Recalling the 1940s

By Terry Economy | Dec 01, 2016

Train to Boston

In the 1940s, my mother, sister and I took the train to Boston at least three times a year to visit our aunt and uncle who lived in Lexington, Mass. Our trips were usually in February during school vacation, April during school vacation or the Albanian Orthodox Easter, and in August during summer vacation. The Maine Central Railroad train would leave Rockland at 8:05 a.m., and it was a must that we be at the station 15 minutes before departure to get our tickets and make sure our luggage would get on the right passenger car. The train trip to Boston would take five and a half hours, with a 15-minute stop in Portland. The cost of a one-way fare was $4.

So come along with me as I recollect one of those trips. At the head of the train was MCRR steam locomotive number 402. Then there was a baggage car, a railway express-postal car, and two passenger cars. Before boarding the train, I would walk up toward the locomotive and in my curious way, check who the engineer on this run was. In this case it was Jeff Mealy.

As I waved my hand, Jeff, who was a regular customer of our family store, Economy's Fruit, saw me and tipped his cap, shouting, "You taking this train?"

As I nodded yes, his next question, "How far are you going?" I would yell, "Boston."

Jeff's next comment would be, "I will take you to Portland, kid." as he waved back to me.

As I started to skip back to the passenger cars, approaching the railway express car, I noticed a family friend, Merv Harriman, standing in the doorway of the car.

"You taking this train with us?" Merv would ask. Again I nodded and he smiled and waved to me.

Of the two passener cars, the rear car was a through car to Boston. As we started to get on board, there was the conductor, Fred True, standing next to the entrance, and he started to shout, "All aboard!"

Once in the car, a 1920s-vintage with twin globe ceiling lights and velour seats that would twist and turn so passengers could face each other in two seats. In the rear of the car was a small restroom, and next to it was a water fountain with paper cups. On this particular trip, both passenger cars were only half-full, so you could choose your own seats. My sister, Virginia, and I usually sat next to the window. My mother with her knitting would sit alongside of one of us. I kept looking at my watch, and sure enough, at 8:05, the train started to move and rumble up the railyard toward our destination.

The train stops to Portland were in this order: Thomaston, Warren, a flag stop for passengers only, Waldoboro, Winslow Mills, a flag stop only, Damariscotta Mills, Newcastle, Wiscasset, Woolwich, Bath, Brunswick, Freeport and Yarmouth. Average speed would be 45 miles per hour.

As the train moved along, viewing out the window was like taking a trip through the backyards of city and rural America. Among the most memorable of the Rockland-Portland run were Wiscasset, where you had a view of the ocean, and going over the Bath Bridge and Kennebec River with the Bath Iron Works in the foreground with all its anchored ships.

After the train arrived in Portland, our car would be uncoupled from the Portland train, and joined near the rear of the Portland-Boston express train, a nonstop run to Boston. During the Portland stop, a concessionaire would board the car with a cart selling sandwiches, cold drinks, potato chips, ice cream and pastries. You normally would have a choice of egg salad, ham salad, ham and cheese and sliced turkey sandwiches. Lemonade, Orangeade, cola and milk to drink. Pastry products would consist of doughnuts, turnovers, cream rolls, whoopee pies and brownies.

The Portland-Boston express was a Boston and Maine Railroad train. It would feature a powerful steam locomotive, number 564. Two baggage cars, a railway express-postal car and five other cars. The lead car was a club car that featured dining and beverages. Then there were four passenger cars. It would average 60 miles an hour. The Portland station was a magnificent station. It had a large tower with a clock, waiting room, restaurant, restrooms with shoe-shining privileges. There were about six racks under a dome roof with incoming and outgoing trains. After hearing the conductor say "All aboard," the next stop was Boston.

The train started to move slowly and gradually picked up speed. As I looked out the window to the railyards and the buildings of Portland, I felt excited with the speed of the train as it whizzed by Maine depots and the cities of Biddeford-Saco, and then the beach area of Maine's most popular tourist area, Old Orchard Beach, with its carnival rides in the background. Then on to Kennebunk and Wells, the last two Maine depots. The train headed north to Dover, N.H., where it roared throug the middle of town with its steam whistle blowing and headed to the southern portion of countryside New Hampshire, toward the Massachusetts border.

I noticed that we had passed Haverhill and all of a sudden there were the bricks of the Lawrence mills. The conductor would come down the aisles of the passenger cars and speak in a high voice. "Boston coming up in 30 minutes, club car closing in 20 minutes." This would give you plenty of time to gather your belongings and luggage, even time for that last snack before reaching Boston.

As we approached North Station in Boston, the tracks widened, with other passenger trains coming into and leaving the station. When the train stopped, we got our luggage with the help of a porter and got off the car, where the conductor was standing to help passengers off. As I jumped from the steps to the ground, I said to the conductor, "Nice ride," and he smiled back at me with a "Thanks." As we walked down the ramp toward the entrance to North Station, there was my uncle waiting to greet us and give us a ride to his home in Lexington.

I turned and looked back to the railyard, my first thought was that I could not wait for the return trip to Rockland.

The last corsair

The last U.S. Navy Corsair was flown by British trainee pilots out of the Navy Air Base in Rockland Aug. 25, 1945. At the training base, the pilots would complete their assignment of taking off and landing on aircraft carriers and short runways. On Aug. 27, Japan surrendered to the United States, thus ending the long, brutal war against the United States and Allied forces.

On Sept. 2, Gen. Douglas MacArthur accepted the surrender on the battleship USS Missouri on behalf of the United States and Allies. I was 11 years old. To me, it meant my brothers would soon be coming home.

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