Saturday, December 15, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- Over the Hills We Go, December 15, 2012

Although in this case, the 'hills' in question are New Hampshire's rather formidable White Mountains.

It's that time of year again- where tourist railways, shortlines and even the occasional Class 1 begin operating seasonal Santa Trains for the public or their employees.

Originally built in 1872, the rail line into Conway, NH  carried seasonal visitors in the Boston area to the resorts in northern New Hampshire. The line continued to be in service for about 100 years until the last of the freight customers dried up for the Boston & Maine in 1972. Although much of the line south of Conway was torn up, the Conway Scenic Railroad began operations out of the ornate Victorian-style depot in North Conway a few years after the B&M left town. The excursions were fairly short, but featured a former Canadian National 0-6-0 Baldwin steam engine for power [which is still in operation today- NANESB!] as well as older diesels such as GE 44 tonners and ALCo S Series switchers.

By 1984, Guilford Transportation- the parent company of Maine Central, Delaware & Hudson and the Boston & Maine- had decided to abandon the MEC Mountain Division between Portland, ME and St Jonsbury, VT. This was the only other line through N. Conway and left the Conway Scenic isolated from the rest of the nation's rail network for a time. However, instead of being torn up, the line was instead transferred to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation where it was eventually reopened in the late 1990s as the Conway Scenic acquired a pair of former VIA Rail Canada F units to haul trains through the scenic Crawford Notch northwest of Conway. The F units were on the property as recently as 2010, when the Conway Scenic and Guilford successor Pan Am negotiated a trade. Pan Am would get the F units for office car specials and VIP trains while the Conway Scenic would get two newer GP units- a GP35 and a GP38- that were equipped with dynamic braking, something needed on what the Conway Scenic calls the Notch Trains.

Here, contributor Ian McMillan caught Conway Scenic GP7 #573 trundling across Boulder Creek on the Mountain division at Bartlett, NH on January 5th, 2007. The #573 has been on the property since 1996 and was reportedly the preferred locomotive for Maine Central's then-president, E. Spencer Miller, to handle office car specials and was said to have powered the last OCS over the Mountain Division in 1984. Here, she's seen with an excursion from the Massachusetts Bay Rail Road Enthusiasts 'Steam in the Snow' excursion, inferring that the coal-burning former CN 0-6-0 isn't too far away.

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