CONWAY — Conway Scenic Railroad celebrated its 45th birthday on Sunday by surprising Dwight A. Smith, one of the railroad’s founders, by renaming the recently restored No. 7470 steam engine after him.
Under the gold 7470 lettering on the engineer’s cab window, the sleek 1921-built iron horse now bears Smith’s name.
It was unveiled at a ceremony at the railyard midday Sunday.
Interviewed after the event, Smith, 94, of Kearsarge, said, “I was very surprised and pleased,” adding jokingly, “because after all, I had bought that rusty piece of junk in 1968!”
Emceeing the ceremony was George Cleveland, a former radio personality for local station WMWV 93.5-FM and now executive director of the Gibson Center for Senior Services, which Smith frequents for daily lunches.
Cleveland’s remarks were aired live on WMWV.
Joining him at the stationary, steam-spouting locomotive was CSRR president and owner David Swirk, who with wife Rhonda purchased the railroad from Russ and Dot Seybold last year.
Accompanying them was Smith, who had founded the railroad in 1974 with the late Bill Levy of Yield House and the late Carroll P. Reed of Carroll Reed Ski Shops fame. Reed and Levy had acquired the former Boston and Maine station in 1965 and preserved it from development. Smith came along with his idea for a tourist railroad in 1968 after visiting the town on a Massachusetts Bay Rail Enthusiasts trip of February of that year.
In his remarks, Swirk saluted Smith for his passion for railroading.
“I can’t say enough about Dwight Smith. Dwight had the vision 45 years ago. I like to say he is the wellspring of the Conway Scenic,” said Swirk, a lifelong railroad worker, formerly of the Grafton and Upton RR of Massachusetts.
Swirk reminded those assembled that over the past five years, the No. 7470 had undergone a federally required, routine maintenance rebuild, with the steam engine returning to the CSRR’s rails this past Father’s Day Weekend.
He then asked the train’s engineer (Brian Fanslau of Maine Locomotive & Machine, whose company did most of the restoration work) to roll back the tarp covering the side of the locomotive.
As Smith gazed up at the new name and shook Swirk’s hand, Fanslau let out a burst on the steam whistle as friends and family applauded.
Media covered the event, including Trains Magazine.
The history of the CSRR goes back to 1968, when Smith rode a Massachusetts Bay Rail Enthusiasts special excursion to North Conway, where he saw the boarded-up, 1874-built station. After learning that the station was now owned by Levy and Reed, he returned to Portland and decided to give Reed and Levy a call.
“They had both arrived in North Conway penniless, but had founded thriving businesses,” said Smith. “They both wanted to give back to the town.”
Smith said it took a lot of work and dedication. But it worked, based on trust. “We had a handshake and an agreement within the hour, and that led to the incorporation of the Conway Scenic Railroad,” said Smith.
Along with many dedicated volunteers, the station was restored, and rolling stock acquired and refurbished, including old No. 7470.
Built as Grand Trunk Railway No. 1795 in 1921, it became Canadian National Railway No. 7470, Class 0-18-a.
For a number of years, it saw service as a yard switcher in Montreal and Toronto for the Canadian National Railway. It was then sold to a sugar refinery in Canada, which eventually sold it to the private collector from Michigan, who ended up selling the then-rusty relic to Smith.
In an interview earlier this year, Smith said that when he bought the locomotive, it needed a lot of work, especially in making sure the boiler could withstand 200 pounds of steam.
Volunteer rail enthusiasts toiled on it for years, with the engine being brought via flatbed from Portland to the North Conway yard in 1970. When it went into service for the Conway Scenic in ’74, it was numbered No. 47. It was returned to its old number in 1989.
When the tourist railroad opened on Aug. 4, 1974, it featured 5½ miles of track between North Conway and Conway. It expanded in 1995 to include the Mountain Division line from North Conway to Bartlett and then on up through Crawford Notch to Fabyans, and now operates on a lengthened schedule from April through early January.
Smith served as general manager of the railroad until 1990, when Russ Seybold was hired. He sold his shares when he and fellow owners sold the railroad to Seybold and wife Dot in 1999.
The Seybolds sold the railroad to the Swirks in 2018. The Swirks have expanded the railroad’s operations, making greater use of the Conway end of the line for special events.
At Sunday’s ceremonies, Smith was accompanied by his companion, Mary Levoy of Conway and son Dwight E. Smith, 68 and his wife, Becky (Bartlett) Smith, both of Bridgton, Maine.
“Becky was the railroad’s first female employee, and Dwight sold 90 tickets that first day of operations 45 years ago,” recalled his son.
“I joked to my son today about the ‘Dwight Smith’ name on the engine — ‘I’m not sure if it’s you or me (that it’s named for),’” laughed Smith.
That definitely is a joke, because for any rail fan worth his or her weight in engine grease, there is no doubt.
The 7470 Dwight Smith will ride the rails for years to come, and Smith hopes to do the same.
At Sunday’s ceremony, Smith shared his affinity for the steam locomotive.
“I like to tell people that it was built in 1921,” he said, “and I was born in 1925, and both of us are still running strong!”