MANCHESTER - The Rutland Railroad Historical Society will hold its annual convention May 3-4 in Manchester. The group is a non-profit historical and educational organization dedicated to preserving the memory and heritage of the Rutland Railroad and has upwards of 350 members nationwide.

The railroad had its beginnings in 1900-1901 in the combination of several independent railroads that included the Bennington & Rutland, the Chatham & Lebanon Valley, the Rutland & Burlington, and the Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain, an empire largely put together by Percival Clement (who also owned the Rutland Herald). The 407 mile system reached from Bellows Falls all the way to Ogdensburg, N.Y. on the St.

The Rutland Railroad Historical Society will be holding its annual convention in Manchester on May 3-4. Here, a passenger train from the age of steam pulls
The Rutland Railroad Historical Society will be holding its annual convention in Manchester on May 3-4. Here, a passenger train from the age of steam pulls into the former train station in Manchester. (Courtesy Photo)
Lawrence River via Rutland, Burlington and Alburg; it also had a line from Rutland south to Chatham, N.Y. via Manchester and Bennington.

After the onset of automobile travel sapped the line of its most lucrative passenger trade, the railroad survived in an increasingly competitive freight-hauling market, at best only marginally profitable, passing into receivership in the pre-WWII years. But even as late as the post-WWII era, Manchester was served by six daily passenger trains, two that were locals and four that ran between New York City and Montreal, plus freight trains and a daily milk train.

The railroad was reorganized in 1950 as the Rutland Railway and enjoyed a brief resurgence in traffic, in part due to an intensive sales effort (and also by shedding itself of unprofitable passenger service after a labor strike in May, 1953). But the decline of industry along the line, competition from trucks and further labor troubles in 1960 led to another strike that ultimately resulted in the line's abandonment. Portions of the railroad were bought by the state of Vermont and leased to new operators, railroads that are today part of Vermont Rail System.

Saturday's program at the First Congregational Church begins at 8:30 a.m. sharp with coffee and doughnuts and set-up of swap/sell and display tables for members. Inclusive in the $30 registration cost is a buffet lunch, and also the option to visit and walk through the restored Pullman car Sunbeam, on display close by outside the grounds of Hildene, summer estate of Robert Todd Lincoln, once the president of the Pullman Company. A walking tour of the railroad station area in Manchester Depot will be held in the afternoon and there will be on-going, richly-illustrated Powerpoint presentations back at the church, loosely-themed to touch on the Rutland's presence in town, as well as that of the Rich Lumber Company's logging railroad, railroad-related businesses in Manchester, and the Manchester, Dorset & Granville Railroad. Dinner at an area restaurant will follow at 5:30 p.m. Advance convention registrations with dinner reservations are required. A presentation follows at 8 p.m. that will include content on both the Wagner Palace Car Company (at one time headed by Dr. William Seward Webb, president of the Rutland Railroad) and the Pullman Company. Sunday will bring (beginning at 9 a.m.) the choice of a walking tour of remnants of the Rich Lumber Company railroad or the Manchester Dorset & Granville Railroad.

Further information, including a downloadable convention registration form, is available on the group's website: rutlandrr.org or may be had by writing to Philip Blanchard (membership chair) at P.O. Box 1402, Ogdensburg, NY 13669, or by calling convention co-chair Phil Jordan at (802) 733-7504.