By Elliot Courtney/photos by the author
The sun was just peeking over the tops the White Mountains as four adventurous young men from Long Island completed a seven hour journey and rolled into North Conway, N.H. looking for one thing: steam. We made a beeline for the wooden roundhouse hidden behind the 1874 North Conway passenger station that made up the headquarters of the Conway Scenic Railroad. The wisps of coal smoke curing from the roundhouse smoke jack confirmed that we had not come in vain. This was “Steam in the Snow,” an annual charter sponsored by the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, and quite possibly the last run for steam on the Conway Scenic for the next few years.
This year’s running of Steam in the Snow was made possible by a waiver provided by the FRA for No. 7470, a 1921-built Canadian National 0-6-0 brought to North Conway at the railroad’s start up in 1974. The locomotive is due for its federally-mandated inspection and rebuild, which will take it out of service for at least two seasons. The waiver allowed the 7470 to finish the 2014 season which included the Steam in the Snow trip scheduled for January 3, 2015.
We weren’t sure what to expect, but as we took in the sights, sounds, and smells of steam railroading, we knew we were about to take part in something special. The sound of shutters was deafening as photographers lined up to capture 7470 as it emerged from the ancient wooden roundhouse and out onto the turntable. Boarding time rolled around at 10:00 a.m. and the four of us found seats and settled in. At 10:30 we lurched into motion, headed north on the old Maine Central Mountain Division deep into the White Mountains.
We arrived in Notchland, a distance of roughly 15 miles from North Conway, hauled by by ex-Maine Central GP-7 No. 573 with the 7470 trailing on the south end. Once we arrived the Geep was cut off and the show began! At each photo stop two of the six-car train were unloaded, a runby was performed and the first two cars boarded and the next two unloaded. This procedure was very time consuming but kept the photo line from getting crowded, a problem common to some fan trips. The Mass Bay RRE coordinated with the Conway Scenic crews every step of the way, making for a great experience for everyone. The sounds of steam exhuast echoing off the valley were a poignant reminder that 7470’s fires would be dropped for a long while at the completion of this journey.
As the trip went on we discussed the state of the line and the 7470’s future when an older gentleman sitting across from our group agreed and said it had come a long way from its beginnings. A lively conversation was struck up and quickly we realized we were speaking the Dwight A. Smith, one of the founders of the Conway Scenic Railroad. Between photo stops he regaled us with stories of the fight to begin operation and its successes. Dwight purchased the 7470 in 1968 and brought it to North Conway to launch the Conway Scenic in 1974. More than forty years later, the railroad remained one of the few regularly scheduled steam operations in New England.
By the end of the excursion we had accepted his invitation to come to his house in Conway and see his Northern Vermont Railroad, an exquisite HO scale rendition of northern Vermont he has been working on since his retirement from the Conway Scenic in 1990. Thanks to the Mass Bay RRE and the Conway Scenic Railroad for running a wonderful trip, and to Dwight Smith for his hospitality and knowledge, four kids from Long Island took home an experience they won’t soon forget.