Rail Trail: Look Up, And Closely

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Susan B. Apel

Do you know what this is?

Celebrating July 4th with a walk on the Rail Trail from the Ice House Road access toward Lebanon. About 100 yards before the bridge overpass near the Mascoma Lake Dam, we looked up. And had no idea what it was that we saw.

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Thank the gods for Google.

Same as the featured image above, but showing the upcoming bridge. Photos and research assistance by Keith Irwin

Spoiler alert:  These are tell-tales, wires or ropes that would have hung down over a passing train. According to American-Rails.com, they are now relatively ancient and rare. "Prior to the modern era of air and pneumatic brakes a crewman known as a brakeman was required to scale the tops of freight cars, while the train was at-speed or in motion, and manually set each car's braking system." Clearly a dangerous job. The purpose of the tell-tales was to warn him that an impending obstacle--in this case the bridge--was coming up. He then knew to lie flat on the car to avoid injury. 

If you are or have ever been a Lionel train owner, you might have had something like this in your collection:

And you would have known that the brakeman would have had to take quick action when he saw the tell-tales. 

Had we not been re-routed 180 degrees from our original, opposite direction by a bear in the center of the Rail Trail, (Wait, a bear? Since posting, a friend has suggested that I may have buried the lead on this story) we would have missed this delightful reminder of an era when trains, not people, used this path. Another walk, another history lesson.


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