Smokey Joe Letter from an Old Train Fan
By Jere Cossaboom
January 26, 2011
Jere Coosaboom on "Smokey Joe", ca. 1952 at "Rocky Nook", North Hampton, NH
Dear Mr. Holman;
I recently stumbled across your article about "Smokey Joe" while I was looking through some of the park railroad websites. I couldn't believe what I saw and had to tell someone who cares about my relationship with "Joe" and Mr. Peter Lamie, owner and engineer.
Smokey Joe and I go back to about 1952 when I was 7 years old. My father built and operated the Skowhegan Motel in Maine and each spring as soon as school was out, we went to Maine. In those days before the Interstates, Route 15 and Route 1 were the way to get to the bridge at Kittery and driving the distance from Bridgeton, New Jersey to Skowhegan, Maine was a 2 day journey. We put up for the night each year at the Wayside Motel on Rte 15 and in the morning up Rte 1 to visit Joe. We did this for several years until the Interstates and more direct routes became available and time was not as available as before.
I remember my first contact with "Joe" and "Engineer Pete" at Rocky Nook station and the first time I got a face full of coal smoke and steam cylinder oil. I was in love with steam locomotives. Our visits never lasted long enough as we had to get to Skowhegan but I do remember riding solo several times because we were the only ones there visiting.
In 1954 we visited and Joe was nowhere in sight. We walked around to the car barn and there was Mr. Lamie and another man taking the smokebox cover off a cold locomotive. I was heartbroken! I remember like it was yesterday that the "other man" told Mr. Lamie "I can't weld another leak because the tube sheet is all weld now." At the time I had no idea what he was talking about other than there would be no riding today.
Many years later I talked with a man who had seen "Joe" stored behind a barn in Nottingham and had mentioned the boiler was a cold boiler and dated 1954.
I guess the damage we saw back in '54 was extensive enough to require some major repairs and the photo of "Joe" running through the blowed down after hurricane Hazel is with the "new" boiler.
As always, time passes, priorities change and interest in other things take their toll and "Joe" went to a back burner. It was not a priority but it was never forgotten and so fondly remembered. When I got out of school in 1965 and was driving home to New Jersey, I made a side trip down Rte 1 to see if "Joe" was still there, it was gone. Rocky Nook, the car barn, Mr. Lamie's little cottage and the roadbed was there but Smokey Joe was gone!
I asked several people in the area if they knew what happened to "my" locomotive and got several stories but no one knew where the train and Smokey Joe went. For several years I chased articles in the railroad magazines and talked with many people by phone but it seemed like "Joe" disappeared into the Twilight Zone.
Some time ago I took up the search again and called the Hampton Beach Area Chamber of Commerce on the chance that someone there could point me in the direction of someone who had been there long enough to remember the F & L (original owners Frank La Claire) Railroad and Smokey Joe. I finally hooked up with Mel Clark, whose father had a car dealership near the railroad. I called him and he agreed to meet with me to talk about "Joe" and "Brass Betsy" (The first original train at Rocky Nook). Mel informed me that Joe had been purchased by a gentleman who collected amusement rides and Joe was stored in a barn. I later found out that it was stored outside the barn and it was in deplorable condition, as the last 2 photos in the article depict. Mr. Clark would not tell me who had "Joe" but if he got the opportunity to purchase it he would and would call me.
It is sickening to see the condition now and how it has been abused for so long but I'm hoping the owner has decided to restore "Joe" to it's former glory. As I understand it, "Joe" will never be for sale but if the owner decides to restore it, I would like to play some part in the process. "Joe" has taken up a lot of my life and I just hope someone decides to rescue it from the scrap pile.
My apologies for writing a book inside an email but me and Joe go back to a much simpler time and the smell of coal smoke & cylinder oil still remains. I have attached several pictures of myself and 2 other notable locomotives, neither of which stand taller than Smokey Joe.
Thank you for your email of 8/24 and you have my permission to use any of my material to further the cause of a restored and operating Smokey Joe. Over the years while searching for Joe I did a lot of research to see if I could find out who manufactured the train set and the approximate age of the equipment.
I had a few conversations with Cliff Shirley in Illinois who was considered to be THE expert on amusement park locomotives. Cliff visited Rocky Nook in the early 60's but Mr. Lamie was not there so he didn't get to really examine Joe as he didn't want to go into the car barn without permission from the owner. He did say he thought Joe was manufactured by the Armitage Hershell Company in Tonawanda or Buffalo, New York. Hershell was in direct competition with Cagney of Jersey City in the miniature train business but their primary business was steam carousels and miniature locomotives were secondary.
Cagney's locomotives were built by the McGarigle Brothers Machine Company in N. Tonawanda and many steam historians think the Hershell running gear was supplied by McGarigle as it is almost identical to the Cagney gear. Hershell was in the steam boiler business so they would know how to build the boiler and did so for their locomotives. Armitage Hershell actually started the miniature locomotive business but Cagney ran with the ball and manufactured over 1300 locomotives in several gauges. If the cab number 205 is the actual locomotive number as many are. Joe was a "late bloomer" probably in the late 1920's. I have attached some photos of what is probably one of Joe's older brothers and is a good illustration of what Joe looked like when it was new.
I'm planning to run up to Skowhegan, Maine for an auction in Fairfield on October 1 & 2 and if I may, I'd like to stop in at the library on my way home to meet you and spend a few minutes discussing Joe and North Hampton in general.