During the Nation’s period of rapid industrialization in the early 1900’s, The Atlas Portland Cement Company was, for a time, the world’s greatest manufacturer of Portland cement and the complex of three mills at Northampton was the foundation of the company’s success.
Initially, Atlas relied on its Atlas Railroad to operate mill trackage as well as a spur to the nearby CNJ which handled all of the mill’s traffic. In 1902, the cement company incorporated the Northampton and Bath Railroad to take over the Atlas Railroad trackage outside the mill and operate as a wholly owned common carrier. Within three years, the N&B was extended to Bath Jct. and connections with the L&NE and DL&W. Despite these developments, the N&B, throughout its existence, was just a minor factor in this huge cement manufacturing enterprise as far as the value of the railroad company’s assets and its visibility, or lack thereof, but it was a key element in the operations of “The Atlas”.
N&B was dedicated to Atlas but Atlas was not as dedicated to N&B. Atlas repeatedly filed complaints relating to railroad freight rates with the ICC and, in at least one case, the N&B was among the defendants. Beyond that, Atlas was unique among the several dozen cement companies in the northeast as it operated large mills in the two competing cement districts, the Lehigh and the Hudson River. Atlas took pains to protect the large New England market for its Hudson, NY mill and this involved ICC filings concerning rail rates that were contested by all the other Lehigh District mills.
Introduction of electric power into the region by Lehigh Coal & Navigation, a large anthracite mining concern looking to burn its waste coal in a huge generating plant, displaced much, if not all, of the inbound anthracite tonnage for the mill powerhouses throughout the Lehigh Cement District as well as in slate quarries. The N&B was able to absorb this blow.
Under the ownership of Atlas, N&B essentially lacked a freight car roster. This circumstance was remedied when U. S. Steel acquired Atlas in 1930 and merged it with its own Universal Portland Cement subsidiary. The new company, Universal Atlas Portland Cement, transferred box cars to N&B and built up a fleet of several hundred cars to protect cement loading requirements at Northampton and provide N&B with a second source of income from car hire.
So, the little N&B went about its business in unremarked fashion, that is until the early 1930’s when it ventured head long into industry notoriety and, in 1934, became the Nation’s first common carrier to be 100% dieselized. Then, it was back to anonymity for another forty years until it fell victim to the general decline of the Lehigh Cement District and the former Atlas complex at Northampton in particular as well as the rise of the trucking industry aided by a new Interstate Highway System. The contraction of the region’s rail network was another negative factor.
The N&B coped with reduced traffic by repeated downsizing until all that remained was a one-engine operation on a three days weekly schedule. However, even that could not stop the annual financial loss. N&B passed into history a few years before the closure of the last Atlas mill, operating at just one quarter of capacity and relying solely on trucks. All but about a half-mile of track was scrapped out.
But, like an “extinguished fire” that smoulders and might eventually burst into flames, this tiny vestige of N&B trackage was eventually acquired by the neighboring trucking company owner who apparently envisioned some potential value if only to support his road salt business. The resulting NDC (Northampton Development Center) Railroad had a long, slow start but eventually found its salvation in a transloading operation. This “new” railroad has now survived almost four decades, expanded its track network and achieved annual carload volume exceeding three thousand units.
The pioneering diesel roster was notable for the three Westinghouse units that abolished steam in road service in 1934. Its steam roster was populated by a menagerie of small steamers with and without tenders. But, the N&B did manage to host steam royalty in the 1970’s, as a Canadian Pacific Royal Hudson underwent successful restoration on the property.
168 pages, soft cover, glossy paper, indexed, 46 color and 34 b&w prints, 28 illustrations, 10 maps & 16 schedules/paper