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Posts Tagged ‘Railroad Artifacts’

Last Saturday I did a post about a rail trail that I had hiked in Winchester and in that post I mentioned that I was a bit anxious that the trail looked like it was no longer being maintained. The maintenance of many of these rail trails is handled by local snowmobile clubs. They volunteer their time and effort to keep these trails open for winter use but there is only so much they can do, and I’m afraid they might have had to let that one go. This post will show what happens to a trail when it is no longer maintained, and why the thought that some trails might no longer be maintained gets me a little anxious.

Two weeks ago we had a thunderstorm. It didn’t seem like anything special; we expect thunderstorms in June in this part of the world. It only lasted for maybe 20 minutes and as I say, it didn’t seem like anything special. Until I looked out my window and saw my neighbor’s huge old oak tree on my lawn, that is. Then I knew that this wasn’t just a June thunderstorm. In fact thousands of trees had been blown down all over the state, and close to 100,000 people lost power because of it. This day, on this trail, I saw at least 10 trees that had blown across the trail, but they had all been cleaned up. Do we ever wonder who does all the cleaning up? I wonder. Some trees fell where I work, and it took all day for two of us to clean up a single pine tree like the one pictured above. It was a lot of work, and that was just one tree.

There will be more tree work on this trail; I saw 3 or 4 trees that had fallen and gotten hung up on trees on the other side of the trail. These are called “widow makers” and I hope nobody is under them when they come down.

I’m still not seeing many fungi because of the dryness, but a little rain the day before was apparently enough to coax this yellow mushroom into fruiting. It had a little slug damage on the cap but it was still worthy of a photo or two.

A colony of heal all plants (Prunella lanceolata) grew in a sunny spot, still moist from the previous day’s showers. I love to see these small but beautiful orchid like flowers.

Other flowers I like to see are maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoids) and they found sunny spots to grow in too. At first I thought they were their cousins the Deptford pinks (Dianthus armeria) but the jagged circle in the center of the flower told the story. Deptford pinks don’t have this feature.  They should be along any time now.

There are lots of box culverts carrying streams under this rail trail but much of the rail bed was built on fill that was packed between two hills, and in some cases it’s a 50 foot climb down to see the culverts. This example was the only one that was just a few feet below the rail bed. That granite lintel stone over the opening is about two feet thick; strong enough to have locomotives roll over it for well over a century.

There are plenty of other reminders of the railroad out here as well, like this old signal box. I once had an asbestos abatement contractor tell me that these were often lined with asbestos, so it’s best to just let them be.

Old stone walls still mark the boundary lines between private and railroad property.

I’ve never seen a horse on this trail but you can tell that they’ve been here.

I was surprised to find many pinesap plants (Monotropa hypopitys) up and ready to bloom. I don’t usually find these until well after their cousins the Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) bloom, but I haven’t seen a single Indian pipe yet this year. The chief differences between the two plants are color and flower count. Indian pipes are stark white and have a single flower, while pinesap plants are honey colored or reddish with multiple flowers. Neither plant photosynthesizes. Instead they receive nutrients from fungi that are associated with the roots of oaks and pines.

I’m guessing this log must act like a sponge and hold water, because it had coral fungus all over it. I think the soil is simply too dry to support much fungi at the moment.

I think these were crown tipped coral fungi (Clavicorona pyxidata) but since I don’t have a microscope to make identification a certainty, please don’t hold me to that.

This is a great trail for groups of people to walk because it is so wide. I think 4 people could walk side by side over most of it. It is level over much of its length and mostly arrow straight as well. When it does curve the curves are so gentle you don’t even realize it.

And that is why this should tell you something; the railroad would have never built anything like this. It’s hard to tell but it goes steeply uphill and the curves are far too sharp for a train to follow. That’s because this is a detour around the actual railbed, which lies abandoned over there on the right.

If you were to ignore the detour and keep walking straight on, this is what you’d find; the original rail bed. After I climb over and under a few downed trees, we’ll have a look.

The original rail bed was another deep cut, with a man-made canyon hacked out of the stone hillside. I’ve explored it before and found that the far end is blocked by many tons of gravel, which was poured into the canyon when a road was built across it. It’s a confusing conundrum, because I’m sure both the road and railbed are very old. If the road was there when the railbed was built there should be a tunnel under the road. If the road was built later over a running railroad there would have been a bridge or trestle over the rails. In any event there is just a huge mound of gravel at the end, and that has caused the drainage ditches on either side of the railbed to fail, so I got very wet feet in here. I should have worn my winter hikers.

These photos show what our rail trails would look like if the maintenance on them were to suddenly stop. When I say that we owe our snowmobile clubs and all of the other volunteers who keep these trails open a huge debt of gratitude, I’m not joking. I think it took me over two hours to pick my way through the entire length the first time I explored it, and this section isn’t even a mile long.

The woods have a luminous quality out here but even so this part isn’t a very pleasant walk. I spent far more time climbing over trees and avoiding walking in standing water than I did actually walking so I decided not to follow the canyon to the end. Standing in ankle deep mud taking photos isn’t much fun, so my only thought was to get out of here.

I grew up in a house that was just a few yards from a Boston and Maine Railroad track that freight trains ran over twice a day, so when I saw them tear up all the rails and take them away it was traumatic enough to keep me off rail trails for a very long time. Seeing a dirt trail where the trains once ran was a hard thing but finally after 30 years or so I convinced myself that it was time to get over it and I’ve been walking these rail trail ever since. In that time I’ve discovered what a great gift they are. For a nature lover who wants to get far into the woods without having to cut a trail, there is simply nothing that can compare. I hope we will all do our best to keep them open, even if it is simply telling a town or state representative how much we enjoy them. To stand aside and watch nature reclaim something so unique and valuable would be a real tragedy, in my opinion.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1. Pink lady's Slippers

As I said in the last post, rail trails are excellent places to find rare and hard to find plants, including pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule.) I know of one trail where they grow all along one side of it. How can you witness something so beautiful and not feel grateful to simply be alive?

2. Ashuelot Depot

This old depot in Ashuelot, New Hampshire, just south of Keene, isn’t as elaborately adorned as some that still stand in this area but it has been taken care of and seems to be fairly complete, except for the wooden platform it surely must have had. The train would have stopped just a few feet out from that red door. This was on the Ashuelot branch of the Cheshire Railroad, which was part of the Boston and Maine Railroad system. The Cheshire Railroad ran from Keene to Brattleboro, Vermont, and from there north into central Vermont or south to Massachusetts.

3. Flying_Yankee 1935

A sister train to the Flying Yankee pictured here would have carried passengers on the Cheshire Railroad from 1935 until its retirement in 1957. The gleaming stainless steel streamliner with “Cheshire” on its nameplate ran over 3 million miles in its history as a state of the art diesel passenger train. Its second car was a combination baggage / mail / buffet dining car and the third car was coach seating and had a rounded end with 270 degrees of glass for observation. It carried 88 passengers. Thanks go to the Troy Cheshire Railroad Depot Commission for providing this information, and to Wikipedia for the photo.

4. Boxcars

I know that a lot of freight was hauled over these rails but I was surprised to find these old boxcars slowly sinking into the earth outside an old abandoned paper mill. There was a lumber yard and warehouses across the tracks from my grandmother’s house and when I was a boy I used to play in and on boxcars just like these. That was back when the trains were running so I also used to get chased out of them frequently.

5. Boxcar Side

These cars were from the Green Mountain Railroad, which still runs as a scenic railway through parts of Vermont.

6. Boxcar Couplings

The old boxcars weren’t coupled correctly, so if you moved one the other wouldn’t follow. Can you see what the problem is?

7. Train Coupling

This is how knuckle couplers should look when coupled to move the cars in tandem. The parts with the holes through them should always front to back as they are in this photo from Wikipedia. Or side to side, depending on how you choose to look at them.

8. Fringed Polygala Colony

I recently found the largest colony of fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia) that I’ve ever seen growing out in the middle of nowhere, alongside a rail trail.

9. Fringed Polygala

It’s always a pleasure to see these little winged beauties. It took quite a bike ride to get to them but it was worth the achy knees.

10. Abandoned Paper Mill

New Hampshire used to have a lot of paper mills but many have gone out of business. This one seems to be slowly crumbling. I’ve watched buildings like this crumble before and it always seems to start with an unrepaired leak in the roof. The water coming through the roof rots the roof rafters, floor joists and sills, and finally the rotting building is too weak to handle the snow load and, usually after a heavy snowfall, down it comes.

11. Railroad Artifact

You can find many old rusting railroad artifacts along these rail trails. I took a photo of this object because I didn’t know what it was, and I still don’t. It was about a foot long and quite heavy.

13. Rock Slime

In my 50+ years of being in these woods I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite so strange as this-whatever it is. I call it rock slime because it looked slimy but I was surprised when I poked my finger into it, to find that it felt like cool water and wasn’t slimy or sticky at all. It hung down for about a foot under a rock overhang that constantly dripped water, so that it couldn’t dry out. If you’re reading this and know what it is, or if you’ve seen something like it, I’d love to hear from you.

12. Rock Slime Closeup

This is a close up of the rock slime. The back looked the same as the front. Are those eyes I see in there?

14. Dead End

Sometimes, rarely but sometimes, you run into a dead end on a rail trail. This fallen tree marked the end of the maintained part of this trail and it reminded me that this is what they would all look like if it wasn’t for the dedicated, hardworking volunteers that keep these trails open for the rest of us. Here in New Hampshire it is mostly snowmobile clubs that do this work all summer and they accept donations. If you use the rail trails in your area, why not find out who maintains them and consider making a small donation or volunteering some time? I’m sure it will be greatly appreciated. Just think of what strange, interesting, and beautiful things we’d all be missing if they weren’t kept open.

Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to take in and record new surroundings.  Enjoy the best-kept secret around – the ordinary, everyday landscape that touches any explorer with magic. ~John R. Stilgoe

Thanks for coming by.

 

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