Vintage Views: Railway Parts Lost Over The Years
I walk in silence as the sun warms me on this cool autumn morning. This place that I visit is empty of people while the past is not known to some. People pass along the road without a second glance at the desolate landscape, that vacant piece of our now so empty past. These are the Concord Railroad Shops that I walk through today, alone with my thoughts on what once was.
There have been several railroads in Concord since the arrival of the very first train. With Concord being a central location, geography still holds pieces of these railroads, coming together today, rusted, scrapped, and lost over the years. The Concord Railroad Shops are located about a mile south of our much loved and somewhat sacred train depot that once graced the area along Storrs Street between our Main Street and the River Merrimack. With a vibrant past and a railway history stretching back over a century here in Concord, some of us still have memories deeply rooted in our hearts. We call it nostalgia.
With our rich rail history, thousands of employees built their careers in the railroad with thousands of train departures and arrivals and much more. This railway epicenter needed to maintain trains and build new ones, requiring an area focused on the mechanical aspect of railway operations. The Concord Railroad Shops were used for this purpose, far and slightly off the site of people getting on and off trains at the depot. Maintenance has always been a priority, stores a mile to the south were needed to keep the trains running. Since the first railways in operation there have been various maintenance shops in the southern end of our town, growing with use, sometimes abandoned, but resurrected once again as the ownership and names of the railways were changing.
It was the Boston and Main Railroad that survived and flourished here in our city. The Boston and Maine Railroad built a huge railroad store here in 1897, supporting several Boston and Maine Railroads operating facilities such as the South Division, Nashua and Portland, Worcester, White Mountains and local activity. The Boston and Main stores occupied a 26-acre parcel of land in Concord, with the actual buildings on the site covering 4.6 acres. The construction of 1897 allowed the railroad to provide the most extravagant service and manufacturing available during this period. The famous General Peaslee locomotive was built in Concord years before this 1897 expansion, known as New England’s largest locomotive for many years. General Peaslee was used as a postal carrier to reach points between Concord and Nashua.
The Concord Railroad Shops designed and built by the Boston and Main Railroad tended to offer the ability to consolidate labor while saving overall operations. It was known as a very convenient and efficient operation. All buildings had one story except for offices and storage areas, planned and constructed with the eternal thought of efficiency, the buildings had tall windows allowing as much natural light as possible. The building locations were all strategic and allowed for easy loading and unloading while each building was kept away from the others to aid in fire prevention. Bricks and mortar with fire retardant roofing material were essential to further suppress fire problems. Many buildings were also constructed with the ability to easily extend the length of the building for further development with installed services very similar to a small town. The stores were hooked up to city water and sewers in 1897 with two massive Concord water lines provided, one for combat fire if needed while the other line was for common use. The shops also had their own steam plant, distributed their own electricity, a lumber shed, a forge, a dry house, a mill, a cabinet, tin and pipe workshops with heavy cranes. There was a boiler shop, an assembly shop and a machine shop as well as other specialty stores. There was a freight and passenger repair shop with a very nice laundry room. The laundry room was used by all employees at the end of their shifts to shower and wash, as stores tended to dirty clothes and workers in the process. The paint shop was quite extravagant and included skilled painters who applied finish paint to the outside of the trains, varnish to the inside of the trains, and bold letters to let the public know it was cars and locomotives from Boston and the Maine Railroad. Concord Shops manufactured many of their own tools and did their own custom fabrications while providing storage space for all operational divisions in northern New England.
With the construction of the Concord Railroad Shops in 1897, there were six main buildings on the site with several small buildings for storage and various facilities all linked by tracks for ease of movement. This large parcel of land also served as storage for railroad tracks and supplies to operate the Boston and Maine Railroad in New England.
In the early 1920s the stores were updated again with the addition of a rotunda, a turntable, a coal shed, a sand house, water tanks and a pumping station. As we greeted the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the rail industry faced a decline in traffic concentrating their repairs from outlying areas to stores in Billerica, Massachusetts. The landscape of northern New England was changing. People were driving cars themselves and airports were becoming popular. The railroad continued to decline. Wooden railroad cars were now made of steel, while detailed maintenance was less and less needed with each season that approached. During the 1950s, the railroad continued to decline. The Concord Railroad Shops were closed permanently in July 1958. The Concord Railroad Shops were sold to a real estate developer in the summer of 1959 and ownership changed hands several times over the decades. The Boston and Maine Railroad Shops eventually became known as Concord Industrial Park, accessible from South Main Street. The Coach and Freight Shop building was consumed by fire in 1988 and some remaining buildings have now been removed.
As I leave the old Boston and Maine Railroad stores in Concord, I look back, thinking of the thousands of men who started their careers in the railroads and eventually retired as than old people. All that remains is the spirit of the past, waving to the curious while letting others pass without knowing it.