Riding with history: Scenic railway museum acquires historic locomotive

The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum recently acquired this historic 77-year-old locomotive. The vehicle is one of only three remaining locomotives from the Boston & Maine Railroad, which once had a substantial presence in Berkshire County.

LENOX — The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum has acquired another piece of historic railroad memorabilia: A 77-year-old locomotive that is one of the three surviving locomotives of the Boston & Maine Railroad.

The museum will use the locomotive to provide pulling power for a current passenger train operation, its Hoosac Valley rides, which carried 8,000 passengers between Adams and North Adams during the 2017 season.

The Hoosac Valley Rides currently use a one-car diesel unit for passenger trips. The new locomotive will allow capacity for a two-car train set, provided the museum can bring its conventional train coaches from its facility in Lenox Dale to Adams, said the museum's president, Jay Green. Once those coaches are in Adams, Green said, "We're good to go."

"Providing another historic opportunity for interested riders is the organization's goal with the acquisition of No. 1849," Green said, referring to the locomotive's number. "Adding conventional coaches will increase available seating as well as offer premium, first-class amenities and diversify the experiences offered to our guests."

The museum purchased the locomotive for $20,000, according to Green, funds that weren't included in the museum's current budget, and took possession of the vehicle last month. Although the locomotive is operational, Green said it still needs about $30,000 worth of cosmetic restoration and mechanical renovations. The museum has begun a fundraising campaign to help defray those costs.

Built in 1941, the locomotive was once stationed at Boston & Maine's rail yard in Mechanicville, N.Y. The 600 horsepower diesel electric vehicle was then sold to Holyoke Water Power in 1959. The locomotive spent the next five decades switching coal hoppers at the Mount Tom Power Station in Holyoke before that company's new owners shut down the plant's yard in 2014.

The museum made initial inquiries about purchasing the locomotive then, but company officials didn't bite because they weren't sure whether the vehicle would be sold or transferred to another company.

Demolition of the plant began in 2017, and in early January the museum learned that the locomotive was going to be destroyed. That set the purchasing process in motion — the demolition company halted the scrapping of the locomotive when it learned the museum was still interested in purchasing it.

Although the locomotive still needs restorative work, the vehicle had been stored in a barn in Holyoke, which cut down on its wear and tear. The museum's chief mechanical officer Tom Delasco described the locomotive's condition as "a time capsule" after he inspected it.

"When cars age over the years, their owners manipulate them and change things around with modern components," Green said. "But this locomotive was so well cared for at Mount Tom that none of that occurred. It's a living example of 1941. All the controls are still in place. Nothing was modified."

The Boston & Maine Railroad is the successor to the Andover and Wilmington Railroad, which was founded in 1836. Its freight yard in North Adams is currently the site of Western Gateway Heritage State Park. The railroad's most famous engineering landmark is the five-mile Hoosac Tunnel between Florida and North Adams.

The Boston & Maine has been owned since the late 1990s by Pan Am Railways. The locomotive had received substantial mechanical work at Pan Am's shops in East Deerfield the year before the Holyoke plant was shut down, according to Railfan & Railroad Magazine.

The museum will launch its 2018 season on Memorial Day weekend with departures from downtown Adams. The town of Adams is currently constructing a boarding platform and train station building that are expected to be in service by the end of June, according to the museum.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.