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By Jack M. Turner

    Following the Green Mountain Railroad excursion in Vermont we made a beeline for Meredith, NH where two more interesting train excursions awaited us.  The first of these trips was on the same day as the Green Mountain trip, an ambitious plan but necessary in order to ride both lines. 
    Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad is part of the Hobo & Winnipesaukee Railroads which operate over 54 miles leased from the State of New Hampshire.  This mileage stretches from Lincoln southward to Tilton.  Both end points are nestled close to I-93 though the railway arches eastward along Lake Winnipesaukee and Paugus Bay in the central part of the route.  Much of the railroad dates to the 1840s with the entire line operational by the 1880s. 
    Our first trip over the Winnipesaukee Scenic would be Saturday evening’s Turkey Train which departed Meredith, NH at 6:00pm.  The ticket office and gift shop were located in an old baggage car with ample bench seating outside.  A row of restored cabooses on the grounds are rented by railroad employees who live in the colorful cars.  An adjacent stub track housed a spare engine that protects the line’s busy autumn schedule.


The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad ticket office/gift shop in Meredith, NH


Colorful cabooses parked at the Meredith station

    The boarding process was smooth as the names of the assigned car and dining table are printed each passenger’s ticket.  We were assigned table 1 in the Waukewan dining car and were seated with a pleasant young couple across the table.  As the train was underway our meals were served with the main course consisting of turkey and dressing accompanied by sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes and gravy along with cranberry sauce and dinner rolls.  The tasty dinner was catered by nearby Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant and served to passengers in several vintage train cars.


The Turkey Train prepares for boarding


This party caboose is available for charter on many excursions out of Meredith


Our dining car "Waukewan", a former Erie Lackawanna car


Dining car "Alpine" (ex EL) and an ex-Boston & Maine rail diesel car

    Just south of Meredith the railway joined an arm of Lake Winnipesaukee and passed a yacht club where several large boats were docked.  At 6:30pm the train slowly eased through Weirs Beach, a popular tourist spot with shops and a street on one side of the tracks and the Lake Winnipesaukee’s waters and beaches on the other side.  The railroad actually runs on top of the lakefront boardwalk which is a favorite place to walk or just hang out.  The lights of boats on the lake and houses across the broad lake sparkled like diamonds in the night lending an air of mystery as we wondered exactly what we were looking at.


Lake Winnipesaukee


Pleasure boats are anchored in the lake


Scenic lake views fill the windows of the dinner train


The tracks run along the boardwalk at Weirs Beach


The beach at Weirs Beach at sunset

    The tracks then followed the shore of Paugus Bay south toward Laconia.  About an hour after departing Meredith we reached the southern end of our ride in Lakeport.  The head end crew moved to the engine on the rear end of the train which would be in the lead for our return.  We had covered 15 miles on our leisurely southbound trip and enjoyed the transition from late afternoon twilight to full darkness. 


The interior of dining car "Waukewan"

    A delicious apple crisp dessert was served as the return trip began at 7:00pm.  Our dwell time in Lakeport had been just five minutes.   We enjoyed some pleasant conversation with our tablemates as the train made good time back to Meredith, arriving at 7:45pm.  The Turkey Train normally departs Meredith an hour earlier which allows most of the trip to typically run in daylight.  Dining on the rails was enhanced by the magnificent scenery and we enthusiastically recommend this trip.   The Turkey Train only operates on select dates during the fall thus it is wise to call the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad or consult the line’s web site for dates of operation.  On summer days an excursion train operates between Meredith and Lakeport while a daytime shuttle train runs between Meredith and Weirs Beach on many dates throughout the year, typically making frequent daily trips.
    After a comfortable night at the Towne Place Suites by Marriott hotel in nearby Laconia, it was time to board the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad’s Autumn Leaves Excursion Train north to Plymouth, NH.  The train left promptly at 11:00am from the same location in Meredith.  SW 1000 # 1012 led the four car train and riding in coach # 6105 “Winona” right behind the engine provided the opportunity to hear the switcher tackling the line’s grades.  Indeed the climb departing the station was steep and rewarded passengers with close views of Lake Waukewan within five minutes. The ability to open the windows facilitated photography as did access to the vestibules.  As the train plunged into woodlands awash in colorful foliage a guitar player stopped by the coach to play the country favorite “Wagon Wheel” and pop standard “Brown Eyed Girl” before moving on to entertain other passengers.


Coach “Winnisquam” is a former B&M RDC


The excursion train to Plymouth, NH (right) prepares for boarding while two members of the motive power roster rest on the stub track at Meredith


Lake Waukewan north of Meredith


The White Mountains rise behind Lake Waukewan


A guitar player entertains passengers in coach “Winona”

    The line we traversed formerly belonged to the Boston & Maine Railroad which ran year-round passenger service until October 25, 1959.  Summer service survived until 1965.  Near Winona we crested a 1.42% grade and reached 675 ft above sea level then descended a 1.13% grade for 3 miles into Ashland.  There we passed a nicely preserved station that would be visited on the return trip.  Just south of Ashland we slowed on a 100 foot high trestle allowing a panoramic view of a pond, stream, mountainside foliage, and the remains of an old mill.  Ten minutes later we crossed the Pemigewasset River at Bridgewater then rolled past the Bonnie Brae Deer Farm and the Glove Hollow Tree Farm which grows Christmas trees. 


Passing the Ashland depot on the northbound run


A caboose is parked on the siding south of the Ashland depot


A hydroelectric dam stands below this bridge north of Ashland


Crossing the Pemigewasset River at Bridgewater


Passing through a forest of autumn leaves


Brilliant autumn foliage lines the rail line for much of the trip

    Passing the restored station in Plymouth our trip neared the northern end of our trip.  At 12:15pm we pulled to a stop beside the Common Man Inn where passengers detrained for a hearty lunch.  The return trip to Meredith retraced the route we took on the northbound run but included a stop in Ashland to tour the historic train station which is maintained by the Ashland Historical Society.  A uniformed stationmaster greeted passengers and provided information about the station and the items displayed within and outside its walls.  The train arrived back in Meredith at the scheduled 3:00pm ending a pleasant and scenic journey.


The nicely preserved station at Plymouth, NH


Pullman “Determination” originally served on the Canadian National and Bangor & Aroostook Railroads

    The Meredith to Plymouth train operates during the autumn leaves season.  During summer and autumn months the Hobo Railroad runs trains south from Lincoln to view the scenery of the White Mountains.  Another area operation, the Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train based in Woodstock, runs over the same Hobo Railroad line and even offers dining under glass in a former Illinois Central dome car.  It is wise to confirm dates of operation when planning to take any of these trips.
    Next we will visit another popular tourist train in New Hampshire for a trip over the Frankenstein Trestle.


Hobo and Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroads
Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train

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