The Roundhouse Podcast

Wandering Spirit: Meet Norfolk & Western 611

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

On September 15, I accompanied Wandering Spirit on a whirlwind tour of my current home state, New Hampshire. Our goal was to visit some of the highlights of the various railroad attractions. But like all good adventures, the sidetracks and the unexpected sometimes prove the most interesting…

As we traveled northward towards my first intended destination, a makeshift sign on the highway indicated “railroad display open today”. Not familiar with this specific attraction, I took the exit and arrived in Union – a village in Wakefield, NH situated on what was once the B&M’s branch to Conway.

Sept. 15, 2019: At the restored station in Union, NH. Note the freight house across the tracks.

I discovered that the restored station and freight house are a wonderful local “depot museum”. The freight house has a spectacular HO model railroad – fully automated with mainline meets – all meticulously detailed as the villages of Wakefield existed in the early 1900s. This presented a spectacular juxtaposition – to place Wandering Spirit on a layout that is inside the building being modeled! After making new friends with Rich and Bill, hosts of the display, they eagerly agreed to pose the car in front of the Union freight house.

Sept. 15, 2019: Wandering Spirit (on crossing) inside the Union freight house (modeled to the left of the car) by hosts Rich and Bill of the Heritage Park Railroad Museum. The railcar is roughly orientated and situated in the “real life” spot in the prior photo (but safely off the tracks, of course.)
Sept. 15, 2019: Close-up of Wandering Spirit inside (and beside) the Union freight house. This would be the model railcar’s only layout visit during its Fall 2019 adventure.

The Union passenger depot is nicely restored with a variety of displays and artifacts. Many are centered around the Wolfeboro Railroad, which is a now-defunct tourist road that the author rode on his 12th birthday in 1982. There are also a caboose and snow plow, open for inspection and exploration; a rebuilt water tank completes the display. It is a worthy side-track to visit among the region’s railroad attractions.

Further “up the line” from Union is North Conway, NH – home of the well-known Conway Scenic Railroad. Wandering Spirit made a stop to watch some of the many excursion trains arrive and depart from its beautifully restored and maintained Russian-inspired depot.

Sept. 15, 2019: On the greens in front of the North Conway depot of the Conway Scenic Railroad.

We met another surprise here; Wayne, the bridge engineer who had been instrumental in securing and rebuilding the Trout Brook bridge on the WW&F was in the cab of a Conway-bound train! Unfortunately, his train was now departing, so we would have to catch up on the scheduled first run over the bridge in a few weeks.

Next stop was the state’s other-most-famous railroad – the Mt. Washington Cog Railway. Celebrating its 150th year in 2019, steam and diesel trains still take passengers up “Jacob’s Ladder” on the railway to the Moon. We stopped for photos at the entrance, where one of their now-retired steamers serves as a sign and display.

Sept. 15, 2019: On the running board of Col. Teague, a 1972-built locomotive for the Mt. Washington Cog Railway now on display at Fabians, New Hampshire.

With daylight fading and a storm brewing, we turned further northward to Whitefield, New Hampshire, home of the last artifact from a bygone era. Named as one of the top historic railroading sites in the northeast, the ball signal at Whitefield is the only signal of its type still serving an active railroad crossing. However, at this point, this distinction is merely a technicality, as trains rarely travel to the diamond, both lines are out of service beyond this point, and both lines are under the control of a single railroad.

Sept. 15, 2019: Wandering Spirit is posed atop the whistle post in front of the ball signal still guarding the Maine Central’s Mountain Division and the B&M’s Berlin Branch in Whitefield, New Hampshire.

One of those lines, the Boston and Maine line to Berlin, NH, once hosted the box pony (covered) bridge now reconstructed on the WW&F. Saved from an arsonist’s torch by the National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, it was completely rebuilt, then placed into storage. Wayne (our friend from the cab at Conway Scenic) arranged to have the bridge donated to the WW&F, moved, and reconstructed over Trout Brook – allowing a 3/4 mile “Mountain Extension” of the heritage railroad down a 3% grade. Soon, Wandering Spirit would be travelling over this relocated and rebuilt bridge; but for now, we returned back home as freezing rain began to descend throughout New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Our next adventure was a three-day trip to see the Queen of Steam, Norfolk and Western’s 611 hosted at the Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania. While this would not be Wandering Spirit’s first trip to Pennsylvania, it would certainly mark it’s first visit to 611 – mirroring its earlier visit to the Flying Scotsman. But, like its New Hampshire excursion, sometimes the side tracks are just as interesting.

On the way down to Strasburg, we chased down the Naugatuck Railroad’s freight train to Waterbury, Connecticut. On crew that day: Trainman Orion Newall-Vuillemot who was featured on The Roundhouse Podcast episode 61: Saving a Boxcar at Age 15. One of the reasons I support The Roundhouse is how it encourages and promotes those younger than this author to get involved with railroad preservation. It was a pleasure to catch up with Orion, and have him host Wandering Spirit while waiting for the day’s interchange.

Oct. 3, 2019: Trainman Orion Newall-Vuillemot holds Wandering Spirit on the Naugatuck Railroad in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Seeing N&W 611 has been on this author’s bucket list for many, many years. As a boy in the late 1970’s, I lusted after Lionel’s model of the J, but never could possibly afford one. I sat from the sidelines, reading Trains and Railfan and Railroad as it was restored to service, only to be sidelined again. This time I wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip away, and booked an early morning “Hostling Tour” to get up close and personal with by far the largest live locomotive I would ever (yet) see.

Oct. 4, 2019: On the pilot of superpower – Wandering Spirit meets the Queen of Steam, N&W J-class 611.

Another guest on “The Roundhouse”, 611 CMO Scott Lindsey, was happy to pose with Wandering Spirit. Once he understood the significance of the project, and that the railcar had visited the Flying Scotsman and 611, Scott laid down the gauntlet – we must get the car posed with the Big Boy and Ed Dickens. Ok Internet, let’s make that happen!

Oct. 4, 2019: CMO Scott Lindsey hosts Wandering Spirit on N&W 611.

Part of the Hostling Tour included a limited visit to the cab of 611. Of course, Wandering Spirit was a hit with the crew as they prepared the locomotive for the day’s excursions to Paradise.

Oct. 4, 2019: Wandering Spirit is ready to pull the throttle of N&W 611.

A visit to the Strasburg Rail Road must include a trip to Paradise – the junction with the former Pennsyvianna main line at Leaman Place. Wandering Spirit came along for the ride – to the delight of the many passengers who asked about the project.

Oct. 4, 2019: From the platform of the open/observation car “Hello Dolly,” Wandering Spirit is awaiting departure on the Strasburg Rail Road to Leamon Place, PA. Motive power for the excursion will be visiting superpower, N&W 611.

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