My son-in-law’s father, Tom Fletcher, was born in 1900 and told me one time about seeing the first automobile to come to his town of Ravenscrag, Saskatchewan. Tom said he was 12 years old when the first horseless carriage came to town, racing around at speeds of up to 15 mph, frightening the horses and chickens, and endangering women and children. “There ought to be a law,” concerned citizens said.

Well, the laws certainly have been enacted and now it’s not uncommon to sit in your car at a side street waiting five minutes or more for a break in the traffic, perhaps thinking the same thing: There ought to be a law.

For Knox County in 1912 there were a few cars on the road and it was somewhat of an adventure to drive one from Camden to Rockland. The hill at Glen Cove was known as Power House Hill because the power station for the electric trolley was there. It was much steeper then and Model T Fords with gravity feed fuel lines often had to turn around and back up the hill to keep the fuel flowing.

The trolley started in 1892 and was profitable because the motorized transport was much faster and more efficient than the horse and buggy. It was a popular mode of travel until 1931 (the year I was born) when improvements in the automobile had so cut into business that the trolley was discontinued. Although I never rode the local trolley, I do remember those in Bangor, and always thought it a real treat to ride one when we went shopping there before World War II.

I also remember the steel tracks. Most of them were taken up when the trolley shut down in 1931, but they remained in the downtown areas where they were embedded in the cobblestone streets, especially in Rockland and Rockport. I remember the tracks in Rockland when we went shopping there in the 1930s, and in Rockport when I first learned to drive as a teenager in high school in the ’40s. Who knows, they may still be buried there somewhere under layers of asphalt.

Cobblestones were an efficient material for paving streets, but they were slippery and along with the steel tracks probably resulted in many a sprained ankle.

Many folks may not be aware that trolleys provided more than people transport. There was also a brisk business in freight. A spur line connected to the train station in Rockland and to various Railway Express offices along the route. In Camden there was a spur line off Elm Street down Washington Street to the Express office across the bridge where the fire station is now. I’m sure they also connected with the Boston boats that were in service until 1935 with both freight and passengers.

In John R. Williams’ history Wilder Perry tells an interesting story of David Crockett (think Crockett’s 5 & 10) moving from Rockland to Camden by trolley freight. He says they parked a freight car in front of Dave’s home on Camden Street in Rockland as they loaded, but would have to back off to a siding on Maverick Street every half hour to let the passenger trolley pass by; and they had several car loads. In Camden they offloaded to a wagon for the rest of the trip to Dave’s new home on Central Street.

As I said before, by 1931 automobiles had improved considerably. The Model A Ford no longer had to back up steep hills, and my grandfather Eaton’s Buick sedan had pull down curtains on the windows. The age of trucks and automobiles had arrived and the age of boats and trains took a back seat.

In 1932 the Tolman Bus Service began providing hourly runs along Route 1 between Thomaston and Camden. In those days many people did not have a car, since convenient neighborhood stores and the local downtown business district could supply most of the family’s basic needs. If all else failed, there were the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs. I bought my first trumpet from Montgomery Ward for about $30 when I was in the seventh grade. But the trolley had fulfilled a need for intertown travel, whether it was to work, shop or visit, and when the trolley stopped running the Tolman Bus Service was quick to pick up the slack.

I didn’t ride the bus often, but my father sold his car in 1937 to get money for a down payment on a home in Millville. So for a couple of years when I wanted to spend time with grandparents and family in South Thomaston (the Keag, pronounced “Gig”), I took the bus. I felt pretty grown up when at 7 or 8 years old I would take a small suitcase and get on the bus down by Boynton-McKay’s Drugstore in Camden headed for the Keag

I would drop my dime in the slot and settle down in the seat right by the door so I could alert the driver when I wanted to get off. When I was younger, I would get off in the south end of Rockland at the corner of Main and Park streets and wait for relatives to come along after school so I could walk with them the four miles to the Keag. When I got older, I would get off at the corner of Buttermilk Lane on Route 1, just before the Dragon Cement Plant in Thomaston and go to the family farm about a mile down the road.

If I went to the Keag first, it was about a two-mile walk out to the farm where I would spend most of my time with Aunt Jennie and Uncle Cliff. Finally, when it was time, Aunt Jennie would get me a hot bath where it was warm by the kitchen stove, and dress me up in some clean clothes. (She often had an overall outfit for me that she had bought at Sears & Roebuck.) Then I would walk out to the end of the road to catch the bus home.

In later years I would pay 25 cents to ride the bus to Glen Cove where I was dating a girl. If I was paying attention, I could catch the last bus to Camden at a little past 11 p.m. If not, I would have to hitchhike home, or walk, neither of which was a good option at that time of night.

 

Paul Putnam lives in Rockport. His four volumes of essays, “Thoughts and Reminiscences of a Camden Native,” are available at the Smiling Cow and the Owl and Turtle Bookshop. He can be reached at pputnam@midcoast.com.