160th Old Peppersass Anniversary Tour, Hoosac Tunnel, and Trainz on the Road.


Trainzing since 12-2003
I've finally had the opportunity of reviewing pictures, after doing the quick camera dump, I took during the 160th Anniversary Tour of old Peppersass. The celebration took place back on the last weekend in June 2016 on one very hot weekend with temps hovering in 30s C (90s F) most of the weekend. We were lucky and got an air-conditioned space which provided a welcomed respite from the heat for the park visitors.

The first stop on the tour was at the Gateway, Technology, and Heritage Park located in North Adams, MA. Given Steamboateng (Mike K.), and my relationship with the group, the park officials wanted us to demo the Hoosac Tunnel route in some fashion. The display setup for us was minimal so with a 33-inch LCD TV and my new Alienware Laptop in hand, Mike and I took a trip west which for us is about 2-1/2 hours away to the western-most corner of Massachusetts.

On the laptop I ran a looping set of the four Hoosac Tunnel videos which I've posted here before. In addition to the looping videos, which gave me a chance to take a walkabout, I also had a copy of T:ANE on the laptop. With the stream of visitors coming in and asking questions, I would stop the video and load up T:ANE and show them around the route as Mike had built it. The older people were amazed of course, but the best was when the children came along. The kids loved the program as I let them drive various sessions and play around in Surveyor. There was no harm done, and I'd simply close and restart everything again once they left. This fielded quite a few inquiries about T:ANE, including those familiar with the older Trainz versions.

This setup was helpful too for when the big guys visited us, By the big guys I mean the officials from the Boston and Maine Historical Society. Among them was the former VP of the society, Carl Byron who wrote the reference book we are using. His Pinprick of Light has been an invaluable reference for us. With Carl there, along with Rich Kelly, we were able to get some insight on signal placement as well as operations. The looks of amazement on their faces made me smile as this is something Mike has been trying to achieve all along. The fact that the B&M guys were impressed is the best part. We did get chided over the track though; neither the B&M nor the HT&W had track that looked so good. We also gained some great information on signal placement, types of outbuildings, grades, and all those nifty things which lead to stories about the various places along the line, as well as of course, lots of laughs too.

Overall it was a great weekend and quite successful, albeit, a hot one which sadly minimized the crowds.

In the following week after the show, Mike and I did some picture taking of various mills for textures so he can build models, some rail fanning of the few mainline trains that pass by, and of course the area around the Hoosac Tunnel where we investigated the old pump house on the west side - the West Portal area, and even saw the original Haupt's Cut, which is the original portal on the West Side which was abandoned in favor of the present day route. The last time I was out in that area, it was snowing, and outright too cold to visit the west side of the tunnel, besides, even my Jeep couldn't climb the 12+ percent grade up some of these roads when they're covered with snow given the access road to the west side is a rutted dirt path.

On the East Portal side, Mike and I walked the former yard area, now stripped down to 3 tracks - two mainline and a single center siding, which is actually cut from the mainline now on the far eastern end. We also investigated, in the weeds, trees, lots of poison ivy, and mosquitos, the former Hoot Toot and Whistle ROW (Hoosac Tunnel and Wilmington). It's amazing how grown in that route is now after being abandoned only 42 years ago. In general it's amazing how much is truly gone from what used to be. It's as though a big hunk of history has been erased from the earth. At one point, in it's heyday, the tunnel hosted 98 trains per day! Today there are about 4 to 6 trains per day on a single track line, and the only sign of the HT&W is some concrete footings poking up out of cinders where the sand tower used to be.

On to the pics. I apologize if they're a bit on the big size.

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The Old Peppersass...


Old Peppersass is the original 1866 locomotive used to build the Mount Washington Cog Railway which is the oldest cog railroad in the world, and the only one east of the Rockies on the North American Continent. The Cog Railway is still in operation today, however, now operated by bio-diesels which replaced some early ca. 1880s horizontal boiler locomotives. In one of the photos here, I stood back far away to show the small size of this locomotive, which is sitting on a small open trailer.

This unique locomotive is a vertical boiler locomotive similar in design to something from the 1830s instead of what would be expected in the 1860s.

The Hoosac Tunnel TOTR demonstration.

While the Cog Railway engine baked outside in the heat, Mike and I enjoyed the air-conditioned venue for our demonstration. We had a choice to sit outside initially, however, my gut inside said go inside mostly due to the sunshine which would have made the LCD appear blank and I thought too this wasn't good for the laptop anyway. Well my gut was right! The sun was too bright and it was way too hot so we enjoyed the A/C!

These are some of the younger visitors enjoying a driving session. I think this was one of the few that Mike had setup for his route. There were quite a few younger folks who came by with one of them who came by twice, but his family didn't want to stop. I felt bad for him because he really wanted to use the program. He would look in and dad grabbed him by the arm and tugged him along.

We shared this venue area with the officials from the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum located about 34 miles east of North Adams.

The Shelburne Falls Trolley ran from its present location at the Shelburne Falls yard, such as the yard is today a dirt pile with no sidings and a demolished passenger station, up to Colrain, MA. The trolley also handled freight as well for the mills located up in Colrain and ran some small box motors that pulled a boxcar or two in addition to the trams for the passengers.

The trolley company built the famous arch bridge, now the Bridge of Flowers, that is still used today, albeit, as a walking path with plantings along its way...

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Here are some pictures of the famous Bridge of Flowers.

During the 1930s, after the little trolley company closed, a group of locals acquired the bridge and planted flowers and shrubs along its way. This strictly volunteer operation is still going strong today, and it's a great use of the old bridge.

The iron bridge seen in one of the shots, dates back to the 1880s and has been recently refurbished after a fight to keep the bridge rather than replace it with a modern concrete monster like they did with an old bridge in my area.

If you look carefully at the intersection from where I am standing, you'll notice that the buildings are at an odd angle on the main street. This is the route the trolley took as it headed up hill towards the yard, which is located behind the buildings. The angle too is quite tight by today's standards for the trolleys and boxcars, but we have to remember that the equipment was A LOT smaller then and could negotiate those curves.
On to the Hoosac Tunnel area and some general railfanning.

West Portal area...

It was hot! I could feel my head melt as we stood out in the sun. Even the shady location near the old pump house was hot, and the water in the old pond only added insult to injury as it brought out deer flies and mosquitos which plagued us as though we were some fresh meat for them to feast on!

Access to this area is not well marked and requires knowing where the access road is. It's actually legal to visit this area since it is a woodland reservation, however, it's known only to the locals whom we had some discussions with regarding the location of the important things we were interested in. For most people this area nothing important, and sadly the access road has become a local dump as well. There are old box springs, boxes, TVs and other junk that people should have hauled to the local landfill instead of dropping in the woods. The pond, which is held back even today by the stone dam, has an old kiddy pool floating in it! In addition to the old pump house and dam, there is the actual West Portal its self with the railroad access road in the vicinity. We did walk on the ROW, once double-tracked to the tunnel entrance and along the ROW to take photos. No trains to be seen; just a lot of sunshine, humidity, mosquitos, and sadly graffiti.

Anyway about the sights down here...

Haupt's Cut.

Hermann Haupt, the famous engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad, was hired by the Troy and Greenfield, to survey and excavate the route. The initial plan on the west side was to come in at an angle rather than straight on, which occurs today. Due to the very soft terrain in this area, Haupt also came in at a might higher elevation than on the east side, and in order to approach the tunnel entrance, had cut in a cut into the earth. The cut is in the path with the power lines which we walked on, and much washed away. When the route was changed a bit later, when another engineering group took over, his original cut was abandoned and eventually filled in with spoils. Inside the old tunnel are rusted remains of some of the old narrow gauge locomotives and cars used to dig the tunnel. :(

There were talks and even rumors about the location of the cut, but it was difficult to find until very recently after the spoils and tiling had caved in at the entrance after a major washout in the area. When the ground opened up, it was quite obvious what was exposed due to the curved upper ridge of the rough-cut opening and inside there are reports of some of the original cut-stone facing!

With over 400 US gallons ( 1.5k liters) of water per day flowing, the area is quite wet, which proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing was the constant flow of cold water was dammed up for making tri-nitroglycerine which was used to blast the tunnel openings, as well as for driving the air-compressors for drilling. The site where the nitro-plant was located is inaccessible due to being private property, however, it's located not too far from where we were that day.

The flow of water was a curse because it undermined, and washed away the tunnel causing constant cave ins as fast as the engineers worked. The demoralized stone as it became known was a mica-schist conglomerate, known as porridge stone, would fall apart when wet, and was a constant cause for cave-ins.

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Haupt's Cut....

You can see the tunnel entrance located and how everything is filled in.

If you look here, you can see the present-day mainline and how much lower still the line is compared to Haupt's original grade for the west side.

The pump house, pond, and dam...

The pump house is one of the original buildings dating back to the time of the construction of the Hoosac Tunnel. Much later in its life, the dam was used to provide waterpower to generate electricity for the nearby, about 2 miles or so away, Zilonite Mills located near Adams, MA. Zilonite is still in operation today and its operation produces a fine grade of limestone quarried from a nearby quarry and hauled in covered hoppers. This is the main freight on what was once the North Adam's branch of the former Boston and Albany. The line from Pittsfield, MA to North Adam's ran in its entirety until the mid to late 1980s when Guilford took over the operations from Conrail. Sadly that company severed the line below Adams, and this line is now a Rails to Trails thing. There has been some recent rail restoration going on with the return of the Berkshire Scenic running passenger trains from North Adams to an area just outside of Adams proper to an area known as Renfrew. There are some pics of this ongoing restoration which I will share as well...

Anyway back to the pump house, pond and dam.

The pump house is an interesting structure with its sheet metal floor, which I would not stand on, that is supported by narrow gauge railroad rails. These are probably 60 or 70 lb. track, maybe less.

The graffiti and trash around the place is sad, and there's no excuse for it.

Even with the pond filled in today, there's still quite a backflow and run over the dam its self. Note the hand hewn stones which were dug out of the local rocks to create the dam and sluice way which is still operational today.

The present West Portal and grade.

The present West portal is the one that opened up in 1875 and was originally a double-tracked route through the tunnel. During sometime in the 1950s, the route was single tracked when the grade was realigned, with a passing/holding siding on either side of the tunnel entrances, mostly to allow larger equipment through the tunnel. During the early 1970s, the storm door was removed and the tunnel widened by grinding top and bottom to allow yet again larger trains through, and more recently there is study being done to do this yet again sometime in the future to allow the double-stack trains through the tunnel. Presently the stacks are lowered at Mechanicsville, NY, then brought through the tunnel as single stacks to Ayer MA which is the terminus of the Pan Am Southern operations. The stack trains then run either double-stacks or single height on to points north to Maine, or south to Worcester to the connection with CSX.

If you notice the right side is filled with water, this is due to the constant flooding which has plagued this area since the tunnel's inception in the 1850s, and the cause of those cave-ins and washouts during the construction.

The grade is also quite steep here as the track descends into the tunnel. You can also see the very dark retaining walls, which were once bright white and clean when the tunnel first opened. Today they're covered with moss and soot. The tunnel too is still lined with the original brick used to shore up the opening, and you can see where it was ground away during the 1970s tunnel enlargement project. The remains of the tunnel door are still there that cover up the fancy brickwork which adorns the front of the tunnel.

Oh... Those white spots in front of the camera aren't spots on the lens. Those are small gnats or flies that kept buzzing around us and on us the whole time we were walking in the area.

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Along this ROW there are still signs of the old electric operation which once operated here from 1910 to 1946. In some locations are the old plates which held the catenary to the tunnel walls, and not too far out of the tunnel its self, is a former substation to step down the power for the line. The substation took the standard 20kv 60 Hz power from the local generating plant, and stepped it down to the 11Kv 25 Hz. There was an issue up until New England Power Company (Now National Grid) opened up the power plants up in Vermont along the Deerfield with there not being enough power to run the electric trains. The railroad got their power originally from the Zilonite power plant, which also supplied the 600V DC power for the Berkshire Electric trolley system as well as the mills at Zilonite.

The substation dates back to 1910 when the line was electrified. You can see where the big feeder cables came out of the wall and ran over to the catenary nearby where we are located.

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Here are some views of the grade coming out of the tunnel. In the first pic, you can see the curve where a third-track began and there was once an interlocking tower located there to control the signals and switches for the triple and double-track line which runs on to North Adams and points west. The bottom-most picture shows the grade downward towards the tunnel entrance. It's hard to believe there was a lot more track here than there is now. There's barely a sign of the interlocking tower, catenary or signal supports which once adorned this area.

The grade is quite substantial too!

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Here you can see the date on the side of this "new" welded rail, which dates back to the time when the line was single tracked. You think they might want to replace this at some point being track that dates back to, ahem, 1951!

The interlocking signal in the distance is the beginning of double-track on the West Portal side which runs all the way to North Adams yard, which should be "yard" because there's no sign of a yard being there today! The tracks then single track from there, just past the yard, all the way on to Hoosic Falls, New York! This was once a double-track line along its whole length.

On to the East Portal.

Mike and I did a lot of riding and walking around this day as we traveled up and over Whitcomb's Hill to the East Portal. As I've said before, this area has been completely obliterated. It's hard to believe there was once a big junction, yard, interlocking tower, and station in this area on the East Portal side. Today there's nothing but brush, poison ivy, and lots of that, cinders and single track.

Speaking of cinders. One of the interesting tidbits we learned from Carl Byron at our show on the weekend is the Boston and Maine never used granite ballast until around World War II. Up until that time, they ballasted their yards and mainline with cinders from their locomotives. The cinders are around even today, and can still be found when the track has been lifted, and even along long gone ROWs which are now used as access paths for National Grid.

Anyway. Here we see some areas around the wye connection with the Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington, aka, the Hoot Toot and Whistle, or Hold Tight and Worry. It had a reputation of being somewhat of a ride so-to-speak due to the sharp curves and grades as the line followed the Deerfield River north to Reedville and Wilmington. The HT&W was originally built as a narrow gauge lumber railroad which then standard gauged around 1916 or so and connected directly with the B&M at the yard here.

This post is going to be a bit different than the others. Instead of loading up strictly modern pictures, I am going to include some of the historic photos from various sources. The reason is to give the feeling of what was here, and what exists today. The difference is quite alarming if not saddening.

Starting from the top pic, we have:

Looking west towards the East Portal its self.

The Hoosac Tunnel Station

and a view of the yard from the interlocking tower. The water tower on the left sits in the legs of the wye which connects to the HT&W. Note the short freight set out for interchange between the two lines.

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Modern views of the same area. Unfortunately there was nothing to climb up on to get an overhead shot and I don't have a drone to take pictures so we'll have to use our Imagineering and mind's eye to superimpose the old on the new.

In the first pic, I'm standing about where the old Interlocking tower was once located - the one used for the overhead shot above.

The second photo is quite a bit farther east at the old Hoosac Tunnel Station site about where the old HT&W train was stopped at in the old photo. There's no signs at all the station was here except maybe an old concrete foundation slab which is barely sticking out of the dirt.

The big yard here is gone; just double-track and the track, by the way is sitting on tailings that was dug out of the tunnel during construction and used to build the approach to the tunnel from the east.

The view across the Deerfield River Bridge, is about where the steam locomotive is crossing in the old picture. Here we're looking east towards the yard and Hoosac Tunnel Station which is located down around the bend about a mile or so. I say or so because it was one long hot walk both directions!

The woodland shots show where the HT&W wye and ROW was once located. You can barely make out the ROW in the pix, but if you were to walk there you can see it. There are also some ties sticking out of the ground in a few places as well as other railroad artifacts.

And finally the last pic is where the wye joined the yard and mainline somewhere along here. There's no way to tell! We're looking west towards the tunnel entrance of the East Portal.

It makes me sad when I see this here from what was then. Only to go back in time!

And finally we did some rail fanning as we traveled in the area.

During our travels, we did actually see some rail activity. Yes, Pan Am, through Pan Am Southern - the joint Norfolk Southern and Pan Am Railways joint venture, there is some freight activity along the line. There are about 6 trains per day now. The manifests include general freight, limestone and tanks from Zilonite, scrap metal, plastic pellets, trash, as well as unit trains carrying autos, containers, and coal.

This is a far cry from the 98 trains per day when the tunnel first opened back in 1877 and the reason why the B&M looked for an alternative to steam for the tunnels due to asphyxiating the crew and passengers.

What we see here:

Pan Am Railways doing some switching, or getting ready to head down the Adams Secondary (former B&A/NYC/PC/Conrail) North Adams branch from Pittsfield to switch the Zilonite facility.

Westbound NS Auto-rack train waiting to leave.

A view of the countryside... Note all the hills and trees. This is typical western MA countryside.

and finally...

A view of North Adams from the look out at the famous Hair-pin curve. The fat bridge on the left crosses over the railroad about where the train pictures were taken.

and one of the many, many mills which sprung up in the region once the railroad opened up the area. This mill is actually located a bit north out of North Adams in the area known as Clarkesville.

A bit around Adams and Zilonite area.

We have:

The freight that was switching a bit earlier now heading down the Adams branch which we suspected. He had to switch across the mainline to the branch then down around under the mainline to Zilonite. The yard he was switching in above is gone! I have pics of that area I can post at a later date, but they're archived and require some searching. So after the jerking back and forth, he can finally go down the line, freight forward to the end of the line.

The Adams Local heading for Zilonite...

The Adams passenger station. This is a nicely restored former Boston and Albany station, now living a new life as a restaurant which was getting a beer delivery the day we took pictures. The tracks here have been replaced with a Rail to Trail. :(

We then headed north back towards North Adams. As we approached an old grain and coal facility, AGWAY today, our stomachs lurched to the ground. The tracks were being ripped up and we thought the rail trail had won over the railroad, and all was lost. Nope! According to a local, an elderly gent who was watching the operation from his driveway near the tracks, informed us that the Berkshire Scenic is going to run from North Adams down as far as a bit outside of Adams Center, where that station building is. The digging and excavating is the preparation work to restore the tracks once again to full use.

The other nicely restored station is Renfrew. This station is now a construction company headquarters. You can see the current end of track and where a second track, a siding probably, once passed closer to the station.

So enjoy my trip, or at least a bit of it from the cool comfort of your easy chair. It was a lot of fun and hopefully I can update this thread again in the future.

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Hello John,
Nice picture, Show us piece of History and Tunnel ! Sad to rail to trail, Should setup excursion.
Thank for show pix:Y:

Hi John

www.hoosactunnel.net has a good history and modern pictures of the tunnel. Carl Byron's book "A Pinprick of Light" is more detailed with lots of historical references.

In summary the Troy and Greenfield or one of the early variants in the company name, under ownership of the Fitchburg Railroad, started building the tunnel in 1850s, and didn't finish the tunnel until 1875 with its final finishing completed in 1877. About 186 lives were lost in accidents and on the job with 13 falling to their death while constructing the central shaft. Many engineering practices were implemented during the construction which are now used in their modern form today. The earliest pneumatic drilling machine dug the "Little Tunnel" in North Adams then was sent to the east portal, about 8 miles away to drill through the hard rock. Instead the drill wasn't powerful enough and got stuck and remained in place for years afterwards until it was cut up for scrap. But... the drilling machine idea stuck and it was used later on with bigger and faster drills, which could break into the granite, basalt, schist and limestone.

Hermann Haupt, one of the great construction engineers and builders for the Pennsylvania Railroad, was hired on to build the line. The problem is the construction took so long the stakeholders got mad so the project was sold to the state. What was billed as costing about $3.5 million, ended up costing $25 million! Contractors mostly quit or were fired for not upholding the strict requirements for the work completion. The thing is because of the near bankruptcy of the project at the time, the Massachusetts Statehouse and governors then held the purse strings and dolled out tiny sums of money upon completion of the various sections.

The competing railroad to the south saw a drop of business once this tunnel opened so the Boston and Albany president paid off Governor Andrew to put up roadblocks to keep the project hamstrung. The engineers continued anyway, even put in their own funds, paying for the construction crews and equipment to the end. During this time, tri-nitroglycerine was put into use by Dr. Mowbray. Dr. Mowbray was an explosives engineer who determined the best positioning of explosives in a particular pattern to create the most effective blast. Nitroglycerine was used, but it was determined to be too unstable, however, it was discovered that when it was frozen it didn't explode until charged. They also tried dynamite, but it wasn't refined enough to be predictable or powerful enough. The Tri-nitro allowed for quicker building and the crews finally made progress. These blast patterns developed by Dr. Mowbray, are the same as those used today.

The engineers made use of conning towers to site plumb lines which were dropped through tiny shafts dug into the ground to the tunnel below. The crews below would use the plumb line plus the siting towers above which had lanterns in them as guide points to keep the tunnel in the proper path. When the tunnel opened, the two sides met only an inch or two off from the planned path. Not bad for 19th century technology. Today we use satellites and laser beams to guide the equipment through its bore.

The tunnel also was not built straight at grade and tips upward towards the central shaft from each direction. The grade, if I recall is 1/2 percent on each side. (It might be more or less, but I can't remember). The reason is to drain the constant water seepage out of the tunnels into cisterns and pipes and keep the tunnel dry.

The tunnel was initially opened as a double-tracked tunnel in 1875 with the final edifices placed on by 1877. From it's opening right through the early 20th Century, there were about 100 trains a day passing along the line. This caused way too much smoke in the tunnels and killed or severely injured crews and passengers. Because of the smoke, the central shaft was fitted with large blowers which were electrically powered. This helped, but it was not enough so when the B&M came under New Haven control during the early 1900s, the line was electrified. The electric service used big box motors (B&M class 5000s), which are similar to those used on the New Haven Railroad at the time. In fact the New Haven planned on electrifying the line as far west as Williamstown and as far east as Deerfield. The blowers were still used even with the electrics pulling the steam trains through the tunnel because of the stacks sending out noxious fumes. The same blowers, retrofitted with modern motors and updated in the 1940s, are still in use today.

The electric service lasted until 1946 when the motors, now quite elderly, having worked straight for 30-plus years, were replaced by diesels. In the 1950s the line was single-tracked through the tunnel, and in the 1970s the tunnel roof was raised to handle larger equipment. There are plans to do this again so container traffic does not need to be unstacked at Mechanicville for the trip east. Today the same line sees about 6 trains a day, which is a far cry from the nearly 100 per day when the tunnel first opened. Imagine a line with 100 trains a day! :D

When the tunnel opened, it was the longest railroad tunnel in the world, and stood as the longest tunnel in North America until the great tunnels in the Canadian Rockies and Cascade Mountains were built nearly 50 years later. What's really cool is much of the technology used in the tunnel construction was then improved and used today for the same purpose such as the big drilling machines and the guides and sighting towers, though we use lasers and satellites instead of rock piles with a wooden framework fitted with lanterns.

That's it for a quick summary! :)