By Dorothy D. Holman & John M. Holman, Contributing Writers
NORTH HAMPTON, NH -- It was just a little thing. It stood no higher than a man's hip, and yet to children living within a radius of a hundred miles, and to vacationers, or those touring New England, it was the thrill that comes once in a lifetime.
The little miniature steam train that chugged its way around a thousand feet of track in a pine grove along Route One in North Hampton, New Hampshire, was the cynosure of all young eyes and of some grown-up ones as well, through the summer vacation months back in the 1940's and early 1950's.
The owner and engineer (fireman, too) was the late Peter Lamie, who operated "Smokey Joe" (his name for it) for over eleven years for the enjoyment of children, and grown-ups, too.
The engine was an exact replica of a real steam engine, built to a three inch scale, of iron trimmed with brass. It resembled to the letter, our regular locomotives from the cow-catcher in front to the coal tender attached, and yes, even to the coal shovel, too. For the information of those who know engines, it was a Model 4-4-0, of which there were but five in this country during the 1940's.
As with the regular engines, it was equipped with a bell, safety gauge and whistle, and burned a coal and coke combination, sending up black smoke as it idled at the station.
The bell was not an ordinary bell. It was a Swiss cow bell made of brass, bearing on one side the inscription "Saignelegier" and the date "1878", and on the other side, the words "Chantel Fondeur." It rang out sharply as Engineer Pete called out, "ALL ABOARD!", and the little engine with two cars attached, left the station, and slowly gathered speed for the long run twice around the track. The double ride was especially pleasing to the children, since it gave them a chance to wave to Mom and Dad as they passed them on their second trip around, as well as a photo opportunity.
The engine, Pete said, carried 100 pounds of steam, could develop up to nine horsepower and could do 25 miles an hour, although for safety reasons, he seldom went over nine or ten.
Engineer Pete tried to copy the real thing as closely as possible in the operation of his Lillipution railroad. The children bought their tickets from the ticket agent, the late Mrs. Helen Schrock, who was seated in the tiny station "ROCKY NOOK", a small building beside the track. When she was unable to be on duty, Pete took on the dual role of station agent and engineer.
After buying their tickets, the children would climb aboard, (each car seated ten) the tickets were collected and punched, just as on real trains, and they were on their way. Peter was a very cautious driver and kept a watchful eye on his youthful riders, realizing what precious freight he carried.
The fifteen-inch gauge tracks were laid on regular railroad ties with real spikes. A short distance from the station, a sign warned you of a railroad crossing, and just before entering the tunnel (a wooden passage-way used to store the train during the winter months), the little engine would give off a shrill whistle, which never failed to thrill the young passengers.
NYC; guest of the Holman's c. 1940's
The tracks were laid in a circle through a grove of tall pines (now "LAFAYETTE CROSSING" on Lafayette Road), an inviting spot for a picnic, with tables and benches scattered about. Many families made a day of it with a picnic lunch at noon and occasional rides on the train throughout the day. One didn't need to bring a lunch however.
At the "Rocky Nook" station, home-cooked food, coffee, tonic, milk, sandwiches and hot dogs could be purchased while waiting for a seat on the train. Sandwiches cost ten cents and fifteen cents depending on the choices, while hot dogs were fifteen cents with the "works". Coffee or milk were seven cents.
Edna and Ernest White operated the little lunch "take-out" with the assistance of their daughter, Alice (White) Dalton. Mrs. White also made the home-made bread for the sandwiches, and her doughnuts were the best around, selling for a nickel each and worth every penny.
Souvenir post cards of the train could be purchased to send back home, and stamps were available and a mail box was on hand for the convenience of the tourist. Photos of the train for the post cards were taken by Peter's son, Howard Lamie, a well known photographer in the Seacoast area.
You could pick out the future mechanics every time. It was the little boy who lingered beside the engine after the ride, looking it all over, even stooping to peer into the fire box when the engineer fired up. Nothing escaped him. You knew he was thinking how he was going to be an engineer when he grew up and drive a real engine.
People came from miles around and in all types of vehicles, from trucks and cars of uncertain vintage to shiny new models, and from every state in the Union as well as from England, France, Canada, Panama and from many other parts unknown. The majority of the riders were children, from babes in arms through all stages of childhood, but adults rode too, sometimes to see that Junior stayed on, but more often than not, they "just went along for the ride."
"It's amazing", Engineer Pete used to say, "how many children there are under twelve, but I never argue with them even when they look twenty". (Tickets for those twelve or under were cheaper [twelve cents] while adults were seventeen cents.)
.... Tickets, please!"
Before Mr. Lamie passed away, we spoke with him concerning his years with "SMOKEY JOE", and he recalled the final year of operation of the train. A gentleman approached him in the spring offering to buy the railroad, "lock, stock and barrel", and agreed to take it away the day after Labor Day, providing the train would go under its own steam at least twenty feet from the station.
The summer went by without mishap, and Labor Day came and the gentleman returned to close the deal, as he had agreed to do. Pete fired up the boiler, got a good head of steam on, and started around the loop. After proceeding a short distance, the train stopped in its tracks and for some undisclosed reason, but it had crossed the twenty foot mark and the deal was closed! "Smokey Joe" had made its last run at "Rocky Nook", going to a new owner and new-found friends and children.
All is gone now, tall pines, station, track and train, but there are those who remember with nostalgia, those happy days when "Smokey Joe" puffed along the track with Engineer Pete Lamie at the throttle.
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