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Medford Branch railroad.

NOW that Medford's railway facilities, and especially the public accommodation by steam trains from the center, is being discussed by the Board of Trade, a sketch of the Branch may be timely.

This railroad was chartered May 7, 1845, on petition of James O. Curtis and others. In town meeting of June 22, 1845, the petition was endorsed by vote, and another vote instructed the selectmen to appear before the Legislature and look after the town's interests. The [p. 35] Boston & Maine Railroad was in its infancy then, and as late as March, 1842, had no tracks nearer Boston than Wilmington. From that point its trains went to Boston over the pioneer railroad, the Boston & Lowell, some four miles of which lay in the western section of Medford. At about the latter date Edward Smith, who was road master (of Boston & Maine) many years, took an engine across town from the siding at West Medford, through the streets to Malden, to be used there on the construction train.

The Boston & Lowell was also an infant. Chartered in 1829, and six years in building, it had been ten years in operation when the Medford Branch was projected. By the latter's construction Medford had easy access to Boston, with its own terminal at Medford square, then called the market-place. It would have been better if that committee had looked more clearly after the interests of the town than it did, and not have permitted a grade crossing of old Ship street.

Of the Branch, Brooks' History says, ‘It was readily finished and proves to be a productive and convenient road’—and it was, in its infantile days. At the present time it is a problem to the managers, and a small factor in passenger transit.

Of its early days the Register has secured items of interest, mostly from townsman Francis A. Wait, from whom we quote:—

About 1845 a large, fine dwelling house, owned by the heirs of Ebenezer Hall, stood where the B. & M. R. R. Depot on Main street, Medford, stands today. It was the best house between the square and the hotel on South street. The place was sold to the railroad, and James B. Gregg came into the possession of the house and removed it to the south side of the river. It was the second building from Cradock bridge on the west side of Main street. It was burned November, 1850. Passengers passed through the depot into the train shed that housed two cars; extra cars stood outside. The ticket office had a window in the main building and in the shed also. There were three docks from the river to Ship street. The railroad partially closed two of them. Crossing Ship street, it had a fairly clear route to the main line, running under [p. 36] bridges at Cross and Park streets. At Park street a locomotive tank was supplied with water from an ordinary hand pump mounted on a platform. Spring street and Glenwood were not on the map in 1845-6-7. One old house was at the foot of a lane near the present crossing. The land farther down was swamp and salt marsh. The road was single tracked; engine, built at Lowell, weighed about eleven tons and was without a cab; cars to correspond; small, stuffy depots, and earned a good dividend for the stockholders. Today, with a double track, first-class equipment in all respects, it does not earn its expenses.

John F. Sanborn was conductor a short time and then station agent at South Reading, and later in a provision store, ship-yard, and policeman in Medford; later was engineer on the Medford Branch until the railroad strike in 1877, then to New York Elevated, where he died about 1880.

Mr. Sanborn will be remembered as the engineer who, feeling bound by his membership in the Brotherhood of Engineers, left his engine when the general strike was ordered. He, however, ran it into the engine house and left it in proper order and safe condition, this in contrast to some others. The strike was unsuccessful, and later a company of Medford citizens asked for his reinstatement. The managers bore testimony to his previous excellent service, but firmly declined, saying, ‘The men who served us in our need at the risk of their lives (meaning more than ordinary railroad risk) cannot be displaced to make room for any who deserted us.’

In the equipment of the road (the cars, engines and station houses) there has been a change as the years have passed. Our illustration, the first engine and car, shows a marked contrast with the present. Some allowance must be made for old prints, as compared with modern photographic views, but we have seen a drawing, made by one we know capable, that tallies with this, which is [p. 37] said to have appeared first in Gleason's Pictorial and reprinted in some other in later years. The views in Barber's Historical Collection almost always showed men and boys under tall hats, and even the ‘first steam train in America’ is notable therefor. In our old-time picture the engine men wear the more sensible cap, while the fuel shown is wood. There were then no coal-burning engines.

Next there was

Engine Cocheco, built at Lowell, on the Branch a long time; weight, twelve tons. And later, and for many years, the engine Camilla, that weighed twenty tons and was built in Boston.

We fancy that Mr. Crook, the conductor, with his hat, dickey and resplendent badge would create a sensation on the Medford Branch today.

The Branch has not been without its fatalities, one in its early days—

James B. Gregg, a prominent business man in Medford, was killed on the Branch at Medford Junction April 28, 1848.

Up to the nineties locomotive engines bore names and were resplendent with brass, which made the fireman's task in keeping it bright somewhat onerous. Sometimes a large, new engine would be tried out on the Branch. Such were those mentioned in the Journal, Mr. Usher saying, ‘General Grant and General Sherman were in town last week. A large company followed them to Boston, but on arriving there were glad to get away from their terrible power,’ etc. Of course people hurried to their business and gladly went out of the smoke and grime of the train house.

We recall that the ‘flying switch’ was discontinued at terminals at the time of the strike as a safety measure, and trains since have been ‘pulled in.’ Now the great shed re-echoes with puff and snort, and reeks with hissing steam. Soot-laden smoke, sticky grime and cinder mud make us prefer and use the cleaner electric power.

The engine Camilla seems to have inspired a Medford boy to poetic flight, as appears in these verses:—

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