By Wayne Gagnon - The Cheshire Branch of the Boston and Maine Railroad was one of several Fitchburg division branch lines that served both the population, farms, quarries and industries located in the Monadnock region. This line branched off the westbound main line from Boston to Mechanicville and Troy, NY. at Gardner, Mass by going through the towns of Winchendon, Mass., Fitzwilliam, NH., Troy, NH., Keene, NH and on to the North Walpole, NH/Bellows Fall, Vt. junction point for the Rutland Railroad/Boston and Maine and Central Vermont. Some of the other branch lines that served the area were the Peterboro Branch from Worcester, Mass thru Jaffrey, NH, then on to Peterboro, NH; the Ashuelot Branch which ran from Keene, NH to Hinsdale, NH., then down into Brattleboro, Vt. to connect with the Boston and Maine/Central Vermont joint rail line north to White River Jct., Vermont and south to Palmer, Mass.
Although not stated in the B&M timetable, the operating people of the B&M actually broke the "Cheshire branch" into two running sections: South Cheshire Branch- Keene, NH south thru Troy, NH. to Gardner, Mass; and, North Cheshire Branch- Keene, NH to North Walpole, NH/Bellow Falls, Vt. Engine crews and other personnel could be called to run or service the "entire" branch line or the two previously mentioned segments as train and requirements pertained.
It was in this capacity that the Boston and Maine Railroad came to place the 1935 EMC (ElectroMotive Corporation/Budd) built 3 car streamliner #6000 that carried the nameplate sign "The Cheshire" on its nose and payed homage to the Cheshire Branch. Over the years from 1935 through its retirement in 1957, this streamliner (sister to the 1st Budd streamliner built for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad) ran over 3 million miles in service. Horsepower developed was 600 H.P. from a Winton engine located in the first car/power car. Second car was a combination baggage/mail/buffet diner and the third car was all coach seating with a rounded end with 270 degrees of glass for observing the passing wayside. Some of the seats in the third car or observatory had a swivel option besides the standard fixed back seating. Seating was limited to 188 passengers and as the years progressed, this factor played an imminent role in placing the streamliner in seasonal type runs where operating conditions and passenger load counts maximized the operating efficiency of the articulated streamliner. This train operated with a 7 man crew over the system: Locomotive engineer, locomotive fireman, one train conductor, one trainman (similar to assistant conductor), a cook, and two porters that helped in the food and beverage delivery to passengers and assisted with the on/offloading of baggage/mail and personal baggage.
My family's railroad heritage is directly tied to the Cheshire Branch and the "The Cheshire". My grandfather, Albert Gagnon, was a locomotive engineer on the B&M Fitchburg division who operated "The Cheshire" thru Troy, NH to Keene, NH/North Walpole, NH both south and north many times over his 55 years of service on the B&M. My father, Paul Gagnon, as both a locomotive fireman and engineer, operated the #6000 over the Cheshire Branch many times during his 44 years of service. My uncle, Eddie Gagnon, worked in the Concord, NH. car shops where the streamliner was "assigned" and sent for maintenance and repairs that could not be done at other B&M enginehouse facilities. My godfather and my dad's cousin, Adelard Moquin, also was a locomotive fireman and engineer on "The Cheshire" during his 42 years of service on the B&M.
It was thru these connections that as a younster in the 1950's that I was able to accompany my dad, grandfather, and godfather on train rides in the cab as the streamliner played out its life. The cab was noisy, very limited in space for the crew, and the Winton powerplant and big radiator over our heads in the cab along with all the electrical motors and air horn, air brake equipment, and bell made talking almost impossible between the operating crew. However, this was in contrast to the noisier steam engines still working out the balance of their lives before the advent of diesel power on the B&M with the eventual retirement/scrapping of all steam power in the summer of 1957 and the pulling of the streamliner into storage in late 1957. With the starting arrival of the new Budd built RDC's (rail diesel cars) in early 1952 and a seating capacity of two RDC's almost equaling that of the #6000 (two Budds = 176 passengers, # 6000 with 3 cars= 188 passengers), plus the elimination of a minimal 2 crew memebers, passenger department studied showed that the streamliner for every run was costing more to operate than the newer RDC's. Ironically, in 1958, the Cheshire Branch saw its last passenger train south from Bellows Falls/North Walpole/Keene/Troy and Gardner with a single RDC-3 unit (baggage/mail and coach) version covering the run with little or no recording of history.
It should be noted also that as a younster, I had the fortunate opportunity of riding the #6000 cab on the following routes: "The Minuteman" between Boston, Mass. and the Hoosac Tunnel to Troy, New York; "The Flying Yankee" from Boston, Mass to Portland, Maine where the B&M crew was replaced by a Maine Central crew for its run to Bangor, Maine; "The Mountaineer" from Boston to North Conway, NH. and eventual end of line at Littleton/Bethlehem, NH., along with several runs from the Boston Engine Terminal ("BET") backing the streamliner from the enginehouse down into North Station tracks to place the train back in service awaiting its assignment. The B&M also did run the #6000 as "The Newsboy" from Boston to Fitchburg, Mass but I was not able to get this ride.
Ironically, "The Cheshire" and all its sister namesakes on the B&M system had another facet that played a key role in its train assignment and ability to be serviced and "turned around" for the return leg. Having only one cab, this meant that the trainset was not bi-directional (could not operate from the other end) and had to go to an area where it could be "wyed"- railroad jargon for the ability to go ahead on a piece of track, throw a switch and back onto an adjoining piece of track, stop, throw another switch, reverse direction, come ahead on another piece of track that reconnected to the original, stop, and throw another switch and reverse direction to back down into the station. This "move" had an extra cost dividend factor associated for every crew member in their daily timecards over and above the cost of the basic train run. As you can see, places like Boston, Portland, Bangor , Fitchburg, Troy, NY, and Littleton/Bethlehem, NH. all had the availability of a "wye" as the #6000 could not fit on a turntable to be turned around like its sister steam engines in passenger service.