We arrived in New Hampshire for Columbus Day weekend ready to do two things: hike in the White Mountains and ride the Conway Scenic Railroad train. My husband likes trains and had wanted to take a ride the past several times we visited the area. The timing finally worked out that we were able to catch the Saturday afternoon Valley Train. An extra bonus this weekend was that our train would be pulled by the 1921 steam locomotive #7470.
We rode in the first class car called the Gertrude Emma, built in in 1898 as a sleeper-parlor-observation car. The train car has been restored with much of its original woodwork intact. One fantastic feature about the seating aboard this train is the rows of wicker chairs that are lined up facing out the windows. No craning your necks to see over your neighbor out the window.
The Valley Train to Bartlett is a 22-mile round trip that lasts nearly 2 hours. A narrator on board highlights points of interest (and he also does double-duty at the snack bar) during the trip.
During October, there is plenty of foliage to see. We were a bit past peak during the weekend, but the colors were still lovely. There are several views of the Saco River, as well as Attitash, Theater in the Woods, and other buildings and settlements along the way. The stop in Bartlett doesn’t have a round house – the tracks that turn the train 180 degrees to go back in the other direction – so the steam engine decouples and the front car becomes the back. You are encouraged to switch seats with your neighbor across the way for the return trip. That way, everyone sees what is on both sides of the train during the journey.
The train ride is fun for all ages and is a great opportunity to take photos along the way. The sound of the steam engine’s whistle and the wheels on the track really are a visceral experience. You really can’t recreate that sound on a computer. As for the atmosphere, I really felt like I should have been wearing a hoop dress and a big hat to make the trip. The restored woodwork on the Gertrude Emma really is beautiful. If you have a chance to take this ride or the shorter 55-minute Conway excursion, it’s worth the time to do it.