Runaway train in Ludlow

Beginning in the 1870s, it was popular for people to collect newspaper clippings of their day. This hobby continued well into the middle of the last century. In many cases, the individual who collected these clippings pasted them into an old book or ledger no longer used. Many of these old scrapbooks exist today. At the Chester Historical Society, we have quite a few scrapbooks.

J.M. Hull & A.J. Hough scrapbook. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding.

The historical value is determined by the newspaper clippings the individual kept. It’s fair to say most scrapbooks are births, deaths, and marriages. While they are interesting, few would make an interesting article.

My story last week about George Hilton came from a Ted Spaulding scrapbook. Whoever the keeper of this scrapbook was, he or she collected more than just obituaries. It’s full of interesting articles.

There’s a story about a Ludlow man who had his head crushed by a press while working at the Ludlow Woolen Mill. Hard to believe but the man survived and suffered no long-term effects.

It seems the Vermont Tribune had a correspondent who had grown up in Ludlow by the name of “Addie Howard Wheeler.” Addie was living in Sangerville, Maine when she was sending her memories to the Tribune. Her stories are very entertaining. The title of her column is, “North of Forty-Five.” Week after week, she sent her stories in. Many of her memories were of the Ludlow area many years ago. Unfortunately, they are too long for me to reproduce here. I could run them in installments but I’m not sure that would be effective.

It is possible that Addie’s stories are fiction. Perhaps someone in Ludlow will know and contact me. There is another scrapbook from Ted that is a collection of J.M. Hull and A.J. Hough clippings. Again I think these are Ludlow people. If you know about these people let me know.

Below is a circa 1920 story I found in one of Ted’s scrapbooks. In the old days, Okemo Mountain was known as Ludlow Mountain. I think most of us will know the location of this runaway train. It would be north of the intersection of Routes 103 and 100, on Route 103 and at the summit.

 Wooden Brakes on Train Caught Fire – It was 40 Years Ago.

The St. Cloud, Minn. Daily Times of December 29 contains a couple of columns about William Ryan, who retired December 31 after 53 years of railroading. For 40 years he had been a resident of St. Cloud, but there are still a few in North Walpole and D.W. Riley is one of them, who remember him as a boy when he lived in that village. When 17 years old he began work for the Central Vermont railroad at Bellows Falls. Later he worked for the Connecticut River road, Rutland and Burlington and the Cheshire.

The Times says:

“Though never seriously injured in his many years of service, Mr. Ryan has had many interesting and thrilling experiences. Perhaps the one which he will ever remember most clearly, even more so than a head on collision at Melrose, was the time he fired on a runaway train down a steep Vermont mountain side.

“Ryan on that occasion was firing a heavy train over the Green Mountains, a train with the now obsolete wooden brake shoes, when the friction caused the shoes to ignite. The only possible method of preventing the fire was the release of the brakes, and that course meant disaster because of the steep grade. As a consequence, Ryan, then a mere youth, had the unique experience of riding on the head end of a firy comet which coasted down the mountain with a trail of fire and sparks through the darkness of the night. That the ‘comet’ metaphor is apt is evident from the fact that the train made 11 miles in 7 minutes flat during the runaway.

“The engineer, an “old hand,” realized the danger more thoroughly than did the boy fireman and resigned himself to meet his death. At the number 8 cut, near Ludlow, was the spot the engineer selected as the one which would bring death, and he so informed the fireman. However, the train remained on the rails and was eventually brought under control, but Ryan’s son Jack never had a more thrilling experience dodging submarines in the North Atlantic than his father had on that wild ride down the New England mountain.”

Instead of an old saying I offer a little ditty I found pasted in the same scrapbook.


Here lies the body

Of Jonathan Trott

The train travelled faster

Than Jonathan thought.”

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