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CSRR's Notch Train creates a living history of 'Life on the tracks'


Spirit of Hattie Evans lives on



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Taking the trip through Crawford Notch for the official launch of the Conway Scenic Railroad’s dining car Hattie Evans were Hattie and Loring’s grandchildren, Wayne Ruggles of Littleton, Craig Robinson of Gorham, Maine, Gary Kezarian, Ann Robinson Mills of Peacham, Vt., Vernon Evans of Chester, and Lynn Parsons of Bartlett. Sara Young-Knox/Mountain Ear Photo). (click for larger version)
September 02, 2010
Just a few years later Hattie, who had lost her own father to a railroad accident when she was hardly a year old, would be alone, too, when Loring was struck down and killed by a helper engine in Crawfords' yard. It was Thanksgiving Day, 1913, and the children had been waiting for their father to come home for dinner.

She wasn't without companionship, though. Given a choice between taking the financial help the MCRR offered, or continuing to live and work at the section house, she chose the latter. Perhaps after 10 years at the section house she would have missed the crying of the bobcats at night, the flight of broad-wing hawks in the day, and would have missed the roar of the trains as they huffed and puffed their way up the steep incline on their way to points west.

Surely, in a widow's house in some more settled clime, she would have missed the company of the section workers, and their gratefulness for the meals she cooked for them. Her children would have missed out on a unique upbringing, an upbringing they recounted in "Life by the tracks," by Virginia Downs, first published nearly 30 years ago, still in print and available at the Conway Scenic Railroad gift shop and other local outlets.

HATTIE AND LORING EVANS are remembered, too, at the very spot where they lived. On Aug. 27, as a special treat, the grandchildren of Hattie and Loring boarded the passenger train at the Conway Scenic Railroad Station in North Conway, bound for the Crawford Depot at the top of the notch. It was not an ordinary run for the CSRR's Notch Train. After weaving through the lower elevations of the notch, including a smooth trip over the Frankenstein Trestle, the train chugged up the steep grade of the tracks before stopping at the granite stone marking the memorial site that the family maintains.

The extended Evans family, CSRR staff — including general manager Russ Seybold — and tourism officials climbed out of the train into the bright sunshine of the late August day. The special trip was the official launch of the Hattie Evans, the CSRR's latest dining car addition. The rehabilitated D-1 class dining car, with a gleaming new kitchen, oak interior and customized booths, began serving fine food in July to 48 passengers per seating on CSRR's Notch Train.

"She would have been totally amazed and dumfounded about all this attention to her," said Ann Robinson Mills, daughter of Hattie and Loring's daughter, Mildred. In the early '80s Ann, mindful of the heritage of time and place she wanted to pass on to her children, commissioned journalist Virginia Downs to write a family memoir of the life and times of Hattie Evans and her four children. The narrative, an oral history of the Evans family in Crawford Notch, grew to encompass more than the family's history. It recounted tales of men who had worked on the tracks; recorded the impressions and experiences of young servicemen who had guarded the tracks when the United States entered WWI; told of a telephone lineman struggling with his co-workers to repair the damage to the lines after the devastation of the Flood of 1927, and let three of the Evans' children, grown well into adulthood more than four decades after their mother left the homestead, relive the best and worst of their childhoods.

Going through Crawford Notch, it's easy to visualize what life was like for the Evans family, and for the earlier settlers in the Notch. The river is there still, a thin line that squiggles on the east side of the state highway before disappearing underneath Route 302 near the top of the Notch, and the dark green forest, protected from excessive logging by the steepness of the slopes and by the state's ownership since 1912, clings thickly to the slopes. Crawford Notch is in the very heart of the White Mountain National Forest and is the only one of the three major notches to have a train line through it.

It's easy, too, to see what the Notch was like 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, as the rocks pull off in long talus runs from the mountainside of Webster Cliffs.

HATTIE EVANS LEFT THE Mount Willard Section House in 1942, her children grown with children of their own. In her later years she stayed with her daughter, Mildred Evans Robinson, in Portland. She died in 1954. The house is gone, its usefulness declining as fewer and fewer trains went through the Notch. Passenger service ended in 1958. Empty for decades, the house stood until 1972, when the Maine Central Railroad thought it better to raze it than let vandals ruin it. The foundation is still there, however, and Hattie and Loring's descendants have landscaped the thin shelf of workable earth by the house and the tracks with small plots of mountain-hardy flowers and plants. Here, too, is the granite slab commemorating the Mount Willard Section House, and the Evans Family Homestead. Etched in the gray granite is an image of the house, forever perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the notch, forever watching out for the safety and welfare of those traveling through.

No doubt Hattie is there, too, her strong spirit living in the grand beauty of the granite mountains.

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