Monday, November 22, 2010

Trip Report: PLRR's All Day Fall Foliage Excursion


Plymouth and Lincoln Railroad operates two tourist trains in the state of New Hampshire. The Hobo Railroad operates south from Lincoln in the White Mountains, and the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad operates south from Meredith along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. Both trains operate on different parts of the same railroad line, starting in Tilton, which is the northernmost point on the fictional Merrimack & Souhegan's trackage. From Tilton, the line went north to Plymouth and Wells River, VT and on to Montreal. In Plymouth, the Lincoln Branch split off from the main and ran north to Lincoln. The line between Plymouth and Wells River is long gone, and all that is left of the network is the line to Lincoln, where PLRR operates.

During the summer, the railroad operates the two trains described above. However, in the fall, they add a few special trains. Depending on how much money you want to spend, you can ride north from Meredith to points such as Ashland, Livermore Falls, or all the way to Lincoln. More info on these trains can be found at their website. I chose to ride the all day train to Lincoln, which includes stops northbound in Plymouth for lunch at the Common Man Inn, and southbound at Ashland to take a tour of the restored depot, all included in the price of the ticket.

I arrived at Meredith and boarded the three car train. The consist was Alco S1 1008 "Edward E Howland Jr.", a former Portland Terminal switcher; Budd RDC1 6105 "Winona", an ex-MBTA, ex-B&M RDC that has had its motors removed; Bangor and Aroostook 103 "Determination," a parlor car built for Canadian National and purchased by BAR for their business train; and New York Central 1642 "Cold Harbor," a privately owned 20th Century Limited parlor car. The RDC served as Coach Class, where I sat, the "Determination" served as Presidents Class, and the "Cold Harbor" served as First Class.

We pulled out of Meredith right on schedule and immediately followed the shore of Lake Waukewan. We ran through many people's backyards, and a lot of people were out waving to the train that only comes through in the fall. We rode past Lake Winona, although it was hard to see the lake through the trees. We arrived in Ashland, and the train slowed down so we could see the town. It is a pretty town, with a beautifully restored depot and freight house. The freight house is privately owned, but the depot is maintained by the Ashland Historical Society. After going through the town, we crossed the Ashland High Trestle, which is a trestle high above a small river and visible from most of the town. After going over the trestle we went under Interstate 93, which we would be following most of the way to Lincoln.

Upon arriving in Plymouth, the train stopped just north of town in front of the Common Man Inn. The inn had a sign out front saying "Welcome Hobo Railroad" because we would be stopping there for lunch. We all got off the train and went inside. Lunch was being served buffet style, and included lasagna, turkey, stuffing, and a few types of soup. Being male, I had to try a little of everything, and it was all excellent. I had eaten at the Common Man before and was very impressed with their food. We had an hour to eat, and I was done before then, so I went back outside to take some photos of the train. Once the hour was up, everyone boarded the train again, and we continued north.

After leaving Plymouth, we went through some tight curves while climbing a steep grade, and the wheels made quite a bit of noise. After climbing the grade, we went past Livermore Falls, which is the site of an old paper mill on the Pemigewasset River. The mill is long gone, but the stone foundations are still there. We crossed the river and continued north, and after a few miles we came to Blair Bridge. It is a covered bridge in the town of Blair. The railroad does not go over it, but it can be seen from the railroad. It is still used, it is a single lane bridge with a speed limit of 5mph. There is a sign on the antiquated bridge stating that riding or driving on the bridge faster than a walk would earn you a $5 fine.

A few miles to the north we passed through the town of Campton. There is not much of a town there, but that is where you get off the highway to go to Waterville Valley, which is a tiny town with a big ski area nestled in the middle of the Sandwich Range. I have done some hiking there, as there are five 4000-footers surrounding Waterville Valley. After passing Campton, we continued north through Thornton and into Woodstock. Woodstock is where the Hobo Railroad trains operate to on a regular basis, so once we got there the track got a whole lot better and we sped up from 15mph to about 25mph. We kept that pace through Woodstock and up to the yard limit in North Woodstock, where the Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train leaves from.

We crossed into Lincoln and went onto the wye. Since there is no passing siding in Lincoln, and the next one south is occupied by the dinner train, the locomotive could not run around the train. Instead, we pulled up just past the wye and stopped there. Our locomotive, the 1008, pulled off the train and went into the stub end yard. Another locomotive, the 958, an Alco S1 of Maine Central heritage, coupled onto the end of the "Cold Harbor" and shoved us into the station. That locomotive would pull our train south to Meredith. We had about half an hour in Lincoln, where we could buy something in the gift shop or take a tour of the Flying Yankee train. Having seen the Flying Yankee earlier that month and several times before, I went to the gift shop and bought a book I had seen there last time but didn't have the money for it. We boarded the train again to head south, and I traded seats with the people across the aisle from me, so I could see out the other side of the train this time.

The train headed south and the sky cleared up a bit, so I got some better shots southbound than I did northbound. Also, since we were now the last car on the train, I went to the back and rode in the vestibule for part of the trip. On the way south, we stopped in Ashland for a tour of the depot. The waiting area has been turn into a kind of a museum, with different railroad related artifacts on display. The office was open and had a train order hoop and other artifacts on display inside there as well.

After looking at the depot, we boarded the train again and continued south. We reached Lake Waukewan as the sun was setting, and the lighting was beautiful. We pulled into Meredith just after sunset and our journey was over. The locomotive then ran around the train to get ready for a fall dinner train leaving in an hour, so I hung around to watch the switching and then left.

Overall, it was a fun trip. The sun was fighting with the clouds all day, so some of my shots aren't the greatest. We also had a late fall this year, and I was on the earliest train, so we didn't see much foliage. However, it was a lot of fun and I look forward to riding this train again next year.

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