Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum
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In Memory of John Greene, by Dave Goff:
The Shelburne Falls trolley museum was saddened to learn of the passing of one our honorary life members, Mr. John Greene. John was an integral part of the early years of the museum serving as Chief Track Foreman, Motorman and all around jack of all trades.
I first met John after the museum opened in 2000. At the time, conductor and motorman opportunities were scarce at the museum. I was told that if I wanted an entry level position, I should join the track gang. I soon realized the track gang was John and me. John quickly established that if I spent time as the muscle, he would educate me on all aspects of track repair. Soon we were changing out ties with date nails going back to the 1930's. And, yes I learned a lot. "It pays to dig 'em" said John when referring to a tie changeout that we did by hand and spiked by hand. John also developed a plan to move several hundred feet of middle track sideways about three feet to clear the new mis-located line poles. And then together we inserted ties and tamped them by hand. SFTM saved many thousands of dollars in track repairs through John's efforts.
Many may not know that SFTM was ideally positioned to be a darling of John's. John worked for the Boston and Maine Railroad for many years and was responsible for the section of mainline up and through Hoosac Tunnel. His track shanty office was the white structure next to Pan Am tracks opposite the shed. It was certainly convenient to retire and move across the tracks to take up his special office chair in the former SFTM carbarn, which is now the Shed. I would wander into the yard on almost any day of the week, and the shed doors would be open and a waft of cigar smoke would tinge the air. You knew John was ready to fix some track.
Working for the Boston and Maine and successor Guilford Transportation Systems, one of John's notable responsibilities was to walk the Hoosac Tunnel for inspections. Five miles one rail and five miles the return rail. "I never saw anything alive in there, and never saw a ghost", said John. He hi-railed branchlines up and down the Conn River mainline. And spoke about how the Bondsville trestle on the Central Mass would shudder and shake with only the passage of a hi-rail truck. He often spoke of what use to be, and lamented the changes in the rail industry, specifically the elimination of the branchlines and the breaking of the unions. He was a union railroader until his last moments.
Besides his love for creating a sound and level SFTM right-of-way, John also appreciated operating Car No. 10 and meeting the general public. In many ways I think John's years at SFTM gave him a profound purpose and elongated his life on this planet.
Here are some thoughts and remembrances from friends and colleagues of John Greene:
John Greene is my friend. He's an unlikely friend, but a friend in the best sense. He looks out for me and I look out for him. I am 54 and he's 79. It's been this way for 18 years now. When I first moved into my first house, there was an early snow that surprised me. I was fretting because I had not lined up anyone to plow. Much to my surprise, the man across the street came over with a plow on his truck and plowed my driveway. Later that day, I knocked on his door with a plate of brownies and asked him what I owed him for plowing. He said, "I've been doing it for years, before you moved in. It's no problem, but if you want to bring me brownies every time, that would be great!".
Over the years, I've gotten to know John better. He loves the smell of lilacs, smokes cigars even though he knows it's bad for him, loves trains (he worked for the railroad for many years), hates chicken (it brings back memories of his childhood when his family lived on Elm Street in Greenfield and raised chickens), he is allergic to mushrooms. He loved yellow beans (wax beans), but not green beans. I told him they taste the same to me, he said no, they are very different. He was born three days after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, "She was so scared, I just popped right out."
About three years ago, John and I started going together to the free Friday night community supper at Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls. His eyesight was failing and I worried about him driving at night. It turned out to be a huge blessing for both of us. He got regular meals, and I got to know more people in our community, which I desperately needed. There are other train people there regularly too, and people who volunteer at the Trolley Museum, like I do. John was instrumental in starting the Trolley Museum. He helped them to lay track, and often loaned tools to help.
Driving home from the Friday Night Dinners, he would always notice if something strange was going on in the train yard. He would say, "they are moving that. Wonder why they're doing that." I finally discovered that they best answer to that was, "John I don't have any idea. Trains are YOUR department, remember?" We'd both laugh, and then pull up in front of his house. He always said thank you for driving.
His sister lived in Greenfield until last year when she passed away. Her two big loves were John and her cat. While she was in a rehab hospital, she was desperately worried about the cat and would call John sobbing about how worried she was. I fed the cat for a long time and eventually went to the Rehab place to visit her and got her permission to find a new home for the cat. I found the cat a new home. She was grateful, but really, I did it for John. Every once in a while he would write me a check for $100 to cover my gas and buying food and litter for the cat. I never asked for it, he would just give it to me.
In Shelburne Falls, the Kiwanis Club serves a big dinner several times a year. There's always a sign at the edge of town announcing it. For the first several years I was in town, it was kind of a mystery to me, so when John invited me (as a thank you for taking care of his sister's cat), I jumped at the chance. It was a lovely community event. The Senior Center also throws a really delicious Thanksgiving dinner every year as well. We've been to that one together three times.
When he spoke to his sister about me, I heard him say, "she's my neighbor and my best friend." He and I went to his sister's funeral together. We were both relieved that some cousins came too.
Our friend Don, who has known John a very long time, says that John trusts me because I don't take his crap. He loves to complain and to make up stories about how the world is against him. I don't tolerate complaining well, and I try to make him give me proof in all of his stories. I can usually make him laugh, and he has a really great smile, once he lets himself.
His usual response to, "how are you John?" is "still alive and kicking".
Another friend in the community calls him her "Eyore", since he always has something to complain about. He's not good at taking action to make the changes he wants to see happen. He complains that the snow plow company doesn't do his driveway correctly, but when I ask if he has told them, he says, "they know how I want it." Then, he gets predictably mad that it's still not done the way he wants. He loves to watch TV and often buys things advertised there: a leaf blower/eater, a razor that plugs into your computer, and truck maintenance insurance (for a truck that he barely drives anymore), for example.
In summer, when I'm out working in my flower gardens, across the street from his house, he would pop into his truck and back out of the driveway to talk to me through the truck window. He depends on the Shelburne Falls Senior Center for food supplies, for help with his house, and for checking on his well-being. He has a medical alert button, and he pushes the button whenever he feels like something is wrong. I am the one of the contact people that the alert company calls when he has an ambulance coming. The local EMTs all know him well.
He brags about having survived 13 heart attacks. I joke with him that he's just too stubborn to go. He will call me and ask how things are going for me, after a bit of chatting, he will finally get to whatever he really wants to ask. He's so proud that it's really hard for him to ask for help. Sometimes I pick up a few groceries for him - only white bread (never wheat), milk, V8, sometimes a prescription. He hates being in debt, so always wants to reimburse me immediately, even when it's just a few dollars.
I am John's health care proxy. He told me, "I really want someone who likes me." I said I'd be happy to do it. We got the form signed at the Friday night dinner, where we knew there would be people who could act as witnesses and sign the form.
Now, John is dying. He's still grumbling and complaining, but he's probably not going to be able to come home from the nursing home where he is now. The nursing home has been talking about getting a pre-paid funeral. He's not a planner, so he has no plans for what happens now. I find myself taking on a family-kind-of- role, but we are just old friends. He trusts me, and I appreciate that. He listens to me when he won't listen to anyone else. I find myself listening for his truck when I'm out in the flower gardens. When I'm at the Farmer's Market and I see yellow beans, I think of him.
Now, in the age of COVID, I haven't been able to visit him at the nursing home; although we did meet outside with the lawyer one day to sign all the papers to get his estate in order. He was alert, but exhausted. He will leave a lot of debt. His house is a mess, smells like cigars and will take a lot of work to clean up. As his health care proxy, I get calls from the nursing home and Hospice.
Now John has died. Im relieved that he was comfortable and not in pain. I'm sad. It's going to take time for the will and everything to go through probate. Until then, I'm trying to be at peace and know that he was grateful to have a friend, possibly for the first time in his life.
Several people have thanked me for all I did for him. In a strange way, he did a lot for me too. I knew he was watching out for me, as I was watching out for him. He would always check in before or after a storm, or in a heat wave. He made a delicious corned beef and cabbage every St. Patrick's Day. He always complained about the same dish that anyone else made. He said the secret was to put it all in the same pot, not to keep it separate. I'll think of him on St. Patrick's Day next year, and remember to wear green.
I miss my crotchety, curmudgeonly, grumbling, honest, loyal, train-loving, story-telling friend. Most importantly, we made each other laugh and I'm glad of that.
From Dave G:
John was very dedicated to SFTM and not only operated the trolley, but spearheaded the early restoration of SFTM track from its humble 1930's datenails in the ties. He taught me a lot about railroading, railroad track and also had tons of great stories about everything from Hoosac Tunnel to every branchline in western Massachusetts, plus history of the tobacco industry and making pickles in Deerfield.
For those of you who didn't know him, John was a large part of the SFTM in the early days. In the fall of 1996, John, thanks to his familiarity with the operation of crane trucks, started out by helping us to erect the first car barn so we could begin to work on restoring number10. After Number 10 was up and running in 1999, John became a steady part of the SFTM trolley operation.
For many years, John also headed up the track gang at the museum. He loved to teach young track wannabes a lot of old tricks picked up from his days at the Boston and Maine.
John was a good guy who really cared about the SFTM. He will be missed.
From Diantha: John was also allergic to seafood. I love mushrooms and seafood so had to remember his allergy when making dishes for Community Meals. He and my brother would come to our church's 2nd Saturday Suppers, and they especially loved the Breakfast for Supper menu in March with Sugar on Snow and maple syrup. He delighted in telling me about how much maple syrup Peter used! John also loved cranberry relish during the holidays, especially from Foster's. In recent years, we would get the little containers for him a couple of times around Christmas, and his eyes would light up. One thing of note: as the years went by, he was sometimes bothered by the students who came in a played the piano before the meal was served. He said it was too loud, but I'm thinking he didn't like their music selections!!
John had not been around the museum much lately. He had dealt with some serious health problems. When I first came to the museum he was a pretty regular fixture. Sometimes he would volunteer for a trick, other times he just showed up and helped where needed. In any case, he was always willing to bend your ear about something. I didn't even mind his cigar.
More often than not he was smiling.
I'll miss seeing him around.
He, like everybody at SFTM, went out of his way when I joined to answer any questions I might have had. I liked his attitude about life. He really enjoyed SFTM.
John was always ready to teach you the skills he had. I still often hear his voice when I'm working on something at the museum, especially trackwork. I like to think that John learned a lot from us as well, especially social skills needed to be a trolley car conductor. John's background as a factory worker and track maintainer didn't set him up well for standing in front of a crowd and talking to them about history, but he rose to the challenge and was a very eager crewmember when we started operation. He preferred being motorman to being conductor, but that is not unusual. John was always ready to get the boom truck out to move ties or rail. He could swing a spike maul quite accurately, and liked to tell us that his old boss pushed his men to be able to drive a spike straight and square with a shiny spot on the head no bigger than a dime.
In the fall of 2007 we changed some ties on the Main Track. Here we see Nate, John B, Dave G and others learning the Maintenance of Way trade from John Greene.
Here are some shots of John when we put up the line poles on the House Track. Nate helps makes holes with the skid steer and post hole drill.
Here John uses his favorite tool, the boom truck, to raise up a pole and drop it into the hole.
Thank you to everyone for your thoughts, and to Dave, Tony, Alden and Sam for pictures of John Greene.
14 Depot Street Shelburne Falls MA 01370        413-625-9443       firstname.lastname@example.org