Camden's aerial tramway

By John Christie | Jan 05, 2012

As someone who has been involved with, immersed in, and a student of both the sport and the business of skiing for the better part of my life, I've developed more than a passing knowledge of the history of Maine skiing.

Therefore, it always surprises me when some historical nugget with which I'm completely unfamiliar is brought to my attention. And I appreciate it when people take the time to share some events or developments related to skiing that just never showed up on my radar.

Rarely have I been told about something with which I should have been familiar that has caught me completely by surprise. But it happened to me just a couple of weeks ago, and it concerned the one place about which I thought I had long ago put all the pieces together.

The place: The Camden Snow Bowl.

Allow me to explain.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, let me say that although early first-hand experience as a youth growing up in Camden made the Snow Bowl a very important part of my life, much of the place's history I've learned from reading, and rereading, Jack Williams' fabulous "The Camden Snow Bowl, A Historical Documentary" published in 1999.

Jack's engrossing, detailed, and thoroughly-researched book takes us from the area's origins in 1936 through the installation of the rope tow in 1939, and all of the subsequent changes, the result of which we see today. For me, his book brings back some special memories, such as his entry regarding 1952, when he says “This year a ski patrol was active with John Christie, Halsey Murch, and Ken Hardy providing the service.” And his 1954 chapter, including “Winnie Burkett and Jocelyn Christie planned to 'pull the Camden Snow Bowl out of the doldrums in which it has been languishing in recent seasons' by making it into a summer recreation center. They planned to have a snack bar, a new juke box, ping pong, horseshoes and badminton....”

Imagine my recent surprise when my good friend, and fellow director of the Ski Museum of Maine, Pete Hussey from Kennebunkport (and summers in Stonington), sent me several pages of excerpts from his father, Phil's, journal in the years 1938 and 1939. Phil was the president of his family's successful firm, manufacturing stadium, gymnasium and arena seating, Hussey Seating. The South Berwick company has grown to be the world leader in spectator seating, from its origins as a fabricator of farm implements.

A Colby graduate, Phil was an avid skier, and even ventured into the business with the construction of New Hampshire's first chair lift at Gunstock Mountain, and the erection of several large ski jump trestles in the northeast.

But what blew me away when I read his journal entries from more than 70 years ago was his Camden connection, and the work he was doing to plan the erection of an Aerial Tramway on Ragged Mountain!

Let's let the journal speak for itself:

Sat., Oct. 29; Sun., Oct. 30, 1938

Off at last on vacation... met Bill Hepburn in So. Portland... then to Camden to see about Tramway and on to Orono for Colby-Maine game. Colby did a job and won.

 

Thur., Nov. 10, 1938

Went to Camden with Tramway Engineer Ernest Foley and interviewed Gene Rich. It looks like we might get engineering job on a Good Tramway. Then to Waterville to talk about bleachers for Colby.

 

Thur. Dec. 1, 1938

At Boston Garden Winter Show. Spent most of the day in hotel with American Steel and Wire engineers, Mr. Bannerman and Mr. Graham, and Pete Bateman, and Gene Rich and Harold Corthell from Camden. Also Roland Peabody from Franconia. Subject Camden Aerial Tramway. Very interesting day.

 

Thur., Jan. 12, 1939

Met Pete Bateman at American Steel and Wire Co. office in Boston, drove to Worcester and there went over profile of Ragged Mt. in Camden on line of proposed Aerial Tramway. Very interesting day.

 

Thur., Mar. 2, 1939

Went back to Boston again today. Pete Bateman met me and we drove to Worcester and went over plans for chair lift at Camden. Bateman and others are still hopeful to make the Aerial Tramway “click” but don't believe the price can be set low enough, therefore De Luxe Chairline looks to be the best bet.

 

Sat., Apr.1; Sun., Apr. 2, 1939

Went to Camden with Pete Bateman on tramway job. Bannerman and Graham there. All afternoon until midnight on new proposal. Looks good but price is too damn high.

 

The entries end there, as did the dream of a year-round tramway on Ragged Mountain. So a rope tow was installed, World War II came along, and the rest, as they say, is history. It's worth noting that Gene Rich was the president of the Outing Club in 1939, and Harold Corthell was Camden's number-one interested citizen in making something of the Snow Bowl. The only official capacity he'd accept in 1939, as noted at Jack Williams' book, was as chairman of the Fourth Annual Outing Club Feast. Vintage Harold Corthell!

Roland Peabody, noted in Phil Hussey's Journal, was the guiding light behind the Aerial Tramway in Franconia, N.H.; hence his involvement in the concept phase of the never-to-be- built tourist attraction on Ragged Mountain.

Once again, I'm convinced that history tells us, “you're never too old to learn something new.”

 

 

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