Mass. author takes a trip on an old railroad

By Sean Leonard
The Daily Item / March 13, 2011

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LYNN—Today's Blue Line rapid transit stretch from Maverick in East Boston to Wonderland in Revere runs along portions of a corridor used in the late 1800s and early 1900s by a railway between Lynn and Boston that promised passengers "The most delightful short trip in America."

The Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn (BRB&L) Railroad, launched May 23, 1874, carried commuters from the bedroom communities of Lynn, Revere and Winthrop to East Boston, where a BRB&L ferry took them across to Rowe's Wharf in Boston's bustling North End.

The BRB&L has a prominent place in the history of American narrow gauge railroads -- featuring tracks that were only 3 feet apart and passenger cars initially pulled by steam-powered engines, or "bogies."

That history is brought to life in author Frank Kyper's latest book, "Narrow Gauge to Boston: A Nostalgic Window on the Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn Railroad," which includes riveting narrative and more than 150 phenomenal photos of the BRB&L and its towering terminal structures, like the showcase three-story terminal and clock tower on Market Street.

"My involvement in railroads and writing goes back many years," said Kyper, a Massachusetts native and a former newspaper reporter who also worked for two years as a public relations executive with the Massachusetts Port Authority and in the late 1980s at the GE River Works Plant.

"The Introduction to Narrow Gauge to Boston tells the story of how I became interested in the Narrow Gauge. The town in Pennsylvania where my father was born and I spent many summers had its own narrow gauge railroad -- and a number of its passenger cars had been purchased from the railroad in Lynn. I rode in them up the mountain to the coal mines in the 1940s and 1950s," the author recalled in a telephone interview with The Daily Item.

"The railroad in Pennsylvania was not abandoned. Five miles of it continue to operate -- and three of the passenger cars from the BRB&L are still on the railroad," Kyper said.

He said he was inspired to write the Narrow Gauge to Boston, his fourth book, out of his "appreciation for this facet of Lynn history that is really pretty antiquated."

Yet, at the same time, he said the BRB&L was "to a certain extent ahead of its time," given the talk for decades of extending the Blue Line to Lynn, which would essentially restore service to much of the corridor the Narrow Gauge serviced -- with the exception of the BRB&L's Winthrop loop -- up until 1940.

Kyper attributes the ultimate demise of the BRB&L to a number of factors, particularly the cost of conversion of the narrow gauge railroad from steam to electric power in 1928, on the eve of the Great Depression.

Other than the former BRB&L cars still in operation today on other narrow gauge lines in other parts of the country, traces of the narrow gauge railroad remain, including portions of its trestle across the Saugus River.

The 112-page Narrow Gauge to Boston, published as a joint effort by South Platte Press, Brueggenjohann/Reese Inc. and Outer Station Project, is available for purchase at the Lynn Museum and through


Information from: The Daily Item,