August 2020 Wheel Report
By Brian Solomon
The good news is that through the summer Conway Scenic has been visited by a rising tide of guests. At times our greatest challenged has been how to handle so many people while safely complying with State of New Hampshire’s protocols aimed at mitigating the spread of Covid-19. To meet rising demand, we have added coach 6745 our Valley consist, and added Mountaineer trains on the North Conway-Crawford run. The Mountaineer commenced operation on June 27, initially operating on Tuesday and Saturday, which historically have been the two busiest days for the Crawford notch run. On July 23 demand warranted adding a Thursday run, and continued growth necessitated a forth train so on Wednesday August 12th we started running four trains per week. In anticipation of the autumn foliage season, on September 14 we are planning to extend the Mountaineer to Fabyan (consistent with our long standing operational tradition), while also aiming to begin our seasonal 7-day a week Mountaineer schedule.
Former Maine Central GP7 573 was released from the roundhouse on July 30th, and entered regular service on the Valley train to Conway the following day. This represents the first time 573 has worked during the Spring/Summer 2020 season. Since entering service this locomotive has settled in nicely on Valley train runs to Conway and Bartlett.
On August 4th, Conway Scenic marked its 46th anniversary with a bang. Former Maine Central GP38 252 suffered an engine failure leading the uphill Mountaineer near milepost 84, a mile east of Crawford station. GP35 216 was dispatched as a light engine to rescue the train. This occurred as tropical storm Isaias was bearing down on the White Mountain region. Upon reaching the disabled train, 216 coupled to the rear of the consist and shoved the entire train to Crawford station so that guests would be able to enjoy the full journey. This also avoided delaying the returning train at Bartlett while the Valley train was doing its run around. The Mountaineer arrived back at North Conway safely with locomotives at each end of the train. Presently our roundhouse is evaluating repair options of 252. This historic locomotive was delivered new to Maine Central at St. Johnsbury, Vermont in November 1966, and often worked Mountain Division freights until through freights were suspended in 1983. It was acquired from Pan-Am Railways along with 216 in 2010. Conway Scenic suffered its second 46th birthday casualty when a gust of wind from Isaias topped the vintage ball signal that stood in front of the station. The base of the wooden mast had been undermined by insects and the core hollow. The signal received significant damage as result of the fall, but our shop forces hope to repair it. Originally this signal stood at Waumbek Juction, and was arguably the best preserved example of a North American ball signal. The more famous ball signal, is located at Whitefield, but this signal no longer displays vintage balls, but instead 1990s-era replacements.
Steam locomotive 7470 remains stored in the roundhouse awaiting additional repairs and upgrades. Our focus has been on modifying and maintaining passenger cars to provide the best possible ride experience during this Coved situation. The steam locomotive will have to wait a while longer before it gets its turn for necessary roundhouse attention.
During the last month, we have dispatched several work extras to perform necessary routine maintenance to both our former Boston & Maine Conway Branch and Maine Central lines. GP35 216 and GP38 252 were both assigned to these duties.
Cinders the Cat
Our roundhouse cat Cinders is in good health and continues to keep a sharp eye on furry interlopers in the roundhouse and occasionally dispatches them as she sees fit. The warm weather has made her question the value of her thick coat and often seeks cool shady places to pass the hottest times of the day.