Tracks to the past

Accurate scale model of B&M Railroad being built in Wakefield

Special to the Union Leader
July 15. 2013 9:16PM
From left, Bill Gaver of Brookfield, Ken White of Rochester and Rich Breton of Rochester, all members of the National Model Railroad Association, at the Wakefield Heritage Commission's Heritage Centre in the Freight House in Union. 

WAKEFIELD -- A HISTORICALLY ACCURATE scale model of the Boston & Maine Railroad line and stations in the five villages of Wakefield is under construction at the Wakefield Heritage Commission's antique Freight House in Union.

The Freight House, built in 1875, is situated in Heritage Park on Route 125 just across the tracks of the restored Union Station and Museum and the 1902 Russell snow plow once used to clear snow from railroad tracks.

From the outside, the Freight House is a simple, utilitarian structure. Inside, however, the Freight House is ground zero for a team of model railroad experts who are assembling a working HO scale model of the railway line as it served the five villages - Union, Sanbornville, Wakefield Corner, Burleyville and North Wakefield - in 1909. HO scale is one-half the size of the famous Lionel model trains. Aside from the railway line model, the Freight House features the new Heritage Centre with displays of antiquities, photographs and equipment related to the region.

The construction crew includes ferroequinologists (students of the iron horse) Rich Breton and Ken White, both of Rochester, and lead consultant Bill Gaver of Brookfield. Gaver is an accomplished model train enthusiast who created the HO scale Balboa Granada & Eastern Railroad at Defern Depot, a railway station he built on the site of an old ranch house next to his home. The construction crew includes Jill and Brian Bollinger of Belmont, Lee Gridley of Ossipee, Tony Keegan of Wolfeboro, Nelson Kennedy of Alton Bay, Dave Sias of Meredith, Phil Twombley of Sanbornville and Bob Verdonck of Moultonborough.

Wakefield Heritage Commission Chairman Pam Judge said the work, thus far, has exceeded her expectations.

"We're just thrilled with the work. It will teach our residents, tourists and children about the heritage of our villages and the role of the railway in the growth of our community," she said.

Judge said the concept for the model grew out of a brief discussion with Gaver. At the time, Judge had no idea Gaver was a railway model enthusiast. Gaver not only brought his expertise but his connections with specialists in the field, as well as vendors.

"This model is way beyond what we could ever dream," she said.

According to Gaver, who along with other team members researched the history of the Boston & Maine Railroad in archives at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the rail line transported tourists from Boston to the North Country, hauled ice harvested from local lakes and other goods like lumber. Industries that thrived in Wakefield in 1909 included mica mining, farming, shoe manufacturing, lumber products and farming. While the focus of this project is on the rail line and heritage throughout the five villages of Wakefield, trains traveled to parts north and over to Wolfeboro.

Meticulous work

The team is carefully documenting the project. Breton has drawn diagrams for future repairs and to share knowledge and methods with other model enthusiasts. At this stage, all the main wiring is in place. Volunteer Dave Sias created the electrical "brain board" to control all the electrical components with Tony Keegan and Nelson Kennedy helping to run wire and check circuits. Lee Gridley painted the sky blue backdrop.

Crew members are busy building rail cars and stations. Breton handmade the replica of the railway turntable and has been working on a replica of the Mathews Station, which was located in North Wakefield. The roof lifts up to reveal the intricate details of the interior roof tresses, chimney, stove and other furnishings inside. Structures along the route will include the five stations, Flagman's House, Sanborn House, the Badman House and Scale House and sheds for wood, coal and ice, among other model buildings, according to the proposed layout.

This model project is unique in that it will be historically accurate, said Breton. Crew members, many who belong to the National Model Railroad Association, studied old photographs to help replicate the stations. The Boston and Maine archives provided diagrams and maps of where the tracks were laid and descriptions of all the structures on the line, said Gaver.

Once completed, 165 feet of railway, with 36 turnouts, five handcrafted stations, landscaping, scenery and little people will populate the model.

Gaver said the goal is to get part of the model railway line working in time for Wakefield Heritage Day on Aug. 10. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will be special presentations, tours, live music and refreshments.

The project will cost a little more than $10,000 once completed, with funding coming from donations to the Wakefield Heritage Commission.

Aside from events on Heritage Day, the rail line builders will host a layout tour for members of the New England region of the National Model Railway Association on Oct. 20, where Breton will provide a PowerPoint presentation.

For more information, visit, or email The Heritage Centre and Union Station are open weekends through August, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., rain or shine. Donations can be mailed in care of the Wakefield Heritage Commission, 2 High St., Sanbornville, NH 03872 or call 998-0860.

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