January 2021 Wheel Report
By Brian Solomon
In late December, the big news at Conway Scenic was firing steam locomotive 7470 for excursion service. We made the decision to focus steam operations during the week between Christmas and New Years to get the locomotive ready for its 2021 debut on Winter Steam that was held January 2nd.
The former Grand Trunk Railway 0-6-0 steam switcher turns 100 this year and this week of operation brought smiles to many faces young and old. On December 26th, 7470 was readied to work our 11:30am to Conway, and operated all three Valley trips that day. On Sunday, December 27th, 7470 was the only locomotive operated and again hauled all three scheduled trips without a diesel engine working on the property that day. Throughout the week, 7470 made at least one trip during the day, working variously to Conway and Bartlett.
The railroad was closed on New Year’s Day, but open for Winter Steam the following day.
In December, the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts decided to pull the plug on its annual Steam in the Snow event in response to curtailed capacity and other concerns relating to the spread of Covid-19, which among other changes had made it difficult for out of state visitors to travel. Although disappointed by the cancellation of this popular charter event, we made the choice to host our own scaled back event called Winter Steam. In order to keep the trip manageable within the constraints of Covid-19 mitigation protocols, we planned a conservative itinerary, using a shorter train consist, that was open to fewer people.
The conditions were ideal on January 2nd for a spectacular winter event; eight to ten inches of fluffy snow fell overnight, which was enough to cover the landscape and the trees but not so much as to interfere with train operations.
The trip involved detailed planning ahead of time, efforts which paid off in the end.
Winter Steam, led by 7470 was scheduled to board at 10am. The crew consisted of conductor Kinzie Weimer, Trainman Cullen Maher, Narrator Wally Hills. On the head end, our president and general manager Dave Swirk served as locomotive engineer, while we had guest fireman Brian Fanslau shoveling coal with assistance from fireman trainees. A work extra led by GP7 573 and GP9 1751, departed more than an hour ahead of the steam special. This was the support train, which towed maintenance of way tank car 86254 filled with more than 5,000 gallons of water to replenish 7470’s tender and embarked to clear the line ahead of the special. I traveled on the support train with Road Foreman of Engines/Trainmaster Mike Lacey, along with George, Alan, and Jordan Small. We assisted with cleaning of switches, preparing the locations for photo stops, and testing the pump on the tank car prior to filling 7470’s tender.
Initially we planned for Winter Steam to have just two photo stops. The first was set up at Sawyers siding, west of the 4th Iron Bridge over Sawyer River (timetable west of Bartlett, NH), where we allowed ticket holders in photo cars Mount Webster and CP Reed to disembark and observe the watering of 7470 and experience an exhilarating run past at speed. Our second stop was held at 2nd Iron, where we performed two ‘run-past’ events, one each for ticket holders in Mount Webster and CP Reed. Since the train was running well-ahead of schedule, conductor Weimer offered to perform two additional ‘run-past’ events, and executed these perfectly, while continuing to stay on time. As the day progressed, the clouds thinned, and the sun made a welcome appearance. It was an auspicious start for 2021! Locomotive 7470 has been returned to stall 2 in the roundhouse where it will hibernate until the Spring season.
Sunday, January 3rd, was the last day for our Holiday Valley schedule, and the last time we planned to operate all the way to Bartlett during this winter season. On Saturday January 9, 2021 we inaugurated our Snow Train schedule which sees an interval timetable in place between North Conway and the Attitash Whistle Stop. We will operate weekends in January and February, with extra days of operation around the Martin Luther King weekend, plus daily from February 12th to the end of the month. When Snow Train concludes, the railroad will shut down for several weeks to perform annual maintenance. Weekend excursions will resume in April beginning with our Easter Bunny Expresses.
In addition to passenger excursions, we have continued to operate work extras, usually with GP9 1751. These have largely focused on tree removal, with our first priority being the Redstone Line (former Maine Central east of Mountain Junction). Operations along this line, which runs parallel to the North-South road through North Conway, are infrequent, and the sight of 1751 leading our green excavator and caboose caught the attention of motorists and have made for a great advertisement for the railroad. There’s nothing like running trains to catch the public’s attention!