The Roundhouse Podcast

Wandering Spirit: New England in the Fall

Ed Note: This report was written by Ed Lecuyer, who hosted Wandering Spirit during the Fall of 2019.

I was surprised when a mysterious package arrived at my Manchester, New Hampshire doorstep on September 4, 2019. It had come from the United Kingdom, and was marked “railcar” on the waybill. I opened it eagerly to discover the world-travelling Wandering Spirit railcar.

Sept. 4, 2019: Wandering Spirit arrives in Manchester, NH.

I had practically forgotten that I had signed up to participate in the Spirit Railcar project. While a supporter of “The Roundhouse” podcast, I am more involved in railroad preservation than modeling. My model/toy trains are currently in storage, as I have become an active volunteer at the Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railway in Alna, Maine. At the WW&F, I model in 1:1 scale, or as we like to say on the two-foot narrow gauge, “24 inches to 2 feet.”

I was very excited to host Wandering Spirit. With finite time and resources, here is a way that anyone can visit far-off layouts and attractions and feel like they were a part of it. I made it my mission to bring Wandering Spirit to some well-known railroad attractions in my area, a special excursion to visit a “celebrity” steam locomotive, and the crown jewel – the first trip over Trout Brook on the restored WW&F Railway, scheduled for Saturday, October 12, 2019. In this way, past and future hosts could be a part of some of the best and most unique railroad experiences I could provide.

Sept. 8, 2019: In front of the railroad station at White River Junction, VT.

Our first stop was White River Junction, Vermont. WRJ is the quintessential New England railroad town. Once it was a major crossroad between the Boston and Maine, Central Vermont, the Canadian Pacific, and even a local shortline, the Woodstock Railway. Today the Genesee and Wyoming controlled New England Central, Pan Am, and Vermont Railroad’s Washington County now converge at WRJ, with Amtrak’s Vermonter calling daily. Each fall, WRJ hosts its annual “Glory Days of the Railroad” festival each September, with excursions provided by the Washington County.

Sept. 8, 2019: Our motive power for the trip, ex-Rutland Railroad 405; now named for its savior, F. Nelson Blount.

I arrived just in time to board the 1pm northbound excursion up the “Pompey Line” to Fairlee, Vermont. As it was the last run of the weekend, the train was not well patronized. So, Wandering Spirit and I settled into our own “private” coach!

Sept. 8, 2019: Riding coach in an excursion along the Connecticut River in Vermont.

As folks passed through the coach during our trip, many stopped and asked about Wandering Spirit. Everyone was excited to see the railcar – and to learn of its past adventures at the Puffing Billy in Australia and even getting to “meet” the “Flying Scotsman” while in the UK. And that the future held a really special and rare treat: the first trip over a bridge on a restored heritage railroad in Maine!

White River Junction is a special town for me, as it was the terminus of the Woodstock Railway, a shortline that connected Woodstock Vermont to the outside world from 1875 to 1933. My great-grandfather, Charles Hurbert “Bert” Preston was the Conductor for the Woodstock’s final years, and I possess a small collection of WRR artifacts, including his conductor’s hat. This hat also accompanied us to WRJ this day – likely its first visit to the site since the railroad closed in 1933. It is said that since I was named (in part) after him, it is how I got the railroad “bug.” While he died long before I was born, I think of him often when serving as Conductor of the rebuilt WW&F in Maine, which while a narrow gauge road shared the same sort of New England shortline spirit and dreams as the Woodstock. “Bert” would be pleased to know that Wandering Spirit would be part of the WW&F’s rebirth in just a few short weeks.

Sept. 8, 2019: Posed on the cylinders of B&M 494, on display at White River Junction. This 4-4-0 was built in Manchester, NH (author’s current residence) in 1892 and is on display at the location where the Woodstock RR would have met the B&M and Central Vermont. Soon, Wandering Spirit would find its way to an even earlier locomotive, built a year earlier and now fully restored and operating.

To be continued…

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