Welcome to the world of the Conway Scenic Railroad where ‘P’ on the side of the tracks signifies miles to Portland, ‘irons’ refers to bridges, and ‘hobo jungles’ were a place of gathering for those who rode the rails for free during the Great Depression.
On a cold, wet, foggy Friday morning I easily found a parking spot before walking across the street to the main North Conway station for my passenger ticket. There was much excitement in the fresh morning air. Tour buses from Ontario and Massachusetts waited close by as rail-cars pulled away from station, whistles blowing and smoke plumes billowing from their overhead stacks. Meanwhile passengers dressed in winter coats huddled together in anticipation of the next train.
My Notch Train wasn’t scheduled to depart until 11am, giving me an opportunity to capture some of the action outside the Station. For those cat and dog owners out there, feel free to bring them along for the adventure! Pets are allowed on the coach train, just don’t let them go for snacks on the Hattie Evanson Dining Car!
This particular train was bound for Crawford Notch, which was once named White Mountain Notch, a little tid-bit I picked up from the ongoing commentary. The interesting facts and stories kept coming through the loud speaker for the entire voyage. Passengers heard all about the legend of Nancy Brook who froze to death while walking through snow on a cold night (some say her ghost still haunts the Notch) and Dr. Bemis, a Boston dentist who built a stone mansion 1,000 feet above sea level (later becoming Notchland Inn). I won’t spoil the rest as the stories are too good to tell now. It was quite the New Hampshire history lesson.
It’s a unique experience, enjoying the dramatic mountainscapes and vibrant trees of the North Country from the comforts of a warm train car. It offers some of the same scenery as a nature hike with less work! To get a breath of fresh air or a wide-angle photo just proceed to the last car which is open. Along the way, there are so many amazing photo opportunities too. Of course I had to pan the camera quickly and use a high shutter speed as we moved between 12 to 15 miles per hour. From abandoned barns and railway cars to the Saco River and views of the Notch, my eyes never left the train window making it a quick and engaging 5 hour ride.
As we entered the area encompassing Crawford Notch State Park, everyone holding a camera headed towards the open car for pictures of the vast valley below. This part of the train ride is like taking a step back in time, chugging through thick NH forest, the only visible trace of mankind a distant gray highway and occasional headlight cutting through the fog. Heads tilted upwards as passengers tried to get a view of the awe-inspiring Frankenstein Cliff. Even on this rainy day, hikers could be spotted on the side of the road, rain hoods on, coming back from the many hiking spots located near Arethusa Falls.
While riding over tall trestles and maneuvering across steep mountainsides, I couldn’t help wondering about how these tracks were built, the tremendous effort it must have taken to construct a railroad bed through these mountains? When I found out that this railway was completed in 1872 I could imagine our hard-working, strong-backed ancestors opening up rock with sledge hammers and black powder. This reason alone should be enough to hop on board for a true New Hampshire experience. Join them again in June 2013 for some warmer weather!