TRAIN BLOG (WSAU) My first broadcasting job out of college was in Laconia, New Hampshire. If you’ve never heard of it, let me introduce you to a great place. Laconia is right in the middle of the state at the bottom of Lake Winnepesaukee, the largest fresh water supply east of the Great Lakes. It’s the northernmost city in New Hampshire before you enter the great pine forests of New England. The lake itself is very scenic. People who can’t afford vacation homes on Cape Cod would take a condo on Lake Winnie as a good second-choice. Summers were filled with boating, barbecues, Little League games, and bike rides. It was a time when I had no responsibilities except to myself. No wife. No kids. Life was simple and easy in Laconia.
Boston was two hours to the south, and I’d spend many weekends exploring and learning about that great city. Rockingham Park, New Hampshire’s horse track, was my Friday night hang-out, where I occasionally cashed winning tickets.
Laconia was also a railroad town. Was. The Boston & Maine had long packed up and left. Passenger trains were cut in Laconia in 1964. Freight trains were discontinued in the 1970s. Bits and pieces of the bankrupt B&M were sold off to smaller short-lines. No one bought the line to Laconia. Only clues of the area’s railroad history remained.
Laconia’s train station was an impressive sandstone structure downtown. You could tell it was an important stop. It was the end of the line for two round-trips each day from Boston. A third train continued west from Laconia, and then turned north to Montreal. When I got there, the train station was used as a Mexican restaurant with an office for the Chamber of Commerce.
My apartment was two blocks away from the downtown station. Two blocks further up was Lakeport, which also had its own small station at a junction along the lakefront. Passenger trains would stop there on summer weekends, and would continue three more miles north to Weirs Beach, a tourist area with a pier and a small amusement park. Passenger trains would tie up at Meredith, the last coach yard in northern New Hampshire.
I’d walked through the Meredith yard several times. It was filled mostly with abandoned passenger cars that hadn’t moved an inch in decades. An old PA-1 passenger diesel and a yard switcher were also rusting in place. Two stainless steel Budd RDC were there too, surviving the elements but still immobile. This was the world the railroad forgot.
In the summer a tourist railroad ran weekend trains from Laconia to Weirs Beach. One SW-1 switcher and two coaches would suffice. They used a dining car on holiday weekends and during the fall foliage season to run dinner trains. It was a spectacular trip with sweeping lake views and cool summer breezes of the water.
The Lake Winnepesaukee Tourist Railroad had only five miles of track. Its tiny two car train made the trip from Laconia to Weirs Beach in about 10 minutes. For a few weekends each summer and fall a dead piece of railroad came back to life. I was torn between “it’s better than nothing” and “this is all that’s left.”
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau