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Flying Yankee train won’t be returning to Concord after plans derailed

  • The Flying Yankee train is shown in the late 1930s.

  • The Flying Yankee train is seen in Nashua during its inaugural trip in 1935. Photos courtesy Flying Yankee Restoration Group



Monitor Staff
Saturday, June 03, 2017

The Flying Yankee won’t be flying to Concord after all – at least, not any time soon.

“Although the option is not closed, there’s no timeline for it,” said Lou Barker, railroad planner with the state Department of Transportation and a self-confessed fan of the Flying Yankee train that once was lodged in Concord.

“I do have hopes that it will get here,” he added. “It’s personal: I’d be one of the guys volunteering to wash the windows.”

The historic train, one of a handful built with the stainless steel “streamliner” design, which was handsome but proved to be uneconomic, will probably be shifted to state-owned property near the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln, where it has been under wraps for years, said Barker. If enough money is raised and volunteers step up, that could happen this summer or fall, with the train eventually being opened to public viewing.

While this is better than nothing, it’s far from the original hopes held by fans of this handsome streamliner train, which plied Northeast routes from 1935 to 1955 and was maintained at Boston and Maine Railroad’s massive shops in Concord.

The volunteer Flying Yankee Restoration Group wanted to ship the locomotive and two attached cars to Concord and display it on rails near Big Jim’s Home Center, which occupies a former B&M building. Their long-term dream was to create a transportation museum in the city that also featured Concord Coach and spacecraft related to Alan Shepard.

That plan was derailed by a shortage of money and complications using the property around Big Jim’s. Several months ago the rail fans and the DOT, which owns the Flying Yankee, shifted to the new plan, said Wayne Gagnon, president of the Flying Yankee Restoration Group.

Now the plan is to make it “a static display open to the public on a limited basis” in Lincoln for the foreseeable future, although that depends on getting enough volunteer staffers and money, since the state Department of Transportation has no funds to do the work.

Barker estimated that it might cost around $50,000 to do the job. The move involves putting down what is known as a panel, a short section of railbed not connected to a railroad line; taking already refurbished wheel sets, known as trucks, out of crates in Twin Mountain and putting them on those rails; then shifting the 200-foot-long train onto the trucks.

Getting the train ready for visitors, including building platforms, would probably require volunteer help, as would keeping the train open as a tourist attraction.

“(We will) need volunteer staffers, while continuing to solicit donations/grants to meet monthly expenses and phased ‘shovel ready’ action items,” wrote Gagnon in an email response to the Monitor.

The group has launched a new website, flyingyankee.org, and is accepting donations and stuff Flying Yankee-related memorabilia.

“I’m impressed with the current board members,” Barker said of the Flying Yankee Restoration Group. “They are putting together a group that’s credible and sustainable.”

For two decades until 1955 the Flying Yankee was maintained at Boston and Maine Railroad’s South Concord Shops, which employed thousands of people between South Main and Water streets, as it racked up 3.5 million miles carrying passengers and freight throughout the Northeast.

Unlike most locomotives and rail cars, the Flying Yankee and its few streamliner brethren, most famously the California Zephyr, shared sets of wheels among the locomotive and the first two passenger cars. This made the train lighter but also made it harder to reconfigure for different jobs and hard to fit into some rail yards, which is why the design was quickly abandoned.

It traveled under various names, depending on the route. As the Flying Yankee it went south-north between Boston and Bangor, Me.; as the Minuteman it went east-west from Boston to Troy, N.Y.; as the Mountaineer it was a ski train between Boston and North Conway; as the Newsboy it went to Fitchburg, Mass., and back; and as the Cheshire it traveled up and down the Connecticut River.

It was retired in 1957 in favor of new diesel trains. Boston and Maine gave it to the Edaville Railroad museum operation in Carver, Mass., where it was displayed until Bob “Stony” Morrell, owner of Story Land in Glen, bought it in the early 1990s. He had it moved and started repairing it, with an eye toward having it travel around as a rolling museum. But Morrell died of cancer at age 50 in 2006, and the work wound down.

The train, which can no longer travel under its own power, ended up at the Plymouth and Lincoln Railroad, better known as the Hobo Railroad, where it has been stored under wraps for years. “The Hobo Railroad has been, and continues to be, a gracious host,” wrote Gagnon.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)