The Hoot, Toot, and Whistle

by kfrego

The Bear Swamp Pumped Storage Hydro-Electric Project was located at the east end of the Mohawk Trail near Charlamont, MA on the Deerfield River. It was just a few miles below the Vermont border and about fifty five miles from my home in Hinsdale, NH. The main features of the project included a 600 megawatt two unit underground powerhouse, upper reservoir, upper intake structure, 770 foot vertical shaft, power tunnel, penstock tunnels, tailrace structure with gates, and earth filled lower dam, Two smaller relocated power houses with a total of 25 megawatts were also part of the project. The electricity produced during peak power usage could provide enough electricity for 400,000 to 550,000 average homes. A pumped storage power plant operates by pumping water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir using excess power during low demand periods. The water is dropped back down to produce power during peak demand periods. Each of the two units at Bear Swamp pumped 65,824 gallons per second up to fill the reservoir. When generating power the units used 80,410 gallons per second each. The upper reservoir was 770 feet higher than the bottom reservoir.

One unique feature of the project was the Hoosac Tunnel and Wilmington Railroad. It ran the full length of the job along the Deerfield River. Purchase of the railroad was made prior to starting the project, but government approval to abandon the railroad was slow in coming. The first year of the project the HT&W engine with a couple boxcars made the round trip from the Hoosac Tunnel to Wilmington, Vermont. Equipment and laborers were assigned to escort the train on a daily basis. We called the HT&W the hoot, toot, and whistle. We had access roads, river crossings, large rock excavations, and clearing operations all adjacent to the railroad. We could not remove any rail without an approved abandonment by the government. We covered the rails with fine materials for protection as soon as the train passed. We removed any obstacles and cleaned the tracks when the train returned again. The rock and clearing excavations frequently buried the rails under ten feet or more of material. One of the exploration tunnel portals was so close to the tracks we had to keep a flagman when the train approached so equipment wouldn’t back in front of the train. The train was never delayed.

J A Jones was the contractor at Bear Swamp. Gates & Fox had a subcontract for all of the underground excavations. The project was just getting started when I left Boston and took a job on the rock bolt crew. Myself and Cliff LaFountain were the only ones from Lyon Mountain at Bear Swamp. Many of the old Northfield Project employees were at Bear Swamp. The workforce was exceptional compared to those on my crew in Boston. If you didn’t show up ready to work at Bear Swamp you were tramped. If you didn’t like to work every day that was easily accommodated also. Just don’t come back.

Linda and I liked a lot of things about being home in Hinsdale…………………..the best was our final trip home from Boston.

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