In the 1920s, CV had one dining car. Here’s a letter my father wrote to Robert A. LeMassena.
September 15, 1974
Dear Mr. LeMassena:
Through the kind courtesy of Dave Morgan, I have only this weekend received a copy of Trains Magazine for May 1972. I had asked Dave for the copy, because I had seen, in the listing of available back issues, mention of an article, "The Bootlegger," and I felt sure that it could only refer to our beloved Montrealer and Washingtonian.
Sure enough. But more than just another article: it was an absolute pleasure to read your sensitive, accurate, and detailed story.
I had been, when I had just seen the listing "The Bootlegger," mildly indignant at such a name -- knowing full well that there were those who did call the Washingtonian that -- but the first paragraph of your story took away the sting: "whose southbound run was dubbed accurately, if not politely, the Bootlegger."
So long as you recognized the irreverent tone with which the name was applied down on the southend -- but never up on the CV!!!!
But let's not get away from the subject. Probably the most important thing to me was that you wrote of the train as she was when I also was a boy in St. Albans, and my father was a fireman (hand firing those 600's all right!) on nos. 20 and 21, while his two brothers with more senority were engineers, some of the time on these two trains.
I have placed the setting of your story as somewhere between 1928 and 1933 -- simply because the 600's came in April 1927, while the Pennsy was electrified to Washington by about 1933, I believe. Of course, your photograph of No. 21 with the 601 at East Swanton is dated July 1940, and the smoke deflectors and the higher coal bin on the tender were applied perhaps around that time.
To put my time into perspective, I was born 10/13/14. In late 1926, I started substituting as a messenger in "SA" telegraph office in St. Albans, adjacent to the Despatcher's office, and I worked part time and full time there until late 1931.
So I was there, too, during the great days when The Montrealer and The Washingtonian were our best trains, and we spared nothing to make and keep them exactly that. It went into the permanent record of any man who delayed those trains even one minute. (Except of course that the CV couldn't do anything about The New Haven, who were the villains in the old CV saying, "The New Haven will lose 20 minutes into Springfield, the B&M will hold their own, and we have to make up the 20 minutes into Montreal."
Which brings up one of the very few things I could find fault with in your story -- your comments about the slower run over the CV. Not so, not at all! While I can't produce timetables going that far back to prove it, it is my recollection that the New Haven and the B&M both had 40MPH terminal to terminal schedules for the trains while we had 45 MPH on the CV. At one time the schedule White River Junction to St. Albans was down to 2 hours 28 minutes for the 117 miles, and there was a standing bulletin that nos. 20 and 21 were not to make up more than 20 minutes between White River Jct. and St. Albans. Of course, it was also the informal understanding that the engineer who couldn't make up 20 minutes wasn't qualified for the run!
The only other thing I could find wrong was a slight misidentification of track. You are right that Windsor-White River Jct., 14 miles, was CV track; but also, the 11 miles between East Northfield, Mass. and Brattleboro, Vt., were paired track -- southward on the CV west of the Connecticut River, northward on the B&M across the river.
But a little more significantly, north of St. Albans the CV track did not end at the Canadian border: St. Armand, Des Rivieres, Iberville, all were CV, all the way to St. Johns, which was total of 43 miles if my memory is right. At St. Johns northward, the CV joined the CN track running from Rouses Point and Cantic to St. Johns and Montreal. So the exchange of mileage on crews and engines was the 47 miles St. Johns to Montreal versus the 43 miles St. Albans to St. Johns.
In post-WWII years, the CN upgraded the Rouses Point Branch of the CV between Fonda Jct. and East Alburgh, where the old Canada Atlantic line diverged to Boteau, and tied to the connection to the Rouses Point-St. Johns line at Cantic, to create a new main line between St. Albans and St. Johns. For a few years, service was maintained between St. Albans and St. Johns via the original main line through East Swanton-Highgate Springs-St. Armand, through a pair of locals pulled by the old 219 and 220, then finally the old line was abandoned save for a section up to East Swanton only.
This changed the crew and engine mileage, of course, shortening the CV mileage to 25 miles St. Albans to Cantic. Initially, the CN tried to exercise their additional mileage; but the Brotherhoods went to Uncle Sam, who ruled that unless CN allowed the CV crews constructively their old 43 miles St. Albans-St. Johns, then Uncle Sam would require CN to take their engines and crew off at the border, thus requiring establishment of engine and crew terminals at Cantic, at prohibitive cost to CN. So CN yielded.
Another idiosyncracy of Nos. 20 and 21 was that, by special agreements with the Brotherhooods, these two trains, and these two only, were exclusively CV jobs all the way White River Jct. to Montreal. This came about because of a contract Grand Trunk Railway had signed with Rutland RR in 1919, under which GTR agreed never to operate a through passenger service Montreal-New York City except via Rutland RR. In order to operate the Montrealer and Washingtonian without violating that contract, it was necessary that the CN avoid all participation in the operation of the train; so it was set up as a CV operation, running into Montreal under CV trackage rights, rather than as a CN operation St. Johns-Montreal. Reservations on the train were all handled by St. Albans, and when I was working as a messenger on the second trick, the hottest thing I had to handle was to run out to the ticket office with the "space message", which handed back to St. Albans all the space not checked in at the gate when the train left Montreal. The St. Albans ticket agent then did all the filling of requests for space down the line.
The CV's only dining car was each morning put on the rear of No. 21 at St. Albans, to Montreal, and taken off each night.
The subterfuge was carried to the point that 5 CN 4-6-2's, the 234-238 inclusive, moved down to the CV in 1924 to cover the runs, were repainted and renumbered 234-238. After the CV got the new 600's, 4-8-2's, the 234-238 were sent back to CN, but were again repainted in St. Albans in their real owners livery and numbers before they went back.
Oh, we were mighty proud of our train. When the disastrous Flood (which all Vermonters know to be the big one of 1927) knocked out the CV between St. Albans and White River Jct., Nos 20 and 21 were run for an entire year over the D&H, who very kindly charged the CV $400 per day for the use of their track, meanwhile requiring CV to furnish engines and crews and fuel and pay for a D&H pilot, but refusing to let the trains handle a single passenger except Montreal-New York or beyond. Do you wonder at the strength of the feeling in Vermont in 1971-72, when we were waging the campaign to get Montreal service restored by Amtrak via the CV instead of the D&H? I am sure wars have been fought over lesser issues, than the determination of CV employees and the State of Vermont that this time we are going to get the trains back! (A Burlington Free Press signed editorial said, "What Vermonters must do is beat Governor Rockefeller to the punch"!!)
But here I'm getting into another subject, which someday will be the subject of that book I've promised people to write -- as you may know, I was the originator of the proposal (literally a 29-page business Proposal dated July 26, 1971) to get the Montrealer and Washingtonian restored. It took 13 months out of my life, but we won. Which is the reason that in May 1972 I didn't get a copy of Trains Magazine -- I was just to inundated in fighting the campaign to take time to pick up the magazine!
Now I have the May 1972 issue, and belatedly I've enjoyed more than I can say, your fine article, which in almost every paragraph took me back some 40 years in a heady return to those days when life was so much simpler for all of us -- or so it seems.
In return, I had promised Dave Morgan to send him a copy of the original Proposal for the Montrealer's restoration, which I shall... Xerox at the office.... I'll run two copies...and send you one too; had Amtrak known as much as you do of the importance of the old Montrealer, it wouldn't have taken us 13 months to teach them. (Their position was, no train has run for 5 years, therefore no train should ever run there.)
Of course, now that the train is back, it is most gratifying to find it is the absolutely best performing train financially on the entire Amtrak System.
I hoped I haven't bored you with these extended comments, but I put a lot of my life and soul into that train, both when I was a boy and in 1971-72. I don't think there could possibly be anyone who appreciated your article more than I.
Joseph V. MacDonald