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All Aboard the Mystery Train

  • Bob Ayotte's hand made train traverses the Newport Green, giving children rides at the Newport Farmers Market in Newport, N.H., on September 23, 2016. Ayotte takes his train out twice weekly in the summer and early fall at the Claremont and Newport farmers market. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alfred Ayotte, left, of Pinellas Park, Fl., helps his brother, Bob, of Unity, N.H., unload one of the cars for Bob Ayotte's train on Sept. 22, 2016. Alfred Ayotte lives in New Hampshire in the summertime, and helps Bob Ayotte out with the train as much as he can. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Benjamin Driggers of Claremont, N.H., leans on his great-uncle, Bob Ayotte, during a lull between train rides at the Claremont Farmers Market in Claremont, N.H., on Sept. 22, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • CJ Davis of Newport, N.H. climbs down from the wooden fire truck after a ride on Bob Ayotte's train at the Newport Farmers Market in Newport, N.H., on Sept. 23, 2016. Davis looks forward to riding the train each week, generally choosing to ride on the fire truck. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bob Ayotte builds a railing on a treehouse he built for his grandson, Haiden, at Ayotte's home in Unity, N.H., on September 28, 2016. Ayotte says when he isn't driving the train or building new pieces for it, he spends his retirement watching his grandchildren and helping out other friends and family. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tucker Weaver, 6, of Goshen, N.H., enjoys his second ride of the day on Bob Ayotte's hand made train at the Newport Farmers Market in Newport, N.H., on Sept. 23, 2016. Ayotte sourced most of the materials for the train from junkyards and free piles. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bob and Alice Ayotte of Unity, N.H., help Tucker Weaver, 6, of Goshen, N.H., off the train following a ride around the Newport Green in Newport, N.H., on Sept. 23, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



STORY BY LIZ SAUCHELLI
Saturday, October 08, 2016

Unity — For Bob Ayotte, there is nothing like putting a smile on a child’s face.

That was the motivation when the Unity resident began building his mystery train about five years ago.

“The kids love it,” Ayotte said.

A self-described tinkerer, Ayotte has always enjoyed working with his hands. While his four kids were growing up, he would build go-karts for them to race around in. He recalled one that he made for his oldest son out of an old lawnmower that resembled a Model A.

“It wouldn’t go very far,” he said with a chuckle.

Ayotte came up with the idea for the mystery train after visiting his youngest daughter in Colorado. They went to a park where he saw a woman driving a lawnmower, pulling kids in barrels behind her.

Later, he attended a planning meeting for Unity Old Home Days where the committee was discussing activities for the celebration. Ayotte noticed that initially there were not many options for children.

“How about a train?” he remembered suggesting. “Wouldn’t a train be good for the kids to ride on?”

He started with an engine, which he built to resemble the much-loved Thomas the Tank Engine.

“Oh boy, they got the biggest charge out of that,” Ayotte said of the kids who were the train’s first passengers. “Since then, the kids have had a ball with it.”

Over the years, Ayotte has added different cars to the train, including ones modeled after a firetruck and a covered wagon.

“Most of them are all lawnmower frames under it,” Ayotte said. He estimated that 99 percent of the materials he uses are recycled, save for using new bolts and plywood. “I’m a picker, I guess you’d say.”

Among the places Ayotte brings the train — which is state inspected and approved — is the weekly Newport Farmers Market.

“The kids seem to love it,” said Kathy Scheuer, treasurer for the farmers market. “A lot of families just rave about it.”

Ayotte built a trailer specifically to transport the train from place to place. He continues to set his sights on expanding the train and is mulling how he will fulfill the latest request from his kiddie passengers: a car that resembles Lightning McQueen from Pixar’s Cars.

“I’m thinking there must be a washing machine out there somewhere that’s shaped like his face,” Ayotte said. “Some kids want a police car, some want an aeroplane. I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”

In the years since Ayotte started building his train, he has become a staple at community festivals and parades, still driven by the reason he gave for starting the train.

“I hope before my life is gone I can make a million kids happy,” he said.

Sarah Priestap can be reached at spriestap@vnews.com or 603-727-3230. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.