Not-so-little engine that could: Rail fans await locomotive's fall debut

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NORTH ADAMS - Anybody out there want to take a train ride to the past?

This fall, if the pandemic allows, folks will be able to climb aboard a 1911 passenger rail car and set off, courtesy of the Hoosac Valley Train Rides operated by the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum.

"These cars are 100 percent correct," noted Brent Bette, vice president of finance and manager of special projects for the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum. "They are exactly what you would be walking into in 1911 — like a time machine."

The passenger cars, purchased by the museum in the mid-1980s, once served passengers out of Hoboken, N.J. They have been used for special events and train rides in Lenox, where the museum has a train station. They were later moved to Adams.

The cars have been restored by museum volunteers, but first they had to take a $10,000 ride from Lenox to the storage rails in North Adams, Bette said. Fortunately, the project secured permission to transport them on the rail line. If they had to use trucks to move the rail cars, it would have cost about $150,000.

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The passenger cars were used mainly as commuter transports into the 1980s. Many might recognize them as similar to cars they rode in the past.

The train that has been used for the scenic ride during the past few years is a single car with engines on both ends to pull it either direction, but it only seats about 80.

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The two new cars will be pulled by a 1941 locomotive that is also being restored. They will seat about 112, said Jay Green, vice president of the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum and town administrator in Adams. The additional seating will allow more riders in the fall and during the holiday season, which draw the biggest crowds.

The project will cost about $50,000. When the cars were purchased from New Jersey in the 1980s, they cost about $1,000 each. The museum has six others at the Lenox location. When commissioned in 1911, they would have been pulled by steam-driven locomotives.

The 600-horsepower locomotive that will pull the coaches is a 1941 SW1 built by the Electro Motive Diesel division of General Motors - one of the first generation of electro-diesel locomotives. It is also going through a heavy restoration by volunteers. The motor drives a huge electric generator, which powers the electric motors that drive the wheels.

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The locomotive has a local history. It used to ride the rails through North Adams regularly as a part of the Boston & Main Railroad that served the Berkshires. From 1959 to 2016 it hauled coal as part of a utility operation in eastern Massachusetts. The museum purchased the locomotive, which is considered to have relatively low mileage, in 2016 — two weeks before it was set to be scrapped.

"It's got strong roots here," Bette said. "So it's kind of neat that it was saved and got to come home."

Once the interior of the engineer's cabin is restored, it will be returned to its original black with red striping, and its original number - 1113.

"It's a labor of love," Bette said. "It's expensive, but at the end it's well worth it."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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