Story of Flying Yankee

Story of Flying Yankee (1)

Friday, 23 December 2016 22:52

Story of the Flying Yankee

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The Story of the Flying Yankee By Carl Lindblade

In the midst of the Great Depression the conditions in America were so bleak that serious minded folks wondered if, in fact, this experiment in Democracy was really working. Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her book No Ordinary Time describes how in the late Depression in fact America had double digit unemployment, one third of the population had no running water, and education was obtainable by only a small number. In the years following 1929 rail passenger traffic had fallen by one half and railroads were seeking to discontinue unprofitable passenger service. The Interstate Commerce Commission had to grant approvals to discontinue service and was stingy with these permissions.

The Boston and Maine and Maine Central Railroads were in dire straits that reflected the times, which brings us to the crux of the story.

The tradition in America is that when we face adversity we bring technology and ingenuity to the fore. And so it was that the Boston and Maine-Maine Central Railroads undertook to order a new train set that for its time was truly revolutionary.

The solution was a streamlined three car unit train ordered from the Budd Company in Philadelphia on a one page letter from Mr. French, President of the Boston and Maine railroad. The new Flying Yankee was given road number 6000.  It followed the delivery of the Pioneer Zephyr by only a few weeks.

Revolutionary? The train was designed as a sprinter, covering intermediate distances quickly. The Winton 201 A Diesel Electric (the first type of longer distance train not powered by steam) powered the train. The train was the first with fixed windows, thus we see Air Conditioning for the first time.

The Flying Yankee restoration group has the original maintenance manual from GM Frigidaire with a disclaimer on page 3 from the US Department of Commerce assuring users that Freon was safe for the atmosphere. The train had no diner, and indeed food was prepared in a galley and served on trays to passengers. The trays affixed to the seat in front. A prelude to airline-type service. (The Yankee's food was better!) On time, the Yankee was delivered February 10, 1935 to the yards of the B and M at Mechanicville, NY. For the next several weeks the train went on a goodwill tour over the entire BM-MEC Railroad system. Thousands of people turned out to see this shiny marvel. 10,000 in Nashua in March and 20,000 in Boston. Excitement built. Finally on April 1, 1935 the Yankee was christened with a bottle of clear cool water from Lake Sebago Maine and began service on a daily route. And what a route it was. Portland to Boston to Portland to Bangor to Portland to Boston and back, late in the day to Portland. 750 mile a day, 6 days a week. Sunday was for maintenance. Was this successful? Yes, beyond expectation. The Railroad had wondered if the new service, between Portland and Boston would draw new passengers or simply carry existing passengers. The train drew new ridership and provided a profit for the Boston and Maine-Maine Central. The running time of the Yankee in 1935 was 51 minutes faster than today's Downeaster! This rare publicity shot shows just one of the many modifications made to the Flying Yankee. The wings were added to prevent buildup of snow on the windshield. Popular folklore says it is the result of Flying Yankee crews discovering that a plywood Victory "V" added during World War II enhanced visibility during winter operation. Over the years the Yankee ran under different names as it served various parts of Northern New England. The Cheshire, The Minuteman, The Business Man. The Yankee went to war in World War II continuing to provide fast consistent service. Following World War II, the streamline era, whose design was begun with the Yankee and the Zephyrs, had a glorious but brief time in our history. The Super Chief, The City of New Orleans, The Crescent, The Twentieth Century had their glory days. In the early 1950's President Eisenhower signed into law the National Defense Highway Act and with that began the building of the Interstate Highway System. For the first time in a century, America recast and rethought the way it would move people and freight. Bold new rights of way were carved across the nation from sea to sea. The last time we'd redone these paths of commerce was over 100 years before. Rails replacing canals. So it was that on May 7, 1957, The Yankee's service was discontinued. The train set was donated by the B and M to the Edaville Railroad in Carver, Massachusetts. It sat there for almost 40 years until a visionary, Bob Morrell, determined to purchase the train, bring it to New Hampshire, restore it to operating condition, and provide for it to run again as an example of American ingenuity in the face of adversity. The train was stored in Glen, NH until 1997 when it was moved over the road to the shops of the Claremont Concord Railroad at Claremont Junction, NH. From there, Phase I of the Flying Yankee's restoration was completed which included structural restoration as well as some of the interior and exterior cosmetic work. In August of 2005, the Flying Yankee was moved over the roadways for one final time to the shops of the Plymouth & Lincoln (Hobo) Railroad in Lincoln, NH where the restoration of this historic streamliner will be completed. The goal is for the Yankee to serve as an icon for education, tourism, and economic development. A tall ship for rail commerce. Please explore our website for updates, stories, and information about what is being done and how you can become a part of this national effort. Make donation, purchase a print, or better yet, visit the train on one of our scheduled Open House events. Carl E. Lindblade, CHA