Down the Road a Piece
Maine railroads, then and now
A week or so ago, Dolores and I found an old railroad station in Warren with the immediate residential village being called Warren Station.
My curse is that I came from a railroad family with my father, three of his brothers, and my brother all spending most of their lives in that occupation. I like to tell people that my father lived from 1900 to 1987, which was the hay day of railroading in the U.S., I am living through the age of technology that includes computers, the internet, little hand-held gadgets, and even screens you can buy for your car to show you where you are backing.
(That one costs about $800. Most drivers unfortunately use the glance and throttle method, either glance in the rear view mirror or don’t and then hit the throttle. The rule is if they hit something while backing, it’s the “something’s” fault. Don’t believe me? Go to the supermarket.)
On a list of railroads that once existed or still do -- very few, I counted over 100, I think my counting ended at 107, which may not be accurate because I’m not all that good at counting. And this was on a website, and I think I kept losing count as I scrolled down the list.
The Warren Station is along the line that runs from Brunswick to Rockland, which is basically a tourist line these days, although there are those who dream about it’s carrying commuters or others -- primarily, in my view, railroad nuts.
“The first railroads in Maine were chartered in 1832-1833, and the first tracks were completed in 1836 by the Bangor and Piscataquis Canal and Railroad, and ran from Bangor to Old Town. This was the second railroad in New England. (The first, of course, was in Massachusetts. My note.)
“For the next century, little was done to expand the railroad network in Maine, and by 1924 there were just over 2,000 miles of track within the state. In the 1920s, abandonment and even removal of track was the norm. It was not until the 1970s and following that, while the era of the railroad was decreasing within the nation at large, its usage was increasing within the State of Maine. Today, the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad carries more freight than ever before,” according to a site I found aboard my iMac.*
My first experience on trains in Maine was our family vacations to Belgrade when I was a younger kid than I now am. We trained from Philadelphia to New York and from there to either Boston or Bangor, depending which train we caught that year. In Bangor, we climbed aboard a two-car affair, one carrying freight and the second carrying mail and passengers -- us. It was pulled by a diesel switcher all the way to Augusta, where my Great Aunt Amy met us in her antique Model A. This would have been in the 1950s.
So naturally, finding Warren Station fascinating me.
The list of railroads I found included narrow gauge lines, of which there were quite a few -- how “quite a few” I’m not certain, being the writer of this sort-of column and not a historian.
“The 1901 “Rangeley” was the first two-foot parlor car ever built. It served the Phillips & Rangeley Railroad for deluxe travel between Farmington and Rangeley, and later the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad,” states another site I came across about narrow gauge railroads.
The narrow gauge rails were two feet apart. Photos from the same site show passenger cars with one seat on each side of the aisle.
I have stumbled across old narrow gauge railbeds from time to time, which usually became a road of sorts with the emphasis being on “of sorts.” Generally they are a grown over dirt track off to one side or another of the road on which you;’re driving.
One story I recall reading was about the Phillips & Rangeley Railroad, which on the night of the tale had a steam engine tugging a passenger car up the long grade between those two towns. Oh yes, the story took place during a terrible snowstorm, and the little engine that thought it could couldn’t. To solve that dilemma, the crew brought the passengers into the engine cab and unhooked the passenger car. Without that passenger car, the little engine could -- and did. I forget the name of the book, but I can tell you two things about it. One, I wish I could remember the book’s name, because I’d like to own a copy. Two, it was a fascinating book that told lots and lots of Maine railroad tales.
“In 1875 (George) Mansfield established the Billerica & Bedford Railroad in Massachusetts, the first commercial two-footer in America . When the people in Franklin County wanted a railroad, Mansfield’s two-footer seemed ideal. The narrow gauge and smaller trains were less expensive to construct and easier to run through rough terrain.
“When the Billerica & Bedford failed, the railroad equipment and Mansfield made the trip to Maine, where he organized the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes (SR&RL) railroad in 1879. The largest of the railroads, the SR&RL ran from Farmington, where it interchanged with the standard gauge Maine Central, to Strong, Phillips, and Rangeley. Branch Lines included the Franklin & Megantic, the Phillips & Rangeley, and the Kingfield & Dead River,” states the same site.
I don’t know why trains fascinate people. They do fascinate me for whatever reason, and they have from my childhood with my father, brother, and uncles working for various railroads. I also recall our family walking the half mile to the Paoli, PA train station, the end of the line for local trains from Philadelphia and the first stop from Philadelphia for express trains to the west. We would sit on a bank above the tracks and watch those trains come, stop, and go.
My father told me that at one time over 18 trains a day came to Hancock, Maine, from where a ferry boat carried the tourists to Mount Desert Island, landing in Bar Harbor.
Dolores and I occasionally ride a tourist train, just for the fun of it.
A fair number of people would like to bring passenger trains once more into various part of Maine.
But I see one basic question, which may be the reason passenger trains disappeared from the Pine Tree State.
You ride the train to the station nearest where you are trying to go.
But how do you get to where you’re trying to go? By automobile? Then why not just drive the car to and from you destination in the first place?
Who really needs a passenger train in rural Maine?
*This A History of Railroads in Maine, I believe, was written by Ken Anderson, who may or may not be the same Ken Anderson who invited me to first write my Down the Road a Piece column for his online paper, the Magic-City-News.com.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at email@example.com.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013