Life at the station
At Wells River station there was three shifts of operators, working 7 days a week. If for some reason one was off sick the other two just worked twelve hours each to take up the slack. They did not call in spares other than to fill a temporary position or a full time one. If an operator was off sick for a day or even a week the other two worked their tails off. Wells River operators shifts were 7am-3pm, 3pm-11pm and 11pm-7am.
The operators also worked the ball signal located near the station. The signal had five balls. The indications allowed operating on the wye tracks only, not on the main line or onto the M&WR. One ball allowed the M&WR to use the north wye to Woodsville. Two balls up allowed the main line southbound trains on to the north wye into Woodsville. Three balls up allowed trains from Woodsville to depart on the north wye. Four balls allowed southbound operations on the south leg of the wye out from Woodsville. Five balls allows all trains to use the south wye track towards Woodsville. The balls are used in daylight and lanterns at night. It was the night operators job to take down the lanterns and attach the balls. He would then refill the lanterns and store them away for the next night. His job got a premium for doing this chore.
The operators also looked after the south wye, north wye and M&WR main line switchs. The operator had a lot to do. First setting the balls then lining the switches. All switches had to be lined back for the normal routing which was the north south main line routing. In the early 1940s there was at least 14 trains operating through Wells River, with two extra turns out of Newport arriving. These extra`s would set off in the south Wells River yard wye engine and caboose and depart. The M&WR at that time had 4 trains a day in and out of Woodsville also. The M&WR steam engines had to run around the wye after arriving Woodsville and prior to departing west again. On occasion a helper engine was run over from Lyndonville and sat on the north wye as a helper engine. Wells River was in yard limits so engines could move around or work clearing the class trains.
At Wells River there was two train order signals. One on the main line which was always showing red as all trains required new train orders at Wells River station. The train order signal on the north leg of the wye was not in use in later years as trains departing Woodsville would have already received train orders before departing. B&M timetables further notes that train order signal does not affect trains using south wye track.
The following 1957 B&M timetable notes instructs crews about train speeds at Wells River. Speed on the North wye was 10 mph for both freight and passenger trains. South wye was restricted to 15 mph for all trains. On the main line in both directions train speeds between south wye and north siding switch was 25 mph for freight only, passenger trains ran at track speed although most did do a station stop. Yard limits rules also applied restricting freight trains to look out for each other within the limits.
Another aspect of trains operating on the north wye was switches and signal equipped with electric switch locks. The following is from the 1953 B&M timetable. The two arm semaphore as seen in the above photo was the northward home interlocking signal. Top arm at 60 degrees and bottom arm horizontal (green over red lights) Proceed. Top arm at horizontal and bottom arm at 60 degrees (red over green light) Proceed at restricted speed. Both arms horizontal (two red lights) Stop.
Local yard switchers movenments on the south wye and station spur tracks leading from the south wye at Wells River could switch without ball and light indications but under the direction of the switchtender at Woodsville. This same switchtender also had to give northbound trains on the south wye arriving Woodsville a highball before those trains could cross the bridge and enter the yard.
One other task of the operator at Wells River was the handling of the large amount of mail arriving on the Red Wing. In early years these amounts were at least two truck loads hauled over from Woodsville. The mail bags was organised for private mail contractors to pick up the next day. The life of an operator at a busy location such as Wells River, Vermont could keep one working hard all day.
Don Janes built a model of the Wells River station for a B&MRHS kit review last year. He is planning on posting some nice photos of his model including a few highlights during construction, plus a little history of the station...George Dutka