December 2020 Wheel Report
By Brian Solomon
How’s this for something novel? I’m writing this month’s Wheel Report from the fireman’s seat of Boston & Maine F7A 4266! It’s been a busy December at Conway Scenic, and I’ve been trying to accomplish multiple tasks at the same time.
In November, we learned with little warning that the Believe in Books Literacy Foundation was pulling the plug on this year’s ‘Journey to the North Pole’. This was a loss for Conway Scenic and no choice of our own. To compensate, we wasted no time in organizing a substitute event. We had already planned to run daytime Santa’s Holiday Express. Our challenge was how to present this experience while mitigating the risk of the spread of Covid-19. The old model of having Santa and his elves walk through the train spreading holiday cheer and good will wasn’t going to work. We needed a better solution.
Our Train Master/Road Foreman of Engines Mike Lacey recalled that when he was a child growing up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, Santa would arrive on the Erie Railroad in a caboose, and one year his father was the engineer on the train! What was good for the Erie, might be good for Conway Scenic. With this suggestion, Dave Swirk expanded the concept, and soon we had a vintage sleigh and nine reindeer positioned on our former Grand Trunk flat car with our former Central Vermont wooden bodied caboose (now lettered Conway Scenic 75955 ) in tow. Dave and the shop crew arranged for the reindeer to be positioned on rockers so that when Santa pulled the reins the deer rocked back and forth. The effect was charming and very convincing! We even had a red-nosed reindeer in the lead.
We expanded our Santa’s Holiday Express schedule and I immediately set about on an advertising blitz to get the word out. For visitors not wishing to take in the Santa’s Holiday Express experience we also added in a pair of weekend Bartlett Valley trains as an alternative.
Using a scaled back version of our Mountaineer consist, we opened more compacity on Santa’s Holiday Express, and began operations on the day following Thanksgiving.
Ridership was robust. As I write, we are at Conway, with Santa’s Sleigh train coupling to the back of the 11:30 Santa’s Holiday Express for the return run to North Conway with Santa, Mrs. Claus, and a train load of his ardent devotees.
Conway Scenic continues to work on the railroad. Since the former Grand Trunk flatcar had been reallocated to Santa’s Sleigh service, we retrieved former Maine Central bulkhead flat 1729 from its storage on the sidings in Conway. Our shop forces temporarily modified the car for work train service. During December, on the days we were not operating scheduled passenger excursions, we had the opportunity to perform necessary maintenance to the lines we operate. Among the more interesting moves have been work trains on the Redstone Line, also known as the Quarry Branch, which is the former Maine Central Mountain Division timetable east of Mountain Junction. Former Maine Central GP7 573 has been the star attraction on these work extras.
It was a gray afternoon on Monday December 14, 2020, when I walked from office in the North Tower of the North Conway Station the couple of blocks to the North-South Road to catch 573 shoving a short work train including the excavator on the 4-wheel depressed center flatcar and the rehabbed Maine Central bulkhead flat carrying recently cut trees from felled in our train to the ‘State Yard’ at Kearsarge siding. I sent a few photos to the Conway Daily Sun, and I was delighted to find that on Wednesday December 16, we had made front page news.
Snow Train Coming!
As I write this, we have big plans for expanded Snow Train service between North Conway and Attitash that will run most weekends in January and February, plus the two weeks around the President’s Day holiday. Trains will run on a two-hour interval, scheduled to depart North Conway at 9am, 11am, and 1, 3, and 5pm. The slightly longer interval on this schedule in comparison with the February 2020 timetable is necessary to accommodate the longer loading process and sanitization activities necessitated to mitigate against the spread of Covid-19.
Zoom Slide Show
Alan Small has invited me to give the 470 Club a slide show presentation via Zoom on Wednesday February 17, 2021 beginning at 7pm. I’ll be presenting a selection of my favorite photographs of the Conway Scenic with the stories behind the photos as well as sharing some technical details. I hope this will be of interest to viewers. As a bit of background, I hold a degree in Photographic Illustration from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and have photographed for several railroads, including Southern Pacific, as well as illustrating numerous magazine articles and more than 60 books.
We are now nearly back to North Conway, so I’ll conclude this month’s Wheel Report!