The Conway Scenic Railroad, Part One
I should probably warn you that this post is actually going to end up being at least two posts (nope, it ended up being three!) as I took so many photos in spite of the lousy weather that descended upon us that there's no way that I could put them all into one post - not without creating the Mother of All Blog Posts at any rate!
After leaving the beauty of Jackson and the Christmas Farm Inn and Spa behind, my mother, Jamie, and I backtracked south a little bit to North Conway which is known as "the birthplace of American skiing." North Conway is the largest village within the town of Conway and it became a major tourist area after people had a glimpse at some of the White Mountain Art that over 400 painters popularized in the 19th century. Once the Portsmouth, Great Falls & Conway Railroad extended service to North Conway in 1872, the place really became all the rage and that's when all of the grand hotels that used to exist in the area were built. Most of them are gone now, which is a darned shame as someday I'd love to stay in a grand hotel just to say that I did! There are a few left but most of them are so far out of my price range that it isn't funny. Still, maybe someday ...
Anyhow, back to why we were in North Conway! I had bought tickets back in September for a ride on the "Notch Train" which is one of the two excursions that the Conway Scenic Railroad offers. The "Valley Train" is either an 11-mile or 21-mile ride from North Conway to Conway or Bartlett on a line that was formerly part of the Conway Branch of the Boston and Maine Railroad whereas the "Notch Train" is a much longer 5-1/2 hour round-trip excursion that runs on a line that was once part of the Mountain Division of the Maine Central Railroad. It runs from North Conway through very scenic Crawford Notch to Fabyan Station near the entrance to the famed Washington Mountain Cog Railway. The train travels over the Frankenstein Trestle as well as the Willey Brook Bridge and for someone who likes railroads like myself it was the obvious choice - especially if you add in the history of the area.
Rather than sitting in coach, I had made our reservations for first-class seating in the C.P. Reed car as the two first class cars are climate-controlled and you just never know what the weather is going to do in the White Mountains. Even though I was hoping for a beautiful October day, it never hurts to plan "just in case" you end up getting the weather like we got! According to the paperwork I had received with my tickets, we were going to start boarding around 10:20 with an 11:00 plan-to-go but we wanted to get to the station early enough to find parking as the trains are very popular - especially in foliage season - and parking can be tricky at best sometimes.
With that in mind, we arrived in North Conway right around 9:30 and decided to use some of that time to walk over to Zeb's General Store which is named after Zebulon Northrop Tilton who hailed from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts and was the captain of a coastal schooner, the Alice S. Wentworth, that delivered cargo by sail up and down the New England coast from the late 1800’s to 1940. Zeb was chosen as it was felt that he embodied the spirit and character of a true New Englander and besides - it's a cool name!
It's also a very cool store that has over 5,000 different items that are made in New England - a store that makes you feel like you took a couple of steps back in time but don't take my word for it - see for yourself!
Fortunately the store wasn't too crowded while we were there as there were so many displays that it probably would have been hard to get around - not to mention take pictures! - were the place packed with people. I've got no doubt that it sure gets that way from time to time, though, as I can see Zeb's as being quite popular with folks - both young and old alike!
Jamie just had to get a few of the "Bath Blasters" as if there's one thing that kid likes it's a nice long soak in a hot bath and if she can throw in some bubbles and fizz she's even more for it! Along with that she got a few bags of candy - some for herself and some for her friends. I was in need of some chapstick myself so picked up a nice tube of Badger Cocoa Butter Lip Balm. Delicious and very soothing, too!
It would have been nice to see a little bit more of North Conway but we didn't want to stray too far from the station as it was getting close to boarding time so after we left Zeb's we followed a group of young ones out for a stroll past the North Conway Five and Dime and back over to the station itself. By the way ... that guy in the shorts? I'd be willing to bet he was a native New Hampshirian - or whatever they call themselves up there! For us non-mountain folks it was a bit chilly but I suspect for people native to the area, it was fairly balmy!
Back over at the station, Jamie wanted her picture taken with the Canadian flag that was hanging outside as she has on-line friends from Canada. She was lamenting the fact that she was so close and yet still so far from the border which really wouldn't have mattered in the long run as she's got no passport! The days of being able to jaunt across the border without one have since passed so if she thinks she's ever going 'nawth' to visit, she'd best think about getting at least a passport card.
Meanwhile, back at the Ticket Office ...
people were still getting their tickets for whatever train ride they were going on ...
people were still getting their tickets for whatever train ride they were going on ...
... while the next "Valley Train" to depart the station was waiting patiently ...
... for the historic #7470 steam engine to hook up and pull them south.
Number #7470, which was originally built in 1921 for the Grand Trunk Railway in Canada, is the only active coal-fired standard gauge steam locomotive in New Hampshire. The engine began operation on the Conway Scenic with the railroad’s inception in 1974 and was last overhauled between 2001-2006.
I would have loved to have had an old steam engine pulling us north for our excursion as my grandfather was a major fan of steam trains but alas, the Conway Scenic Railroad only rolls out #7470 for special occasions like peak summer and fall excursions or the annual “Steam in the Snow” photographer’s special in early January which is sponsored by the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts (do I detect another trip north in January??). I'd suspect that then it probably only goes south as I'm sure that trying to pull a fully-loaded train through Crawford Notch would be a bit much for the old boy - not to mention the guy who has to shovel the coal!
We weren't going to get to be pulled by this old 1950 Boston and Maine Railroad engine either ...
... or the 1953 Engine #573 which led the last business train through Crawford Notch (the St. Johnsbury to Portland run) shortly before the line was closed in 1984 ...
... and we sure the heck weren't going to get pulled by old steam engine number #501 which was built in 1910 and is in the process of being restored.
Nope, we were going to be pulled by the 1965 Engine #216 and its twin Engine #252, which was built in 1966 and was the leading unit that pulled the last regularly scheduled freight train through Crawford Notch on September 3, 1983. In the late 1980's the engine was put into storage until 1995 when it was taken out, refurbished, and assigned to the Boston & Maine Railroad until it was officially retired in 2009. Acquired in a trade from Pan Am Railways in March 2010, #216 was delivered to the Conway Scenic Railroad on May 14th of this year while #252 was delivered on June 23rd. The two engines were nicknamed the "Yellow Birds" in keeping with a Maine Central Railroad tradition and together, they pull the "Notch Train" to Fabyan Station and back.
I should probably mention that the picture above was taken while the engines were doing a "run around" at Fabyan Station as we were already on-board when they hooked the Yellow Birds up at Conway Station and I didn't get any pictures there.
Pretty soon it was time for everyone to board the train so we all gathered around near this old baggage car while railroad representatives pulled out their passenger lists. First class passengers board the train by order of which date you bought your tickets as opposed to coach passengers who board more or less haphazardly and don't have assigned seating.
As we waited our turn to board, I was glad that I had spent the extra money for the first class tickets as it looked like the coach cars were going to be just about completely full with passengers who were there as part of a bus tour.
First to board were the people who had bought tickets to the upper dome of the Dorthea Mae (pictured above at the top of this post) which offered seating both up and down as well as containing the snack area. Built in 1955 for the Great Northern Railroad on its Empire Builder line out of Chicago, the dome car had also seen service on the Alaska Railroad and the Cape Cod Scenic Railroad before being acquired by Conway Scenic in 1997.
The seats in the Upper Dome are considered to be the line's premium seats and even though I had debated buying our tickets for there I eventually decided against it which, as it turned out, probably ended up being a good thing as once it started raining I don't think those poor folks got to see too much.
Finally our name was called and my mom and Jamie and I boarded the Carroll P. Reed, built by Canadian Car and Foundry in 1954 for the Canadian National Railway and acquired by the Conway Scenic Railroad in 1996. As we took our seats to settle in for our journey north thus far the major rain had held off but I had a sneaky suspicion it wouldn't for much longer ... ya know, sometimes I really hate it when I'm right!