Russ Seybold has enjoyed two careers in his lifetime. He began post-college employment with Pennsylvania’s Bethlehem Steel in in its Executive Training Program and advanced through the company in sales, marketing, and management until choosing a career path change in 1990.
In 1990, he was hired as President and General Manager of Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway, New Hampshire, with shares in the company and the understanding that he would eventually buy out the other Board members. From the beginning, he exercised supervision and responsibility for all aspects of the successful operation of the company, and in 1999 he and his wife bought the company outright.
Russ is a professional business manager committed to the advancement of the tourist railroad industry, tourism development in the White Mountains region of New Hampshire, and the continued growth of Conway Scenic Railroad. He has been the recipient of numerous awards over the years, including a citation from New Hampshire’s Governor John Lynch in 2009.
He is involved with community non-profits whose goals are to help families and children of the Mt. Washington Valley (North Conway area). He lives in Jackson, New Hampshire, with his wife Dorthea and their two Corgis, Norah and Grady. The Seybolds have four grown children and one grandchild.
How does the experience of riding on the Conway Scenic Railroad give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
In our narrations, we share the history and the culture of the people who settled this region over 200 years ago. In the early part of the 19th Century, artists traveled to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire to paint landscapes. Their art served as early postcards of the region, attracting tourists to see its beauty, and resulted in the rise of lodging establishments to accommodate them. The arrival of the railroads in the latter half of the 19th Century contributed significantly to the further development of tourism and resulted in the rise of grand hotels in the late 1800s. Most of the hotels had their own train depot, and people flocked to the mountains by the thousands to escape the oppressive heat of the cities in the Northeast. Gradually, by the 1930s and 40s, the automobile supplanted much of the train passenger service, and many of the hotels were lost to fire. A few remain, however, including the famed Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, which can be seen from our Notch Train in the Fall when we extend our daily excursions to Fabyan Station.
How has the experience changed over the years?
When it first opened as a tourist railroad in August of 1974, Conway Scenic Railroad offered passenger service on one route between North Conway and Conway, originating from the historic 1874 depot in the center of North Conway Village. The excursion was eleven miles roundtrip, and our season ran from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Only Coach seating was offered.
Over the years, service has expanded to offer passengers more choices of routes, seating, and amenities aboard the “Valley Train.” First Class service was offered aboard the wooden Pullman Parlor Observation Car, Gertrude Emma, built as “Libertas” by the Pullman Company in Chicago in 1898. Then in 1992 dining car service was introduced for lunch and fine dining dinner aboard the restored Pullman car, renamed the Dining Car Chocorua.
A major event took place in 1994, after the State of New Hampshire acquired ownership of the abandoned Maine Central Railroad line known as the “Mountain Division.” The Boston & Maine line, which Conway Scenic operated on for its first 20 years, intersects Maine Central’s tracks one mile north of the station. Following our successful bid as the operator of choice to rehabilitate the track and reestablish passenger service on the Mountain Division, we began service to Bartlett in December of 1994, Crawford Station in September of 1995, and Fabyan Station in the Fall of 1996. This service was also expanded over the years by adding to Coach seating, with First Class s eating options in the Vista Dome, Dorthea Mae, as well as dining service on our newly restored dining car, Hattie Evans.
What is one detail of the train ride that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
Most people are not aware of the amount of equipment necessary to maintain and operate multiple trains over multiple routes nine months of the year. Neither are they aware of the significant behind-the-scenes effort of our employees: reservationists, track crew, and the crew that works in our well-equipped shop facilities.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider buying their ticket on the Conway Scenic Railroad?
When a guest buys a ticket at Conway Scenic, they are contributing to our ability to preserve and share a part of New Hampshire’s railroading history for future generations to enjoy. Our company culture is one where pride in and commitment to those preservation efforts are deeply embedded.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
The world is shrinking, and along with that comes the opportunity for people from around the world to visit, to learn of other countries’ regional cultures and history. With each passing year, we welcome more and more visitors from around the globe, and we are excited to share our small piece of the world with them.
What sets a ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad apart from other historic railroad trips?
We operate in a tremendously beautiful geographical area. Excursions during our very popular Fall Foliage season offer scenery and colors that just can’t be experienced anywhere else in the world. We believe that we offer our visitors a comfortable and friendly atmosphere in which to view and learn about the White Mountains’ region of New Hampshire.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel excursion such as yours?
Our Notch Train features a mountain-climbing train, so seating on the Valley side is preferred. We ask our passengers who ride on the Valley side on the way through the Notch to switch sides with the Mountain View passengers on the return trip, so that all of our guests get to experience the same spectacular views.
What is one strategy that has helped your organization to grow?
We listen to our customers and respond to their requests for different travel options: more First Class seating options, open cars, air conditioning, fine dining, and an online reservation option (in addition to our friendly, helpful reservationists) all were added as a result of passenger input.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
No job is beneath me. I have washed the station floors, and I’ve cleaned toilets in both the station and on the trains. We’re a team here, and my employees know that I will step in and work beside them to get the job done.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
We have guests who share emotional reactions to what we offer here every week, so picking one instance is almost impossible, but recently I was approached by an older gentleman who was here with his family. When he was a young dad, he had brought his son to Conway Scenic several times in the late 1970s. Now he was visiting with that same son, who was here with his wife and two children. We see a lot of that: multi-generational families who share an appreciation and love for Conway Scenic and what we’re protecting for future families to enjoy. It’s very rewarding.
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