36 Miles of Trouble: The Story of the West River R.R

The following is a guest post by Dan Snow.

Excellent cross-country skiing conditions can be found these days on the newly established West River Trail. The former rail bed along the east bank is ideal for gliding over the snow pack. Glimpses of the frozen waterway and woodlands are peaceful today but the stillness is deceiving. It masks a time not so long ago when the air was full of anticipation. The driving wheels of a steam locomotive made the iron rails sing underfoot and soon a thirty-car train would come chugging by.

Evidence of the days when trains passed through West Dummerston twice a day have mostly disappeared. What’s left to see is an old station house in the village and the granite piers at the river’s edge that once held up a bridge. Fortunately, a lively remembrance of the Brattleboro and Whitehall Rail Road Company was written by Victor Morse and published by Stephen Green Press in 1959. 36 Miles of Trouble: The Story of the West River R.R. chronicles the slow rise and long decline of the line. Morse earned college money on the West River line. As an adult, he operated a saw mill in Brattleboro that made railroad cross-ties. Growing up, I knew him as my father’s no-nonsense friend who’s wool pants were permanently caked in sawdust. His wry sense of humor only came out full-force on the pages of 36 Miles of Trouble. By turns, a historical document and a personal remembrance, the slim volume is a testament to the first, and last, time that the citizens of West River Valley were hitched, for better or worse, to a mode of public transportation.

“The West River Railroad’s best years were its first. In the two decades before the turn of the (20th) century it enjoyed its greatest patronage, which was nothing to rejoice about and gave its best service, which was nothing to excite praise. Unreliable as West River trains came to be, it was never strictly true that they would wait at the station for a hen to lay another egg so the farmer would have a dozen to send to Brattleboro.” (From 36 Miles of Trouble)

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