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August 8, 2005

-- Travel --

Essex steam train rolls through time

By Zach Brokenrope

As the Essex Steam Train pulls away from its home depot in Essex, Connecticut a mix of burning coal and the scent of summer fills the air.

The combination might be an unpleasant smell to some, but for others it adds to the charm. The steam train and accompanying riverboat ride provide a delightful and relaxing afternoon for people of all ages.

After closing in 1968, the steam train reopened three years later as a tourist attraction, exactly 100 years to the day that it carried its first passengers across New England.

The railway was built in the early 1900s, during the peak of the engineering age. The cars were built between 1914 and 1925.

Upon arrival, passengers purchase tickets for the steam train, riverboat, or a combination package of the two. They can check the blackboard at the historic Essex Station, where departure times are still written in chalk.

As riders board the train, conductors dressed in traditional clothing greet them with a friendly smile and a kind voice, adding to the feel of the time period they strive to represent.

The regular cars (a seat in the parlor car is available for an additional fee) provide comfortable seating and low lighting as the natural sunlight seeps through the spacious windows. These same windows also provide a cool and soothing breeze in the hot summer afternoons.

As the train rolls through the beautiful Connecticut scenery, a tour guide speaks clearly and precisely over the intercom, detailing the interesting history of the steam train.

Upon arrival at the dock in nearby Chester, riders get off the train and climb aboard the Becky Thatcher, a riverboat named after Tom Sawyer’s girlfriend and set off on a 90-minute journey down the Connecticut River.

All three of the ship’s decks offer beautiful views – and as they enjoy the scenery, passengers can listen to a crew member detail the history of the surrounding landmarks.

When the riverboat returns to the dock, passengers once again board the steam train for the ride back to the depot in Essex.

The entire trip takes about two and a half hours. It’s a knowledgeable and fun trip for the entire family – one that even teenagers will enjoy.


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