GLOCESTER – This Thursday, while candlelight Christmas shopping continues in Chepachet, shoppers and children can take a break from the bustling and hop on board a train for a ten-minute, half-mile excursion through serene field, forest, and a covered bridge-like structure. Passengers might even spot a deer or turkeys at Harmony Railway.
“I like to make people happy. The train runs on diesel fuel, and the engineer runs on smiles,” quips Russ Gross, who owns the business and has enjoyed trains from boyhood.
On board the 18-foot train, up to 18 adults or 36 youngsters can take in the clean country air and soothe the senses. The fifteen-inch gauge, five-inch scale locomotive was custom made for Gross.
The bright blue train is, “a quarter scale of an EMDF3 locomotive” said the maker, Todd Swan of Swannee River Railroad Company, LLC, in Lufkin, Texas, which is about three hours southeast of Dallas.
Gross says Swan does, “fabulous,” work.
Formerly with the Union Pacific Railroad, Swan’s boyhood hobby was making model trains, and when he later built a backyard railroad smaller than Gross’s, visitors wanted a ride, and Swan knew it was time to build a larger locomotive.
“The prototype is what Russ’s train is now,” said Swan.
He has, so far, built about 20.
“The locomotive is a 1/4 scale replica of a GM Electro Motive Division F3 unit built in the 1940s,” he said, adding that basically, it’s, “the diesel locomotive that replaced the steams.”
Swan, who designs the trains and has a big hand in building them, says the act is like building a house, with sub-contractors doing their jobs. Putting together the train is like making, “a gigantic model,” with assemblies and sub-assemblies. Swan does the hydraulics, the electrical, the riveting, and more. Swannee River Railroad Company recently built an elaborate unit of engine and coaches for the San Antonio Zoo.
The Chepachet train rides on tracks on well-cared for land that’s still an active farm, which once held apple and peach orchards tended by Gross’s ancestors. The property has been in the family since the 19th century.
Gross offers the unique ride through his family’s countryside at $5 for the grown-ups, $3.50 for active military and veterans and children under age two ride free.
After the train ride, another treat for the senses on the premises awaits shoppers, indoors at Harmony Products.
Stepping inside the country store, frost-nipped visitors find fire dancing in the wood stove, festive decorations shining on the tree, and a load of last-minute Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers, such as maple products, knitted items, jewelry, clothing, handmade soaps and lotions, toy trains and other train items. The company also specializes in bee products.
Local teen Katie St. Pierre helps out in the store. Sales manager Nancy McDermott brings a decade of retail to the store.
“I’m having a ball,” McDermott said. “We’re selling things that make people happy. When a grandma buys a lollipop for the grandkids, that makes it special, she says.
Gross established his businesses in the middle of the 2020 steep fall-off of the American economy, and he has 70 acres to maintain as well.
Like plenty of other locals, Gross enjoys looking out his window and seeing deer on his property.
“To keep land this size you need a revenue stream,” he said.
The reward of running the business is making people happy, Gross said, pointing to an, “extraordinary experience,” in 2020 when customers brought their baby, and were thrilled the baby was allowed outside for the first time during the shutdown, and on a train ride, no less.
Parents with babies, or shoppers with parcels – all are welcome aboard and inside at Harmony Railway and Harmony Products on Route 44 in Chepachet.