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Thread: Pemigewasett East Branch Logging Railroad Excursion 9/19/2020

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    Senior Member Jazzbo's Avatar
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    Pemigewasett East Branch Logging Railroad Excursion 9/19/2020

    Pemi East Branch Excursion

    Date: 9/19/2020

    An excursion out to East Branch and North Fork of the East Branch Pemigewassett River has been on my to-do list for some time. Saturday ended up being the day. I road my mountain bike up the East Side Road for 2.9 miles to the Wilderness Boundary and hid the bike in the woods, and started hiking whereupon I met up with a back-country ranger who said she was hiking out to Thoreau Falls Bridge area for routine patrol so we walked together for 3 miles or so. I enjoyed our conversation very much. We talked about legacy of the logging rail roads and many other interesting things.

    There were two primary items I was interested in. First was to examine an interesting terrain feature I saw on Stonewall Mapper. I thought this feature would be another logging road, but it turned out to be a channel that supplied water to the large diameter cast iron pipes one passes by just before the bridge crossing. I followed the channel to its source at the river. I found many peculiar artifacts all along the channel including signs of blasting, embedded timber, corduroying timbers. I think it was a pre-existing channel that was enhanced to improve flow to an impoundment from which the steam engines took on water for the boilers. There must have been a dam here that has since been breached. One can still see remains of the cribwork adjacent to the cast iron pipe. The logging RR went along the top of the dam on its way to the old rail road bridge. I’ve always wondered what the purpose of the wrought iron pipe was. I now think it was installed as part of the dam to drain off water prevent overtopping dam and the rail bed.

    The wrought iron pipe located just before reaching former site of Thoreau Falls Bridge. By the way it is against the law to remove artifacts from WMNF.



    The channel which I followed all the way to East Branch.



    I came across several boulders which show signs of having been blasted to reduce obstructions to slow within the channel.



    Second item of interest was to cross the East Branch and North Fork to find and follow the railroad bed of a spur of the logging railroad that extended up the west side of the North Fork. The flood waters of 1927 storm took out the bridge and it was decided it was too costly to rebuild the bridge and to abandon the tracks and equipment on that side of the North Fork. Due to recent drought water crossing was trivial. I located the track bed fairly quickly, but was disappointed not to see any rails. I kept going and eventually started seeing rails. A fairly sizable tree has grown up.



    I eventually reached the famous harp switch and observed that the spur split into two sets of rails.



    It is extremely rare to find the entire harp switch mechanism in the White Mountain National Forest.



    The two sets of rails diverge from each other. One of these was a siding or perhaps this was simply the end of the line and they were both sidings.



    The two sets of rails extended into a marshy area making it trickier to follow the rails. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to perform more than a cursory exploration, due to dense forest and marshy terrain encountered along the route.





    I eventually lost the rails altogether and it was time to formulate an exit strategy. I could simply back track or since water was low making for easy crossing I decided to work my way over to the North Fork and cross it. The river bed was dominated by an enormous boulder field which was quite interesting. I rock hopped across river, scrambled up the bank, and shortly met up with the Thoreau Falls Trail right at the harp switch for Camp 22. What good luck! Two harp switches in one day, although this one was far less complete.

    A third Item was optional pending extra time. With remaining daylight, I figured I had enough time to make a quick run over to Crystal Brook to make preliminary examination of east bank to see if there were any sled roads associated with another interesting terrain feature I discovered in Stonewall Mapper. I then turned back and hiked rapid pace to get back to bike in time for the ride back to Lincoln Woods. I did have time to stop at site of former suspension bridge for a brief rest and re-fuel.

    I rode the 2.9 miles of East Side Trail back to trailhead parking lot in twilight and had to resort to headlamp for the last mile. I encountered a male moose with medium size rack who stopped to study me briefly and then sauntered into the forest.
    Last edited by Jazzbo; 09-20-2020 at 10:20 PM.
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    Senior Member Barkingcat's Avatar
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    Very cool -- in particular the switch.

    Thank you for posting this!


    Oh -- and the boulder-blasting picture is excellent, too.

    It must have been pretty exploring that area and coming across those lil' nuggets -- from a very different time.
    Last edited by Barkingcat; 09-21-2020 at 05:35 PM.

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    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Very interesting. Thank you for posting. One of the best trip reports I have read on this site!
    "I'm getting up and going to work everyday and I am stoked. That does not suck!"__Shane McConkey

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    I spent a week at that confluence earlier this summer and was too distracted by fishing to follow the spur across the river. Looks like an excuse to head back.

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    Member Rhody Seth's Avatar
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    Thanks for the report. Really enjoyed the pictures.

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    Senior Member dailey7779's Avatar
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    Excellent report and great pictures, this is one of the coolest spots in the Pemi. I was able to journey out there a few years back with a friend and were thrilled to stumble upon the harp switch still standing. When we were out there the last picture you posted had water a few inches above the rails (picture), (full report). With the drought and the underbrush dying out quickly it's a perfect time to head off trail to explore these hidden gems! We ventured a little further to see how far the rails went but quickly lost track of them and turned around and retraced our steps, as we made our way back closer to the river crossing I tripped over a crunchy bump of leaves/twigs revealing what seemed like a never ending pile of railroad spikes!
    Last edited by dailey7779; 09-22-2020 at 02:29 PM. Reason: added link to a pic and old trip report

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    Senior Member Salty's Avatar
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    Jazzbo, you rock, dude. I've been wanting to get out for a week of exploration of that area this year but work is too insane right now, and the weather is getting too cold for me to crawl out of a cozy sleeping bag. Last year I spent a couple nights out and saw that pipe (same time the FS crew was out taking out the Thoreau bridge), will be definitely be checking that out further. And as close as I was, I didn't get the chance to check out the N. Fork spur despite knowing what lay ahead thanks to Chris.

    At one of the camps in the region, I found an electrical conduit, although it (ahem) sparked a memory of reading somewhere the later camps had electricity. Another task, return and trace that sucker out. Lots of great history out there, glad you ran into the FS employee for a great chat.

    And FWIW, I'll throw out it's not only illegal to remove artifacts, it's illegal to disturb them at all. That harp switch at 22 lost all historical relevance when someone moved it next to the trail. Otherwise it would have been straightforward to determine where the camp spur occurred.

    Quote Originally Posted by JoshandBaron View Post
    I spent a week at that confluence earlier this summer and was too distracted by fishing to follow the spur across the river. Looks like an excuse to head back.
    Yeah, that's the area I was at last year. Until the second night when I noticed the no camping sign about 8' up a tree. Argh. I had this nagging feeling it was no good until after the N. Fork/E. Branch confluence, and I was right on where the rail line. Didn't get as much fishing in as I'd like since I apparently forgot how to tie flies onto the line securely... On the bright side I was a good doobie and dismantled the fire ring and brushed in the camp site...

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    Senior Member Jazzbo's Avatar
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    One of the jobs of back-country ranger is to check compliance with requirement for siting camp sites 200' from trail and/or brooks. The ranger showed me an forest service GPS app on her phone that shows maps 200' no-camp zones along trails and brooks making it easy to verify compliance with 200' rule.

    I don't know if I can fit it in this fall, but I definitely want to go back to explore 1.0 mile long terrain feature at constant 2040' elevation on south bank of EB I found on Stonewall Mapper. My side trip to Crystal Brook was to verify presence of sled roads that might lead up to it. I think the long terrain feature is road bed for construction of the wood stave penstock intended to supply water from the hydro dam Parker Young was planning to build below confluences at Stillwater to the power plant was supposed to be constructed at North Fork Junction. Francis Belcher in his book on RR logging employs RR talk so he refers to the confluence of NF and EB as North Fork Junction. Bill Gove says the power plant was supposed to have had 330' of head. The dam was supposed to be 65' high. I've heard a report from some acquaintances who they say they discovered a huge concrete construction in the EB river around Stillwater. I've heard about flow measuring stations, but this sounds like perhaps footings for the dam. Gove writes that work was abandoned for unspecified reasons.
    On #67 of NE67
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    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    Wouldn't the FS benefit from publicizing such an app? That way, anyone with the app knows if they are in compliance. Maybe they do, but I've never heard of it before. Did you catch the name, Jazzbo?

    Tim
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    Senior Member Jazzbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikehikeskifish View Post
    Wouldn't the FS benefit from publicizing such an app? That way, anyone with the app knows if they are in compliance. Maybe they do, but I've never heard of it before. Did you catch the name, Jazzbo?

    Tim
    Yes I agree it would be helpful app to have. The ranger told me FS was eventually going to make it available in near future. I'm forgetting exact words she used. We were both hiking at quick pace as we both had lot of miles to cover so we only made a quick stop to show me her phone. The ranger I was hiking with is a seasonal ranger so maybe not totally in the loop. WMNF web site has questions/info tab. Sounds like a good question to shoot over to get an official response. OK I just shot a question over to WMNF.
    Last edited by Jazzbo; 09-23-2020 at 07:30 AM. Reason: clarify
    On #67 of NE67
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    It reply "I'm positive."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Salty View Post
    Yeah, that's the area I was at last year. Until the second night when I noticed the no camping sign about 8' up a tree. Argh. I had this nagging feeling it was no good until after the N. Fork/E. Branch confluence, and I was right on where the rail line. Didn't get as much fishing in as I'd like since I apparently forgot how to tie flies onto the line securely... On the bright side I was a good doobie and dismantled the fire ring and brushed in the camp site...
    The sign is definitely not there anymore. I had a ranger come up on me at another less than legal site in the area and was allowed to stay after a "letter of the law vs spirit of the rule" lecture. If you aren't building fires, are using a hammock responsibly, and are out of sight they seem to be little more lenient. She even ignored the safety meeting in progress.

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    safety meetings, ha! Thought that was legal in MH now?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzbo View Post
    One of the jobs of back-country ranger is to check compliance with requirement for siting camp sites 200' from trail and/or brooks. The ranger showed me an forest service GPS app on her phone that shows maps 200' no-camp zones along trails and brooks making it easy to verify compliance with 200' rule.

    I don't know if I can fit it in this fall, but I definitely want to go back to explore 1.0 mile long terrain feature at constant 2040' elevation on south bank of EB I found on Stonewall Mapper. My side trip to Crystal Brook was to verify presence of sled roads that might lead up to it. I think the long terrain feature is road bed for construction of the wood stave penstock intended to supply water from the hydro dam Parker Young was planning to build below confluences at Stillwater to the power plant was supposed to be constructed at North Fork Junction. Francis Belcher in his book on RR logging employs RR talk so he refers to the confluence of NF and EB as North Fork Junction. Bill Gove says the power plant was supposed to have had 330' of head. The dam was supposed to be 65' high. I've heard a report from some acquaintances who they say they discovered a huge concrete construction in the EB river around Stillwater. I've heard about flow measuring stations, but this sounds like perhaps footings for the dam. Gove writes that work was abandoned for unspecified reasons.
    I was able to explore the eastern most half mile of the terrain feature you mention this past weekend. Having forgotten the above history lesson, I spent the whole time trying to figure out what I was looking at. Didn't have time to follow the western half. This is the road bed at the beginning of the long curve at the east end.

    Click image for larger version. 

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