Selling of Draper’s Railroad – End of an Era

                  By Gordon E. Hopper

    Recent news reports in the Milford Daily News have stated that the industrial railroad owned by the
    Rockwell International Company has been sold to TORCO, a Maine firm specialized in leasing
    trailers for rail movement

    Looking back over the years that the Grafton & Upton Railroad has been in existence, facts are
    revealed to show that it was an unusual railroad. First of all, being 16 miles or so in length, makes it
    one of the very few short lines in the United States to have remained in business. It is one of only two
    short lines operating in Massachusetts. The railroad runs between Milford and North Grafton, and is
    headquartered in Hopedale, near the end of Depot Street. Presently, the office is located inside the
    Draper complex.

    Engine house, two diesel locomotives, maintenance equipment, gasoline car, and a large yard are in
    Hopedale. In addition to the Hopedale yard, there are smaller yards at each end of the line. The one
    in Milford stretches between South Cedar Street and the Pheasant Run apartments. The North
    Grafton yard is between Westboro Road and the foundation of what once was Davenport’s coal shed.
    The Hopedale yard contains several buildings and sidings and it is located between Route 16 and
    the Draper buildings.

    There is a small single track siding at Upton, near Grove Street, presently not in use, and a sizable
    yard at West Upton. This yard contains several sets of tracks and it stretches between Maple Avenue
    and Farm Street. In addition to two sidings used by the Upton Fuel and Construction Company, there
    is a trestle unloading facility here, one of a very few in this part of Massachusetts.

    A single track siding remains at Grafton Center, where another track which once served a large coal
    yard has been removed. An abrasive company at North Grafton uses a short siding and the North
    Grafton yard consists of three sets of tracks.

    In the past, the Milford yard made connection with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad,
    while the North Grafton yard connected with the Boston & Albany Railroad. Today, both yards connect
    with Conrail, the government operated railroad freight service.

    Original depots remain at Hopedale, West Upton and Grafton Center. The one located at Upton has
    been removed and an older one at Grafton Center burned 35 years ago.

    The Grafton & Upton Railroad is more than 100 years old. It originally was three miles long, narrow
    gauge, and utilized a self-powered (steam) car which carried passengers and baggage between
    Grafton Center and North Grafton. In the beginning it was called the Grafton Center Railroad and it
    went into service on August 30, 1874. During 1877, it was widened to standard gauge. On February
    17, 1888, the name was changed to Grafton & Upton Railroad Co.

    The Knowlton family who operated the large hat factory at West Upton aided Edward P. Usher, the
    owner of the line, in extending it to West Upton. This was accomplished by May 12, 1889. The line
    reached Milford and service was inaugurated on May 17, 1890. Steam engines provided the power
    for early freight and passenger service.

    The Massachusetts legislature passed a special bill in 1902 which allowed the G&U to electrify its
    line. Electric cars belonging to the Milford & Uxbridge Street Railway Company ran for more than 25
    years on the G&U tracks between Hopedale and North Grafton. Passenger service was discontinued
    on August 31, 1928. There was a loop circuit for electric cars on Main Street between Brooks Street in
    Upton and Williams Street at West Upton. It provided local service from 1902 until July 1, 1919.
    Steam freights which ran at night were discontinued on April 22, 1919 and replaced by two electric
    freight motors. (electric engines) The freight motors were replaced on July 11, 1946 by diesel
    engines. Today, two diesels provide freight hauling service for its owner and several customers
    along the line. Two of the larger customers are the Upton Fuel and Construction Co at West Upton,
    and the Washington Mills Abrasive Co. at North Grafton.

    The railroad owned an electric express car that carried boxes of hats from the Knowlton hat shop to
    the interchange with the B&A Railroad at North Grafton between 1930 and the mid-1940s.

    Two turntables were used as long as the steam engines operated. One was at Milford at the rear of
    the Pheasant Run apartments and part of its foundation is still in place. The other was in the North
    Grafton yard and has been eliminated completely.

    An engine house and yard were located at Milford from 1890 until 1914, at which time the building
    was destroyed by a fire. The engine house now at Hopedale was built in 1914.

    The concrete block building at Grafton Center replaced a wooden depot which burned in 1940. Power
    was supplied from this building to operate the electric cars and freight motors.

    The G&U is very picturesque. Its tracks go through congested areas of Milford and Hopedale as well
    as the fields and woods of Upton and Grafton. Except for the long grade between Upton and Grafton,
    it runs fairly level but its path is very crooked. It passes several lakes and crosses numerous brooks.
    Highways, streets and even back yards are crossed by the wandering steel rails, pastoral beauty is
    evidenced along a large part of the distance covered by the right-of-way.

    For more than a century, change and progress have been a trademark of the G&U. At the same time,
    its owners have tended to keep the publicity of its railroad at a low key most of the time. Safety has
    always been a key factor and the owners are to be commended for maintaining an excellent safety

    With a reduction of personnel having already taken place, it seems fair to assume that certain parts
    of the railroad operation will be accomplished by vendors or other sources of specialized services.
    Few railroads are as steeped with history as is the G&U. From a pair of narrow gauge steam
    combination type vehicles in 1874, through a progression of widening to become standard gauge
    and followed by extensions and a complete rebuild, it was one of the few (if any) railroads to go from
    steam to electric operations before changing to diesel.

    Historically, the railroad is approaching the end of an era. Eleven years ago, when it was purchased
    by Rockwell International, only a change of ownership was signified. This was because both owners
    had the same product, textile looms, plus the fact that the Draper name, although small, continued to
    appear on the machines after the change of ownership.

    After 73 years of affiliation with the Draper Company followed by 11 years with Rockwell International,
    84 years of service to the textile industry is the enviable record now coming to a conclusion. The new
    owner, by not being in the textile business, will create a new theme in the operation of the railroad.
    New methods are bound to be inaugurated in the handling of a different product, but customer
    operations should remain unchanged.

    It is hoped that the success of the new owner will be such that the Grafton & Upton Railroad will
    remain part of the four towns that it serves. Milford Daily News, January 15, 1979.

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    G&U steam locomotive. Note men on platform. It appears
    that  they were putting up the wires for the conversion of
    the railroad to the use of electric locomotives.