The Worcester, Nashua & Portland Railway
An Autumnal Interlude in the Transition Era
It's October of 1956 in New England, the presidential election is just a few weeks away and everyone likes Ike, and autumn is in the air. This year the autumnal transition brings with it a colorful change to more than just the leaves. The transition era is in full swing on American railroads as steam locomotives give way to diesels. On the Worcester, Nashua & Portland Railway the transition is about eighty-five percent complete. Some switchers, commuter locomotives, and stand-by assignments are still held down by steam, but most everything else is now handled by ALCO diesels in WN&P's flashy livery, or units on loan from its parent companies: the New Haven, the Maine Central, and the Boston & Albany subsidiary of the New York Central System.
For more an a half-century, the WN&P has gone about its business of linking its parent companies as a bypass around the Boston & Maine's monopoly on Boston-Portland traffic, while also dutifully serving a web of branchlines around its headquarters city of Nashua, NH. In addition to its namesake cities, the WN&P has lines to Boston, MA, Portsmouth, NH, Providence, RI, New London and Hartford, CT, and Bellows Falls and St. Johnsbury, VT. At one time there had been talk of merging it and its three parent companies into one railroad, but these were largely abandoned over the New York Central's objections to losing its hold over the B&A and private concerns that a NYCS sans B&A might go after the Boston & Maine and cause an even bigger competitive mess in New England for the MEC and NH.
The WN&P was never intended to be as elaborate as it has turned out to be. Inspired by a pair of articles in the annual Model Railroad Planning (2000 edition), I was going to model Peterboro, NH, in a 2'x12' space. Not being a huge fan of the B&M, I started looking around for alternative railroad names. The WN&P sounded nice. Idle curiosity found me looking into its history, and it was there that I discovered that there had been several battles for control of the line, the last one coming in the 1920s when the Maine Central tried to get the ICC to give it control of the line so as to break the B&M's monopoly on Boston-Portland traffic. While the real MEC failed, my fictional one didn't. And thus a huge tale began to be woven. While my interest and focus is still on Peterboro, it's going to be a lot more interesting a place thanks to a touch of curiosity.
As a side note, one of the things that crossed my mind while researching Peterboro, NH, is that the town is "generic New England" enough that by just swapping out some of the rolling stock, "Peterboro" could be a town on any of the New England railroads, or most of the Northeastern ones, and it could even probably pass for a town in many parts of the US or Canada. Which is quite fitting for a town that inspired Thornton Wilder's Our Town.