The Botwood Railway
The Railway to Botwood was a result of the Reid Newfoundland Company being hard to deal with. Originally the shipping port for the mill at Grand Falls was supposed to be Lewisporte. In fact it was through Lewisporte that most of the machinery and materials used to build the Grand falls mill were shipped.
The Botwood Railway was not originally the brainchild of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. The Botwood Railway was originally planned by the Albert E. Reed Company to ship pulp from its mill at Bishop’s Falls out of Botwood. The REED Company was not on overly good terms with the REID Newfoundland Railway due to the latter company’s worries and subsequent arbitration that the dam built for the Reed mill could potentially damage the railway trestle at Bishop’s Falls (Understandable because it was the third one built there). So rather than have to use the Reid Company’s services Reed decided to build it’s own line.
The A.N.D Company enters into the picture in 1908 when it was decided that the mill at Grand Falls would have an increased production capacity compared to what was initially planned. The Reid Railway would not agree to ship the increased amount of freight at the price agreed upon in the original contract. So A.N.D came to an agreement whereas a Railway would be built from Grand Falls to Botwood on a 75-25% basis with A.N.D shouldering the majority cost and Reed the smaller amount.
The line from Grand Falls to Botwood was constructed in 1908. To build the line A.N.D employed many of the same men who had done similar work for the Reid Railway; including David “Davey” Steele. Steele was a Scotsman who had come to Newfoundland to work for fellow Scots-the Reids. After construction was completed Steele stayed on as Road Master of the Botwood Railway.Steele was succeeded by Thomas Arklie who was superintendent for many years.[i]
From the very beginning all of the locomotive and rolling stock was owned by the A.N.D Company. The port facilities were originally contracted out to a firm of Park and Storm. A.N.D took over from Park and Storm around 1916 and from that point forward handled all shipping and stevedoring.
The first engine, Number 1, was a little two axle 0-4-0T Baldwin tank engine used for shunting and switching. It was acquired in the summer of 1907 and would be used right up until the end of steam operations in Newfoundland in 1958. Two larger tank engines of the 2-4-2 and 2-6-2 type were acquired from Baldwin in 1909 for hauling pulp and paper to Botwood. The next year another engine was acquired also of the same type.[i] By 1920 the A.N.D Company had 10 numbered engines operating on the Botwood Railway.[ii] These ten engines included Number 7, the oldest locomotive in Newfoundland, bought used from the Reid Newfoundland Railway and the only survivor of the Botwood Railways steam fleet.
The Botwood Railway mainly shipped pulp and paper to Botwood, return trips were made carrying cargoes of coal, china clay, limestone and later bunker C oil to Grand Falls. After 1928 the Botwood Railway also hauled Buchans ore from Bishop’s Falls to Botwood. Passengers were also carried on a limited basis and the Company owned a couple of passenger’s cars for that purpose. Well known passenger runs were the Nickle Train from Botwood for patrons wanting to see a movie in Grand Falls and the trains that brought servicemen to Grand Falls from Botwood in their free time.
Most of the maintenance and repairs was done at Botwood where the Company maintained a repair shop, which is still standing. There was also a turntable located t Grand Falls in the mill yard across from Riverview Road.
Canadian National began phasing out steam operations in Newfoundland in 1952, within a few years AND Co followed suit. The late 1950’s saw new engines and a new name on the rails of Central Newfoundland. In 1956 the Botwood Railway became the Grand Falls Central Railway a subsidiary of the A.N.D Company.
Within two years of the incorporation of the GFCRR the fleet of steam engines was replaced. Ten or so steam engines were replaced by three diesel locomotives.[iii] The diesels were General Electric 70 Ton switcher types which would remain the mainstay of motive power for the remainder of operations.
During the last years the diesels and their associated cars were all painted in a distinctive orange color. This was accompanied by the Grand Falls Central logo which after 1965 features a Price Newfoundland symbol in the middle.
In later years there were in the vicinity of 60 people employed on the GFCRR and at the time railways were just not economical. Trucking was seen as a cheaper alternative especially when the distance between mill and port was less than thirty miles. Tractor trailer trucks were purchased in 1974 on a trial basis to determine if they were cheaper to operate than the railway. They were. The Grand Falls Central Railway ceased operations on June 29, 1977. From that point on all shipping to and from Botwood from Grand Falls and Buchans was done by truck. The three little orange diesel locomotives were shipped off to Costa Rica along with some of the rails and rolling stock. After a few years in Costa Rica the locomotives reportedly were sold to Nicaragua.
The rail operations associated with the Grand Falls mill ended on the same tracks that they began. The little Plymouth switcher Number 100[iv] as well as a track mobile was retained for shunting small cargoes between the mainline at Windsor, down the same spur that was built around 1907 for mill construction. This continued until around 1987 shortly before all railway operations in Newfoundland were shut down.
Strangely enough, the Grand Falls Central Railway existed as a company for many years afterwards even though the rails had long been taken up.
Millertown Branch and the Harpoon Tramway.
The Railway operations of the A.N.D Co were not confined to the Grand Falls to Botwood line. It also included a branch line from Millertown Junction to Millertown, This line had been built by the Reid’s for Lewis Miller to ship his lumber to Lewisporte in 1900. Miller also had acquired one locomotive off the Reid’s for shipping. The history of the Millertown branch between 1905 and 1910 is convoluted, it may have been owned by A.N.D Co, there are also reports that Reid Train crews were contracted to operate trains on it. Whatever the case maybe the branch was owned by A.N.D by 1910. The Millertown Branch served mainly to convey passengers (mostly loggers) to Millertown and after 1928 Buchans, Originally Botwood Railway engines were used but starting in the 1920’s smaller gas powered engines were used that were more suited to the light traffic on this line. In the late 1920’s, after the new dam was built on Red Indian Lake, the Millertown Branch was extended south across the new dam on the Exploits River via what would become known as the Harpoon Tramway.
In the beginning of pulpwood operations most of the wood was close to Red Indian Lake and the Exploits River. By 1928 cutting had progressed further and further inland away from the lake into the area around Lake Ambrose. At this point truck transport was in its infancy and it made more sense to build a tramway to transport loggers and supplies to the camps. The rail head of the Harpoon tramway was at Lake Ambrose where a rather substantial logging depot was built consisting of a couple of houses, bunkhouses, cook houses, barns, sheds and garages. This depot served the camps located further into the interior of Millertown Division which would be serviced by boats and portage roads.
All of the engines used on the Harpoon Tramway were small gas or diesel locomotives. This no doubt would have been due to the light nature of the traffic and the fact that steam locomotives were more prone to starting fires. There were a few engines of this type, some of them looked rather like they were built locally for use on the line. At least one of these locomotives was reportedly bought to be used at the Octagon Pond steel mill after the closure of the Harpoon line.
Improved trucks and advances in road building led to the redundancy of the Harpoon Tramway. Its operations finished up in 1958. Part of the tramway was retained, a car ferry, which consisted of a locomotive and flatcar that shunted vehicles across the Exploits River Dam near Millertown. This operation continued into the 1960’s.
with special thanks
to Andrew Baird for research and pictures.
This article would not have been possible except for the help of railway enthusiast Andrew Baird. Baird is a wealth of knowledge and provided me with many pictures of the Botwood Railway.
[ii] This does not include at least one unnumbered engine a 0-4-0 used for work train service and the shunting locomotive shipped to Grand Falls during construction.
[iii] An additional gas switcher had been acquired in 1953 which was used on the Harpoon Tramway and the Millertown branch. Later it was used for Shunting to the mill from the mainline even after rail shipments to Botwood stopped.
[iv] This is still on the Island, albeit in a deteriorating state at Trinity Loop.