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Posts Tagged ‘Stone Arch Bridges’

When I was growing up we had railroad tracks running almost through our back yard, so some of my earliest memories include trains. Since they passed both my and my grandmother’s house, I was walking the tracks at a young age. Recently I’ve been hiking and biking on what are now the trails where the tracks once were, and it has been like visiting the past.

1. B&M DIESEL

Big, powerful Boston and Maine Railroad diesel engines rolled by the house each afternoon hauling a seemingly endless chain of boxcars behind them.  These trains, being so close, would shake the house to its foundation. In fact, we had an earthquake once and didn’t know it because the house shook just like it did when a train was going by.

I always wanted to hop a train but my grandmother’s stories of what happened to little boys who slipped and fell under trains while trying to jump onto them were so effective at discouraging me that I never once tried it, even though I often stood just inches away as they went rolling slowly by.

2.Tracks

Things like perspective and vanishing points began to gel in my mind and become real as I walked the tracks as a boy. No longer were they just vague, mysterious concepts read about in art class. I also learned to identify many of the plants that grew along the tracks and spent a lot of time eating the raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries that I found there.

 3. Tradescantia

Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) was one of my first discoveries as a boy. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old the first time I dug this plant up from beside the tracks and brought it home to plant in the yard.  That was about the same time my father started saying that he couldn’t understand why I kept “dragging those damned old weeds home.”  When I got a little older these plants got me interested in botany.

4. Rail Trail

By the time I came along the Boston and Maine railroad had been in business for more than 150 years, but things started going badly in the 1960s. By the 1980s it was over and the rails were being torn up. I didn’t mind when the trains stopped running, but it was hard to watch those rails being dismantled. Even though I never hopped a train the rails still took me places because I read about all of the places they went.

 5. Railroad Spike

Because I spent so many years of my life walking the tracks it seems very strange to walk these trails without them here. One of my first thoughts was that the kids of today would never be able to experience what I had, and that seemed like a huge loss. Before too long though, I found that there was still plenty for them to see and do on these trails. There is a lot of railroad history here, and if you do just a little bit of looking as you walk along you can see it all around you. The railroad spike in the above photo would be a worthy addition to any young boy’s treasure hoard.

 6. B&M Tie Plate

If that same young boy had a tie plate to go along with his rail spike he would be the king of show and tell. Not a whisper would be heard as he explained how a spike would be driven through each of the four square holes in the plate, deep into the hemlock ties by men with sledgehammers, to hold the rails in place.

 7. Ashuelot Trestle Winchester 9-2

Old rusty trestles  suddenly loom up out of the underbrush as you walk the trails. The Boston and Maine railroad crossed and re-crossed the Ashuelot River and groups of foolish young boys could often be seen performing very dangerous stunts on these trestles. It really is a wonder that none of us were ever killed. The trails and trestles are maintained by snowmobile and off road clubs now and have had safety railings built along their length.

 8. B&M Trestle Warning Wires

About 50 yards before each trestle on each of its ends, warning wires hung to warn anyone foolish enough to be on top of a boxcar that a trestle collision was imminent. These dangling wires are steel and about the same diameter as a pencil, so getting hit in the face by one while on top of a train going even 10 miles per hour would have hurt, badly. It would have been better than the alternative though, which was the steel crossbar of the trestle.

9. Timber Frame Bridge Support

Steel wasn’t the only material used for trestles and bridges. These twelve by twelve inch timbers still hold up the street bridge that passes over the rails. If I had known this was here when I was a boy I would have been climbing all over it, wondering how it had been built.

 10. B&M Stone Arch Bridge

This magnificent stone arch bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built of granite quarried a half mile away from the site, it was dry laid with no mortar in 1847 and soars 38 feet above the river. The bridge is 27 feet wide with a span of 68 feet, and its arch has a radius of 34 feet. Evidence of the plug and feather method used to split the stones is still visible on the faces of many of them. It’s hard to imagine how it was ever built without the use of modern tools and equipment.

I don’t think I’ve been on these rail trails a single time without seeing kids walking or riding bikes along them, and that’s a good thing. There are still plenty of things here to want to learn more about. History, math, botany, model railroading, and engineering are just a few that come to mind.

And there is the headlight, shining far down the track, glinting off the steel rails that, like all parallel lines, will meet in infinity, which is after all where this train is going. ~Bruce Catton

Thanks for coming by.

 

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