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Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad Bike Week Service 6/21/2015

by Chris Guenzler

Robin and I drove into the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad station in Meredith.

The sign in front of the station.

The emblem of the Hobo & Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroads.

Our Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad Bike Train from Meredith to Wiers Beach.

Hobo Railroad SW1000 1012, ex. LTEX 3631, exx. BNSF 3631, nee Burlington Northern 438 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1970.

Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad coach 9151, nee Reading RDC-1 9151 built by Budd in 1952.

Winnipesaukee & Pemigewasset Valley Railroad coach 6921 "Winnisquam", ex. MBTA, nee Boston and Maine RDC-9 built by Budd in 1956.

Winnipesaukee & Pemigewasset Valley Railroad coach 6105 "Winona", nee Boston and Maine RDC-1 6105 built by Budd in 1953.

Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad coach 9159, nee Reading RDC-1 9159 built by Budd in 1962.

The end of the train.

Welcome to the Laconia Motorcycle Week sponsored by Progressive Insurance.

This is where we picked up our tickets. Now let us look around the grounds of the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad.

Lincoln Railroad Enterprises box car 22004.

Boston & Maine cabooe C-80, built by International Car in 1959 and lettered as Boston & Maine C130.

Boston & Maine caboose C-64, built by International Car in 1959 and lettered Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad 464.

Rutland Railroad caboose 42 built by the railroad.

Pennsylvania Railroad caboose 478519, built by the railroad and lettered Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad 19333.

Our conductor was making sure everything was ready for boarding. Robin and I boarded RDC 6921 for our morning round trip to Weirs Beach and return.

The Hobo & Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroads History

The trackage between Northfield and Lincoln is operated by The Hobo and Winnipesaukee Scenic Scenic Railroads and was part of the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad, with construction beginning in 1846. The line reached Tilton on May 22, 1848, Laconia August 8, 1848, Meredith March 19,1849 and Plymouth June 21, 1850. The main line of the BC&M continued on to Wells River, Vermont reaching that point on May 10, 1853.

The line from Plymouth to Lincoln was constructed as the Pemigewasset Valley Railroad which was chartered July 9, 1874. Construction began in 1882 with the line opened to Woodstock March 1, 1883. It was leased to the BC&M a month later.

In 1884 the Boston and Lowell Railroad leased the BC&M, which was later combined with the Concord Railroad in 1889 to form the Concord and Montreal Railroad. The BC&M was leased to the Boston and Maine in 1895, being subsequently purchased by and merged into the B&M on December 1, 1919.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the line hosted many passenger trains as well as local freights serving the on line towns and continuing to northern New Hampshire, Vermont and Canada, however the favored route for through traffic was the former Northern RR between Concord and White River Junction. The trackage between Plymouth and North Haverhill, New Hampshire was abandoned on October l, 1954. Passenger service was cut back from Plymouth to Laconia (Meredith in the summer) and eventually ceased altogether on January 5, 1965.

In June 1970, the Franconia Paper Company mill at Lincoln shut down for the first of several times due to pollution control problems. The B&M continued service as required but heavy rains in the summer of 1973 caused several washouts north of Meredith which the B&M could not justify repairing, thus the northern portion of the line was embargoed.

In 1975, the Profile Paper Company announced intentions to re-open the mill at Lincoln provided that rail service was available. The State of New Hampshire purchased the Concord to Lincoln trackage on October 30, 1975, repaired it and resumed service with the Wolfeboro Railroad serving as the first of several operators. The Lincoln paper mill closed for good in 1977, with much of the mill site becoming condominiums and outlet stores in the years since then. Freight service, as required, is provided by the Concord-based New England Southern Railroad and passenger excursions are operated by the Clark family of Lincoln as the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad between Meredith and Laconia and the Hobo Railroad in the Lincoln-Woodstock area.

In 1986 the Plymouth and Lincoln Railroad was formed with the purpose of operating a theme park and railroad out of Lincoln. Edward Clark and his wife Brenda Clark were the owners. Trains have been operating since then between Lincoln and Woodstock, a distance of seven miles. The former Wolfboro Railroad S-1 Alco 1186 was utilized with State of New Hampshire-owned 1008 following soon. The third Alco was added after the demise of the North Strattford Railroad of northern New Hampshire. This engine was Maine Central 959 which was owned by the State and was quickly repainted and brought the number of Alcos to three.

After a few years of operating the railroad in Lincoln, The Hobo Railroad was invited to bid on the lease for the state-owned trackage from Tilton to Plymouth which would give the two railroads a 54 mile main line. They won the bid and The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad was formed. They operated between Meredith Station and Lakeport siding at the end of Paugus Bay [Lake Winnipesaukee]. Intermediate stops were made at Weirs Beach.

In the summer of 1998, Mr. Edward Clark, the founder, passed away. Benjamin, his only son assumed the post of President and promoted the business heavily. In late 1998 former Rock Island and New England Southern GP7 302 was purchased and brought to the Lincoln shops where the crafty mechanics brought it back to life. Cosmetic changes such as a chopped nose, ditch lights and a "spiffy" maroon and silver paint job was applied.

From the mid 90's the Lincoln Shops has grown to be a major source of off-season revenue by its quality refurbishing and repair of numerous customer railroad equipment. Two Russell Snow Plows and some subway tampers were rebuilt for the MBTA. The privately-owned former New Haven Trainset "Roger Williams", was in for major restoration to like new condition along with 4-5 caboose repaintings. Their reputation for perfection made them into a facility much in demand which made it a 12-month railroad. Plans are underway for the Flying Yankee restoration to move to the Lincoln Shops for completion. In 2000 the "Boise Budd Rebuild Prototype" was purchased from two employees, George Kenson and Leo Boisenault, who had saved it from the scrappers torch four years earlier. The MBTA was cleaning house for their new Engine Terminal by scrapping all the former B&M Budd Cars in storage. Budd 6148 is unique in that it had no motors or radiators, making it a true coach made from an RDC. Hobo Railroad has replaced the windows with sliding type, equipped it with tables and chairs for a touring/dining car for their expanding business. Also in 2000, a gradall and tamper were added to the maintenance fleet. The gradall got immediate use in performing drainage work to eliminate flooding problems and its brush cutting ability is superior.

Alco S1, former Maine Central 958, came on the property in 2001 by lease from the former operators of the defunct Maine Coast Railroad. This was the second Maine Central S1, joining 959, which came to the railroad after the North Stratford Railroad shut down due to loss of its largest customer, Ethan Allen Furniture. It was at first mostly a Lincoln native but ventured south during 2002 on special occasions. It functioned well during Christmas season to help in this annual ritual. Former Maine Central S1 958 had some modifications that were necessary due to its work in Maine. The locomotive came with ditch lights, a 26L Brake System and FRA glazing. The lease eventually turned into a purchase and in the winter of 2004/2005 it was repainted in the traditional Hobo/Winnipesaukee Railroad design. Now the roster had four Alco S1's, an EMD GP7 and a GE 44 ton locomotive. Over the years since 1998 the railroad has acquired a tie insertor, ballast regulator and a Hy-rail boom truck for handling ties and rails etc. In 2003 the railroad utilized the trackage north of the Meredith Station due to the rapid success of their Fall Foliage Excursions. More trains were scheduled to handle the increase in demand. Also in 2005 for the first time First Class and Presidents Class Pullman Car tickets were sold which were immediately sold out. The restored Plymouth Station, now a "Senior Center" benefitted by leasing their dining hall on weekends for a hot buffet served to the Foliage Train passengers. During 2004 the Northfield Freight House, home to many cabooses, expanded their sidings to accommodate many more cabooses and private cars.

In Spring 2005, a major move was made by the Flying Yankee Restoration Group. This trainset delivered in 1935 to the Boston and Maine Railroad, was at the Claremont and Concord Railroad and they decided to move it to the yard of the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln for the second phase of restoration. It was one of the first streamliners with all stainless steel construction, a Winton diesel engine, plush comfortable seats and air conditioning. It consists of three cars permanently mated with a capacity of about 130 passengers and it plied routes such as Boston to Montreal, Boston to Portland etc. Also in 2005 the Caboose Trains were typically 20 cabooses and two private Pullman cars even with several cabooses under restoration. As most costs of the trip were fixed, additional customers made the trains profitable and assured their future continuation. Fuel costs and track inspections had made the event more costly.

2005 Foliage Season was a turning point for Bus Groups and their attraction to the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad and the Harts Turkey Farm Roast Turkey Dinner served along the lakeside route. Due to its quick access from Boston area making day trips possible, and the popularity of the Harts Turkey Farm Dinner combined with the scenic Foliage along the Lake made a popular destination. Also in 2005 Everett Howland, a member of the board of directors since 1987 and former Superintendent of Passenger Operations for the Boston and Maine Railroad passed away. Everett was also one of the very active members of the Flying Yankee Restoration Group and was instrumental in having the second phase of restoration performed at Lincoln at the shops of the Hobo Railroad. In Winter 2005, the "Believe in Books Literacy Foundation" contracted with the railroad to provide a "Polar Express" out of Lincoln to supplement the growing demand from the North Conway operation run by the Conway Scenic Railroad. The Tom Hanks movie of the same name was released in the 2004/2005 season sparking even further interest. Since thousands of potential passengers were being turned away due to extreme demand, adding the Hobo Railroad location basically doubled plus more the capacity for the New England customers. Right off Route 93 and within two hours of Boston, it provided the tourist industry in the Lincoln a boost during a normally slow time. An additional coach 151, former MBTA RDC-1, was added during 2005 to eliminate car shortages during Motorcycle Week and Fall Foliage Season.

In the winter of 2005/2006 the railroad repainted the two Pullman Cars that they had acquired from the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad and established a web site for their charters at Alco 959 was also repainted during the Winter Season to complement its sister 958, painted the previous year. 2006 was the Railroad's 19th year and the 18th year for the annual Trackcar Weekend event held each June. In May 2006 the Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiasts returned for a complete tour starting in Lincoln and ending in Concord, a distance of 74 miles. Mother Nature was not cooperative and the trip made it only as far as Canterbury, about nine miles short of its goal due to a washout. In the fall they returned to complete the trip all the way to Concord. The wye in Lincoln was rebuilt along with a grade crossing project at Route 112, also known as the Kancamagus Highway. New traffic lights were installed at Exit 32 near the railroad and conduits were also installed for future grade crossing automatic signal protection at Route 112.

The bridge in Plymouth that carries Route 175 over the Pemigewassett River was replaced in 2007 with a new bridge slightly north of the old bridge. The grade crossing over Route 175 is only several hundred feet from the approach to the bridge, necessitating a realignment of the roadbed to allow for a rise of 18 inches for the new highway. The bridge contractor removed the entire track from the restored semaphore north of town, all the way to the north switch at Plymouth Station. This was approximately half a mile of track being realigned for this project. Grade crossing protection was also installed as part of the contract.

In July 2008 the railroad hosted the "Little Engine That Could" event from its Lincoln station. In August, a major localized storm did considerable damage to the portion of the line between Ashland and Laconia. Over 75 washouts occurred with the biggest being a 100 foot section of track and also included part of the famed Weirs Beach Boardwalk which was swept away. By mid-September with FEMA, State and local cooperation, the line was restored back to normal allowing the September through October Fall Foliage Trains to operate as normal. At the same time the Ashland Hill section of the washouts had added to it thousands of ties, tons of ballast and tamping. Clearly a 100 year flood event that dropped four inches of rain in an hour overwhelmed all the drainage systems. Also in late 2008 the Plymouth and Lincoln Railroad acquired at auction the main Laconia Station waiting room and ticket office. Other parts of the station such as two restaurants are owned by others.

During 2009, the original locomotive, 1186, had an engine transplant from a previously stored prime mover that was purchased from the Maine Central Railroad when it was liquidating its stock of Alco switchers. A full online ticketing and reservations system was installed and proved to be an instant success with our passengers as they could book tickets in advance assuring a seat on their desired train. In September 2009, Edward M. Clark passed away. Ed Clark's interest in steam locomotives led to the founding of the White Mountain Central Railroad, which is a part of Clark's Trading Post, in 1986. Ed Clark's son, the late Edward A. Clark was the founder of the Hobo and Winnipesaukee Railroads that exist today within earshot of the WMCRR and is run by Brenda Clark, Edward A Clark's widow, along with her two children Benjamin and Jennifer. A short section of recreational trail was opened between Elm Street in Lakeport to the Laconia Station. It was constructed 10 feet wide and located beside the active track but separated by a four foot fence. New Hampshire's Alco S1 1008 suffered a traction motor failure during the Fall Foliage Season. Due to increased publicity, the addition of Polar Express Trains in the evening and the online reservation system, Santa Trains are becoming a bigger part of the railroad's annual business.

In Spring 2010, 4,000 feet of 85 lb. rail was changed out in the Lincoln to Woodstock section replacing most of the original lighter rail. Also the Weirs Beach Boardwalk, along with the railroad trackage, was completely restored from its damage by the storm of August 2008. Summer 2010 saw over 6,000 ties installed in the Tilton-Laconia area and replacement of the two Tilton grade crossings over Route 3. A recreational trail was created beside the active right-of-way from Route 140 to Tilton downtown to connect with the trail on the abandoned Franklin to Tilton rail line. There were no caboose trains run in the year to allow for maintenance of the line and inspection of equipment.

The railroad's popular foliage trains saw national coverage by CNN and The New York Times spiking the web site. The next year NBC News joined the list of expanding national media recognizing that Foliage Trains are a popular way to view foliage with the advantage to travel through undeveloped areas not normally viewable by road.

2012 saw the ballasting and computer tamping and aligning on miles of track in Woodstock correcting damage from the August 2011 Hurricane Irene which put portions of the Lincoln Line out service for several weeks only allowing about a two-and-a-half miles of track for train service. Also in 2012 the third of four former Erie Lackawanna coaches was subject to a complete interior and exterior refurbishment. Stainless steel coach 9153 arrived for service in a new interior decor. 9151 also was complimented by new interior similar to 9153's. No caboose trains were run in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with several privately-owned cabooses leaving the group at the Northfield Freight House acknowledging that that they would not resume in the near future. During those years, part of the slack was taken up by New England Southern Railroad that continued Northfield-to-Concord round trips but had to stop in 2012 due to insurance costs. In December 2012, one of the pioneers of the caboose train movement left for a railroad in Corning New York to utilize his equipment there.

Previously-stored North Stratford Railroad box car 491 was brought to the main yard, sold and then repainted into its former exterior when it resided at the North Stratford Railroad. A pristine work shop was the secret inside its closed doors for its new owner. Pullman Car 100, formerly from the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad, departed for an Amtrak upgrade by a new owner. It went first to Morristown and Erie Railroad's shops for a complete Amtrak compatible conversion emerging in late 2012. It was picked up by railroad magazines as having travelled as far as California where it must have travelled behind Amtrak's long distance trains. Once again Foliage and Santa Trains were up in attendance even though no all day Foliage trains were scheduled. 2012 was the railroad's anniversary and all summer promotions were run to celebrate the event.

2013 was the start of more aggressive marketing with the hiring of Paul Giblin, formerly of the Flying Yankee Restoration Group. He took over the publication of the periodic e-mail newsletter from Webmaster George Kenson who turned over 2,500 email addresses he had accumulated over eight years from a sign up box on the website. Paul's efforts contributed to an increase in volume and publicity especially during the Christmas Season at year's end. The railroad got featured in the Weirs Times, Union Leader and more, just adding to the numerous profiles in publications regarding the railroad. WMUR TV's Chronicle Show spent quite a while filming at the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln. Engineer Gary L. Kerr unfortunately passed away and with the departure of another engineer to live in Florida, caused a little shortage at The Winnipesaukee Railroad during the busy Fall period. Some doubling up of hours brought us through it with some replacements hired late in the year.

The quantity of cabooses at Tilton was reduced by five. One Pullman car left the area with Gary Gurskey's "Cold Harbor" remaining, which is also used as First Class car on the railroad's Foliage Trains. Several were sold and at least two ended up as cottages on wheels in owners' back yards. Everyone involved looked back at the demise in 2012 of the Caboose Trains and acknowledged that it was great while it lasted and appreciated the approximately 15 year period of enjoyment.

2014 saw the introduction of a new Station Manager for Meredith with David Labar replacing Ivette Bujeaud, a long-term employee since the startup of the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad in 1992. The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad made an agreement with the MV Mt. Washington for a joint ticket for the "Rail and Sail" program. Passengers depart at 10:30 AM for a ride to Lakeport and return, with a transfer of those with combined tickets to the MV MT Washington at the Weirs Beach Station at noon. Inauguration of this agreed joint ticketing went very well since the beginning of August. Plans are to continue the agreement in spring 2015 due to favorable passenger counts. An EMD SW1000, formerly used by the BNSF railroad, was acquired. This latest locomotive, 1012, was acquired in summer 2014 and arrived on September 21, 2014 to serve as the replacement for Alco S1 1008 which was the second locomotive acquired by the railroad. Privately-owned former New Haven Railroad RDC-1 departed in September from our Lincoln location destined for the Naugatuck Railroad in Thomaston Connecticut. The railroad there operates tourist train runs between Waterville and Thomaston CT.

Our Visit

My train ticket for this unique train ride.

The train left Meredith for Weirs Beach.

The train ran by the Meredith Marina with an arm of Lake Winnipesaukee.

Through the trees, a view of Lake Winnipesaukee.

We ran by some interesting geology on this trip.

Two views of Lake Winnipesaukee.

Boats tied to the shore along Lake Winnipesaukee.

Views along the lake.

A road along the lake's western shore.

Views along Lake Winnipesaukee.

The train took one of the curves along this railroad.

More lake views.

Views looking along the train forward.

What a beautiful view along Lake Winnipesaukee.

The train went across a grade crossing near Weirs Beach.

Passing by a marina in Weirs Beach.

The train arrived at the Motorcycle Event in Weirs Beach. Returning passengers had eight minutes off the train.

The train at Weirs Beach.

Our locomotive would push the train back to Meredith.

Views of Weirs Beach. We departed and I relaxed on the trip back to Meredith. I wanted to take pictures of the rest of the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad equipment upon my return but would have to wait until the next train left for Weirs Beach.

Two crazy kids were calling me before they left aboard the next train.

The 11:30 AM train left for Weirs Beach with three NRHS members aboard that train.

Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad GP7 302, ex. New England Southern 302, nee Chicago Rock Island and Pacific 438 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1950.

Chesapeake and Ohio coach 1642 built by Pullman-Standard in 1950 and painted as New York Central 1642 "Cold Harbor".

Former Bangor and Aroostook coach 103 "Determination", built by Canadian Car and Foundry in 1954. A special thank you to the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad for having us here today to ride their Bike Train 2015. Robin and I left the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad and headed next to Ashland.

A historical marker in Ashland.

Views of the Ashland Boston & Maine freight house built in 1869.

Ashland train station scene.

The Ashland Boston & Maine station built in 1869.

Track equipment at Ashland.

Canadian Pacific Railway caboose 434616 built by the railway in 1979 and lettered PLLX for Plymouth and Lincoln Railroad.

One last view of Ashland. We next drove to our first stop in Lincoln, New Hampshire.

Click here for Part 2 of this story!