2 huge cranes team up to move embattled caboose

LACONIA — After sitting on a sidetrack alongside Pitman's Freight Room for 16 years, the caboose, long retired from the Maine Central Railroad, was moved yesterday to a nearby, short-stretch of track laid by Richard Mitchell, the owner of the entertainment venue.

The caboose, weighing 69,000 pounds (345 tons) and stretching 49 feet from coupling to coupling, was lifted off one set of rails, jockeyed into position, gently set on the other track and winched into place by two towing companies — John's Wrecker Service of Concord and Coady's Towing of Lawrence, Massachusetts — working in tandem in a confined space. Each firm operated a wrecking truck fitted with a rotating crane capable of lifting 75 tons. "It was like mutual aid between Fire Departments," remarked John Dapergolas of John's Wrecker Service.

Mitchell has dubbed the caboose "The A Train" after Duke Ellington's classic to echo the character of Pitman's Freight Room as a popular jazz venue. He said that he intends to paint it red and renovate its interior then use it for small events, mainly private events, like birthday parties and wedding receptions.

The caboose was moved at the insistence of the Bureau of Rail & Transit of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, which for the past 11 years had overlooked its presence on the state-owned railroad track without a required lease. The bureau was prodded to act by David Gammon, who with his sister owns the abutting property. The two buildings are attached by a brick wall that serves as the lot line dividing the properties. Where the two lots meet, the sidetrack runs to the rear of Gammon's lot, ending at the corner of his property where the caboose has been parked within two feet of his building since 1999.

Off and on since the caboose appeared Gammon has pestered the bureau. In 2004 he reminded the bureau that Mitchell's lease of the sidetrack had expired to no effect and in February renewed his efforts to have the caboose moved. In April Shelley Winters, administrator of the bureau wrote to Mitchell, reminding him that in July 2004 he was informed that his lease of the sidetrack had expired and directing him to remove the caboose from it. Subsequently Winters asked the Belknap County Superior Court to order Mitchell to move the caboose.

"If it weren't for his wizardry, I never would have dreamed of this," Mitchell remarked of Gammon while he gazed at his caboose sitting comfortably and legally on its own track, just a few yards from the old one.

Gilford somehow ended up being owner of record of lot at city-owned Laconia Airport

GILFORD — The Laconia Airport Authority is working with the town of Gilford to unravel and rewind a little piece of history regarding the ownership of a 1-acre lot inside a 400-acre airport.

According to Gilford Town Administrator Scott Dunn and Laconia Airport Manager Marv Everson, a 1.1-acre plot of land was leased from the authority to an aviation company, many years ago.

When that company fell behind on its taxes in the early 1990s, the town of Gilford acquired, by tax deed, the undeveloped piece of property in 1993. The problem is, the company didn't own the property — the City of Laconia, through the Laconia Airport Authority, did.

The city owns the land and the airport authority leases it as one of its revenue sources. Because the property is in Gilford, the town's zoning, taxing, and zoning laws apply and a person or company pays taxes on both the value of the lease and the value of any buildings on it. In this case, there never was any hanger or building constructed under the aviation company's ownership so taxes were assessed only on the leased value of the land.

When the taxes went unpaid for three years, the town took the property by tax lien.

"What astonishes me about it, and it's not worth looking deeper, is that the city had a piece of property legally taken from it and never knew it," said current Laconia Mayor Ed Engler who serves, by virtue of being mayor, as chair of the Laconia Airport Authority Board.

And for reasons nobody can answer, the mistake was never caught until recently.

Fast forward to recent times.

The current lessee of the property built a hanger in 1999 and has been taxed by the town of Gilford for both the value of his lease and the value of his hanger. What baffles Everson is that the building apparently went through the entire Gilford planning and permitting process but everybody presumed the property belonged the city.

When the current lessee also began to fall behind on his taxes, said Everson, he recently went to his bank to get a loan to pay his taxes and planned to use the hanger as collateral. When the bank did a title search it discovered that the town of Gilford owns the property and not the Laconia Airport Authority.

The issue before both bodies now is how to fix the situation.

Yesterday Dunn said that as far as he's concerned the problem can be rectified by having the town give the lot back to the city and the airport authority by a quit claim deed or a release of deed.

He said he is working with Everson and the Airport Authority to make that happen.

The town of Gilford has three representatives on the Airport Authority board, including Selectman Dale Chan Eddy.

Fallen oak shuts down power in part of Belmont

BELMONT — About 70 residents along Horne Road lost power yesterday when a giant oak tree split in two and half of it landed across the road, lying over both electrical and cable lines.

Eversource media spokesman Martin Murray said the tree fell mid-afternoon and the company had dispatched a repair unit to the area.

Belmont Fire Lt. Thomas Murphy said firefighters responded and found a substantial part of the tree across Horne Road near the intersection of Brook Hollow Road and tangled in the wires.

He said firefighters used two units to block either side of the road because the tree was blocking the road near a sharp turn and motorists were coming around the corner and nearly hitting it.

He said Eversource crews arrived around 4 p.m. and were bringing in a tree removal crew to take down the rest of the tree.

As of 5:30 p.m. Eversource was reporting the same 70 homes as being without power.