and the sight distances were very good.

Kashin moved the one-car train most of the distance at 25 mph or less. Pushing a car like that, an engineer is virtually blind; the lookout on the leading end is a necessity. They set out the car at the Ocean Spray cannery, where all that cranberry is packed. Conrail would come down later to pick it up.

Kashin explained that had we gone another mile northward, we would have come to Pilgrim, the south end of Conrail’s Middleborough yard, and a new, high-platform MBTA station under construction as well as the site of a “T” end-of-line facility where the commuter trains will eventually tie up overnight on the Old Colony branch.

When David returned to the 1702, we saw that he had specks of grease on his arms and shirt, but he hadn’t been splattered by too many bugs on the northward trip. Kashin said the company was looking for a caboose to make piping moves like that a lot easier and safer.

Our trip back to Rochester to get the now empty trash cars was uneventful.

The last 15-minute leg was also uneventful, and we tied up at about 12:45 a.m. Kashin turned off the locomotive’s radio, then shut down the engine.

My motel was no more than five minutes away.

I was, as they say, “wiped out.”

 

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Destination:Freedom - June 1, 2004 - Page 1 - Here


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