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The Canal Line Railroad - Historical Memories

The Canal Line Railroad - Southern Connecticut

by Craig S. O'Connell

updated February 8, 2009


Some Historical Memories

The following photos are some historical memories from people with intimate knowledge of the southern end of the Canal Line in Connecticut. This is edited by Craig S. O'Connell.


Back in the mid 1960's, (1965 to 1967), my father had a small 2 seat, single engine Aeronca Champ airplane based at Robertson Field Airport in Plainville, CT.
The eastern side of the runway at Robertson Field perfectly paralleled the Canal Line railroad tracks within a few feet. The topography of the land was such that the rail-bed was slightly lower than the runway itself by about 3-1/2 feet or so.
One day around dusk a student pilot was landing southbound and lost control of the plane once he touched down. He went off the runway and the Cessna 150 plane wound up on the tracks.
The Hartford Courant carried a picture of this incident and it appeared the plane's propeller hub was resting on the rail closest to the runway. The pilot was uninjured, (except for his pride I'm sure), and the plane suffered only minor damage.
By the way, Google maps still shows the Canal Line's rail-bed from Northampton, MA south to Turners Pond in Hamden, CT where the rail-bed "disappears" on the map. If you check out Google maps you'll be able to see in the Plainville section of the Google map just how close the tracks were to the runway.

Jim Baker - February 8, 2009

"My brother lives in Avon and I cross the Canal Line trail on the way to his house. Seeing the trail and bridges makes me yearn for the NH years.
Geoffrey Doughty, in his book about the NH, recalls hearing NH engineers blowing their horns for the Scoville Rd. crossing near Avon Old Farms School, where he “prepped” in the ‘60s. I have one mental snapshot of a PC local working the line in the Weatogue section of Simsbury during the mid ‘70s – an RS-3 setting out a boxcar at what was a small factory near where the Hartford has an office complex now. During the ‘70s I did a lot of bicycle racing and trained in the Farmington Valley. Many of my rides took me across the many grade crossings in Farmington, Avon, Simsbury, Granby, Southwick, Lake Congamond. There used to be a gypsum plant between Simsbury Center and Granby, near where all the car dealerships are on Hopmeadow St. (Rt. 10 & 202), and I occasionally would see a hopper car there."

Doug Feinstein 4/26/08

There was a train derailment just south of that plant's driveway crossing in the 1960's.
I had lunch with a few cousins just last Saturday at Antonio's Restaurant in Simsbury. I asked my oldest cousin if he recalled that accident which he did. (He's currently 59 years old.)
I recall the NH railroad had to send equipment up from New Haven to clear the wreckage. There were a number of boxcars scattered around the area. If I recall correctly, the train derailed directly across from the spot where Antonio's Restaurant is now located. At that time it was just empty land.
It was a big event at the time and I recall lots of onlookers across the street viewing the clearing of the wreckage.

Jim Baker - February 8, 2009

I was born in 1939 and grew up as a young boy on Summer Street in Plantsville, Connecticut. The tracks were right behind our house. The steam freight train always stopped at that point to uncouple the cars, deliver and pick up cars and then return to pick up the rest of the consist before heading north. The train would return later in the afternoon, heading south toward Mildale and New Haven. To the left of our house was the Boyce Lumber Company, then Cowles Feed across the rivr to Southington. I lived on Summer Street until 1953 when diesels were in use on the line. The crew knew me as a youngster and I got to drive the diesel engine to drop off cars all the way to Southington and back. That happened only one time but it made my day. I still wonder if the crew liked me after a I and a friend rolled a big snowball onto the middle of the tracks just to see the steam engine hit it.

I guess this is why I am still a railfan. I wish the rails would come back like they were bak then. When I see all the trailer trucks on the interstates going from Florida to Maine I wonder why they don't just put them on the back of flatcars and save the fuel.

Richard Moore Ocala, Florida, July 13, 2008

"I worked this line fairly regularly from the early 70's through 1986 in the Guilford years. I have spotted cars at most of the sidings on the line. For example, I recall placing boxcars and gons of wire bales in Clark Bros. Bolt Company in Milldale. Their switch was off the passing track, not the main line."

-- A worker for Guilford Transportation (formerly B&MRR)

"The lower Canal local freight job worked out of the Water street Yard in New Haven to Plainville and back. All the time that I worked the line, the Canal local worked out of Plainville to Highwood Siding, just north of Winchester's and return to Plainville. At this time, most, if not all of the Winchester cars came down to Highwood from Plainville, and were spotted at Winchester's by the Midnight Belle Dock Switcher, that came up light engine to do that work. The feature that put a damper to regular through traffic from New Haven was the clearance in the "tunnels" under Yale University. The Alco S-1 switchers were about the only diesel engine that would fit through there.

"Through the Penn Central and Conrail years freight traffic was very respectable on the lower Canal. The local would normally leave Plainville with 15 to 25 cars, and sometimes over 40 cars. In 1980 or so, we spent most of the summer ditching, changing out ties and resurfacing the line from Plainville all the way past the cut just below Mount Carmel station.

"When the Boston & Maine tool over in June of 1982, within days there was a bad storm that caused a serious washout just south of Copeland's, in Cheshire. The B&M never repaired that washout, and B&M service below that point ended right there. I do not know if Conrail still provided service to Winchester's or any other customers on the line from the New Haven end after that. I kind of doubt it because by that time, the normal height of the boxcars had gotten to where they wouldn't fit past the restrictive tunnel.

--from postings on the New Haven forum

"In the New Haven days, the Canal local operated out of Water Street Yard, by New Haven Station. The engine would come up light from Belle Dock and pick up the train at Water Street. This yard was in the area at the East end of the station on the South side, where the leads to the post office were. Once the train was ready to go, it would leave Water Street by what Penn Central called Fair Street interlocking, cross over both the Shore Line and Hartford Line mains, controlled by Tower 75 at New Haven, and duck into the Canal Line at Chapel Street. I cannot give you the date that this local was moved to originating at Plainville, but I think it was changed before Penn Central took over.(that would be around 1971 ?)

"When the Canal Line local, NX18, worked out of Plainville, it handled all the work South of Plainville all the way to Highwood. As I mentioned previously, the work below Highwood, primarily
Winchester's, was handled by a third trick yard job out of Belle Dock, that came light to Highwood, took the inbound cars out to spot them and brought the outbound cars back to Highwood for NX18 to take North the next day.

"NX18 would have as many as 40 odd cars leaving Plainville, and would spot many of them at industries on the way South. Rather than take all the outbound cars all the way to Highwood, NX18 would leave the outbounds accumulated so far at Milldale to be picked up on the Northbound run. More outbound cars would be left on the North end of Buzzoto's siding in Cheshire to be picked up when returmimg to Plainville. Thus, when NX18 arrived at Highwood, it would usually have outbound cars from Mount Carmel Lumber and Leonard Concrete, and the inbound cars for Winchester's. As I recall (it has been almost 25 years since I was last down there) there was a second siding alongside Highwood. I think it was called the over dimension track. Those tracks held around 20 cars apiece, so it was no trouble to run around the train there to head back North.

"As far as contents of the Winchester cars, I seem to recall that the inbound cars were loads of copper sheet and we got outbound loads of copper scrap. I don't remember the street names, but not too far North of Highwood, there was a fairly long, very steep downhill siding into a building on the East side of the main that was a grocery warehouse. They only took 2 or 3 cars a month. Just North of that, there was an abandoned concrete company that still had the siding in place where we would spot cars of telephone poles, perhaps 10 or 12 cars per year.

"You are so right about the B&M lack of maintaince. That washout just below Copeland's siding in Cheshire a few days after the B&M takeover put the kiss of death upon the lower Canal. I had figured they would repair it, as Bozzuto did a heavy business with the railroad, 10 or 12 cars per day, but the B&M was very big into trying to get customers on branch lines to take their cars at centralized locations and truck their goods back to their plants. This way they could abandon track and cut their overhead. Of course, all the idiots accomplished was to alienate more customers away from the railroad. Later on when Timothy Mellon bought the B&M, and eventually formed the Guilford set up, things got markedly worse for the customers, and all but the hardiest got driven away from railroad use."

-- A worker for Guilford Transportation (formerly B&MRR)


"I had walked this bridge back in either the late 60's or early 70's with my father. His parents had had a cottage in Grand Brook Park in East Granby which was wiped out in the flood of 1955. (The bridge overlooks Grand Brook Park).
I'm not sure the trestle bridge was there in 1955 or not but the whole neighborhood in that particular area of Grand Brook Park was destroyed and the Town of East Granby has turned that area into a park. I grew up in Granby and recall hearing the southboard train from Northampton, MA every week night around 8-8:15 p.m. (There was an a.m. train out of New Haven that used to go through the Simsbury/Granby area about 6:30-6:45 a.m.)

--Jim Baker


Rail Accident in Avon by Jim Baker - Added July 22, 2007.

Back in the 1960's, a woman and her kids were caught on the tracks in Avon and were pulled from their car just before it was hit by the nightly south bound train out of Northampton, MA. If I remember correctly from the report in the Hartford Courant, this accident happened around 8:30 p.m. in the evening during aweeknight. This accident occurred at the intersection of Route 44 and Route 10. At that particular intersection, the railroad tracks paralleled Route 10 so that a driver not familiar with the area could easily turn onto the tracks instead of the Route 10 roadbed. There was a gas station next to the train tracks and it was the employees from that gas station that assisted the woman and her kids out of the car because her car had gotten stuck on the tracks and these employees had heard the train's whistle as it
approached the crossing on Route 44. (Another crossing was a short distance to the north so the engineer had to blow the horn as the train approached that crossing.) It was probably this blast on the horn that the employees had heard. Of course her car was totally destroyed as the train hit it at nearly full speed. No one was injured in the accident.

Tariffville (Simsbury) Connecticut Train Wreck - by Jim Baker (added 7/22/07)

Below is a link to an article in the Hartford Courant about a train wreck in Tariffville, (Simsbury), CT back in the late 1800's.,0,4456666.story?coll=hc-utility-local-fv

The rail line where this occurred is known as the Griffin Line and portions of it are currently back in use today after being abandoned years ago. When the U.S. Navy's Knolls Nuclear facility in Windsor, CT was
decommissioned sometime in the late 1990's or early 2000's the spent nuclear fuel had to be removed by rail. The rail line was rebuilt enough to move this fuel by rail. The transfer was reported only after the removal had taken place. From what I read in the newspaper after the fact, the transfer was made in the middle of the night.

The Griffin Line hooked into the Canal Line somewhere in the East Granby area. I suspect that the intersection of these two rail lines was near the still existing train station located on Hartford Avenue, Route 189 in East Granby close to the Peter L. Brown Company.

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