A Look Back: Odd occurrences of Jaffrey town history include runaway train

  • In 1969, a runaway train from Jaffrey to Peterborough crossed over this bridge across from DD Bean. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/21/2020 5:07:22 PM

Some of the more interesting stories about the life in the days of yore don’t fit into the orderly chapters of the town histories. But, as Jaffrey’s 1971 volume notes, “because of their human interest, they need to be told, lest they pass into oblivion.”

And so historian Alice Lehtinen tacked on a chapter just for those special items that need to be told. She titled it “Of Human Interest.” Indeed, the anecdotes presented offer a hodge-podge that provides an interesting look at the town. Here are some samples:

■ “When the mill chimney was struck by lightning in 1915, the bolt did extensive damage to sections of the sides and corner of the 125-foot chimney. The scars were still clearly visible when the chimney was taken down in 1966, without incident. White Brothers, who owned the mill property, hired brick masons from Boston, Massachusetts, to replace the broken bricks. While the work was in progress, the two workmen became inebriated and were lodged in the town jail on Blake Street for the night by Chief of Police George I. Nute. During the night they managed to escape and scaled to the top by means of ropes wrapped around the chimney. The next morning, when Chief Nute went in search of them, they yelled to him from the top:

“‘Hey Chief, if you want us, come up and get us!’”

■ “Some thirty or so years ago a happy Jaffrey hunter returned to the village with the ‘deer’ he had killed and proudly displayed it around town. Chief Hubert O’Neil approached the vehicle to see the trophy, then told the hunter, ‘That is not a deer! That is Jason Sawyer’s Jersey heifer.’ The owner of the heifer was then contacted.”

■ “With ten railroad crossings between the W.W. Cross & Co., Inc., plant in Jaffrey and the heart of Peterborough Village, it is something of a miracle that no one was hit by two run-away box cars of the Boston & Main Railroad freight train on the evening of October 29, 1969. George Fish of Jaffrey was one of the first to see them as he was driving home. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw ‘a train’ without a locomotive or caboose speeding over the Hillcrest Road crossing. But for Freight Conductor Thomas J. Walsh of Newton, Massachusetts, it was a night-marish ordeal as he hung on desperately to the hand grip and stirrup all the way over the better than six-mile stretch of railroad to the former railroad yard in Peterborough. There he jumped off, sustaining a minor leg injury. The lead car crossed Main Street and stopped in front of the Superintendent of Schools office, cutting tracks across the street surface and demolishing a brand new automobile belonging to a member of the education board. A pick-up truck was also damaged.

“Conductor Walsh was reaching for the handbrake when the box cars started rolling on their unscheduled run to Peterborough. One of the cars was loaded with bookmatches from D.D. Bean & Sons Co., Inc. Engineer John J. Kerrigan started in pursuit but was unable to overtake the cars which were speeding forty or more miles per hour.”

■ “A sound that seems to have been stilled from the open spaces, woodlands, and farmsteads is the plaintive nocturnal call of the whip-poor-will. Locally, so far as has been learned, no one has heard one for many years. Down through history, the whip-poor-will notes were a part of the ritual of every springtime and summertime. Irma Royce recalls that several years ago one ‘whipped’ over seventy times by actual count in an elm tree just outside her window, but none has been heard for several years. Whether these birds have become victims of pesticides is something for the ornithologists to answer.”

A Look Back originally appeared in the Monadnock Ledger.


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