WHEN SUSAN LOGAN was growing up in North Conway, she often passed by the boarded-up shell of the Boston and Maine railroad station that had served the North Country since 1872. The last regular train ran South in December 1961. It was “desolate,” Logan recalled of the Victorian station.
Fast-forward to a thriving tourist attraction for both rail buffs and families, providing scenic train rides while preserving a bit of White Mountains history. The Conway Scenic Railroad celebrates its 45th season this summer, the product of visionaries who couldn’t let a good thing die.
Logan, now marketing and events manager for the CSR, said that the revival of the railroad came first from Dwight Smith, then an employee of the Boston and Maine company. Smith came up to North Conway on the “ski train,” though he was not a skier, and “wandered around town gathering intel,” she said. With the rise of the passenger car and the improved highways between the North Country and the rest of the world, regular rail service was in trouble. “In the late ‘60s, the talk at the time was to raze the railroad complex and put up a strip mall, or turn the whole thing into a restaurant/hotel,” Logan recalled.
But Smith was a visionary, and knew the facility could still work as a railroad, in a tourist/hospitality incarnation. He approached local businessmen Carroll Reed and Bill Levy, and the Conway Scenic Railroad was formed “on a handshake,” according to Logan.
Logan left the mountains for a while, roaming as far as California, but “clicked my heels” and came back. She’s worked at the Railway, or CSR, for 13 years but was associated with it far longer, through her work with the Chamber of Commerce and White Mountain Attractions organization.
The Railway now offers several different routes from its terminal right off Main Street in North Conway, Logan said. There are two “valley trains,” one to Conway and back lasting about an hour and one to Bartlett and back, an hour and 45 minutes. These are good for families with young children, she said. The Notch train, to Crawford Notch and back, is popular with adults and spectacular during foliage season, according to Logan. There’s also a train with dining cars, offering lunch and/or dinner. “There is,” she said, “something for everyone.”
The CSR had a partnership with “Thomas the Tank Engine” and offered a Day Out with Thomas for families for 20 years. Last year they held their last Thomas events, preferring to develop their own programs, such as a “Tea With Cinderella” experience. They’ve also adapted with the times, recognizing the needs of children on the autism spectrum with their “Sensory-Free Friday” trains. The special trip is offered on Friday afternoons, on the Redstone route through the Puddle Pond Conservation Area. The children are in an air-conditioned car, which cuts down on the noise from the train, and the crossings are flagged so the engineer doesn’t have to blow the horn. Quiet activities are provided. These were offered on Fridays in July, and, Logan said, the company is considering running another series due to its popularity.
They also offer a special Railfans Weekend, attended by both railroad buffs and the merely curious. The event includes special demonstrations and excursions with their 1921 steam engine, Logan said, adding, “It was out of service for four years due to a federally-mandated overhaul.” But it’s back now. “Steam,” she said, “is a huge draw.”
There will be demonstrations of early track repair techniques, special photo sessions, and even a craft fair geared to railroad buffs, she said. This year’s Railfans Weekend is Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
As for Logan, she’s home in her beautiful White Mountains and working at a job she loves. “I get to watch people enjoying themselves,” she said.