Riding the rails

By Robert Karl Skoglund | Nov 09, 2012

Did you read in the paper that Freeport and Brunswick are getting their “long-awaited” passenger rail service to Boston? I couldn’t believe they’d been waiting too long because if I can remember taking a train from Rockland to Freeport, it must have been yesterday. I know it was during the war because we went down to visit my father who was building wooden boats in the Freeport shipyard.

Years after that, in 1954, I was working in Crie’s Hardware Store where I was introduced to the dry Maine story by Ernest Crie. After the morning lesson I’d walk down to 176 South Main St. where I’d visit and eat my sandwiches with Uncle Ed. Uncle Ed told me that years ago the Rockland train station was where people gathered to get their up-to-the-minute news. As I recall, he said there was a chalkboard at the Rockland train station and when news would come in on the telegraph it would be written on the chalkboard. Now, although many might get the news with their cell phones, they miss the chance to exchange recipes and gossip with their neighbors.

Can’t you remember getting on a train in Rockland and not setting foot on the ground until you were in Boston?

We children would pass the long ride by trying to talk like our cousin in Medford. We’d pinch our noses shut with thumb and forefinger and say, “I wont uh heam seandwich.” So train rides were usually productive cultural events.

My neighbor True Hall told me he also used to take the Rockland to Boston train during the war when gas was scarce. True said, “That train stopped in every town between Rockland and Portland. You never thought you were going to get there.”

True’s mother had relatives in Weymouth and they’d go down on the train and visit for the weekend. Of course taking the train was a lot easier than driving down and then trying to navigate in Boston. True says, “My father went the wrong way in the Sumner Tunnel. Some fellow in an ice truck hollered, ‘Where you going?’ It was his brother-in-law. One time his brother-in-law was stopped by the police at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel. They said there was a car burning up somewhere down there. He said, ‘look, I’ve got an ice truck. What’s going to catch afire in an ice truck?’ so they let him go and he went right through.” You live in Boston long enough and you learn how to talk your way out around things.

Wouldn’t it be nice to once again take a train out of Rockland? Do you suppose Eisenhower really did put $400 billion in present day dollars into our interstate highway system? Should he have put some of that money into improving our rail service?

Because now some folks are finally asking if it would be cheaper and easier to move some people and freight by rail than by trucks and cars over roads.

Unfortunately, like everything else that costs money, this issue has been politicized. One party is all for rail service, and most working people in the other party, who would benefit the most by rail service, have been conditioned to be dead set against it.

Many of your neighbors don’t know that in 1949 General Motors and other companies were convicted of conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses. Do you remember when they bought up street cars all over the country and junked them? Much as years later GM junked its very popular electric car? It might be my imagination, but I seem to remember trolley car tracks among the cobblestones in Rockland. Uncle Ed told me… but I digress.

Sixty and more years ago the plan was to make us dependent on our cars. Nothing easier with gas at 19 cents a gallon.

But now we have been married to the automobile for so long that we are way behind our European neighbors when it comes to public transportation. And what kind of trains are they building now in China and Japan? Is it possible that a train in China averages over 200 miles per hour and that it makes a 600 mile trip in less than 3 hours? Rockland to Boston on a train in 45 minutes?

Can you guess which powerful companies are opposed to this kind of public transportation here and why they want us to use our cars and trucks?

Is it time to properly fund passenger rail service in the United States? The last time I spoke in Philadelphia I went every bit of that distance I could on the train because it was quicker and easier. You don’t even have to look at New York City.

Robert Karl Skoglund is a longtime local writer, speaker and radio personality in Knox County. He lives in St. George. His commentary will appear in The Courier-Gazette from time to time. Email him at thehumblefarmer@gmail.com. He is online at thehumblefarmer.com.

Comments (3)
Posted by: RUTH ROWLING MAXFIELD | Nov 13, 2012 09:31

My father drove the freight truck from Isleboro to Rockland and back each day.  He sometimes had to go to the train depot to pick up a body in a casket - or ashes in an urn - to haul back to the island.  Many islanders who had "gone away" for work made arrangements to be buried back on the island.  As young girls, my girl cousins and I were put aboard the Rockland to Portland train at school Spring vacation time - to be met at the other end by our fathers' cousins who exposed us to all the "big city" sights!  We were so thrilled by those train trips!!

Posted by: Joanne Lee Richards | Nov 12, 2012 22:55

I agree we need to build up the train service for both passengers and shipping goods.  Europe is way ahead of us because they never stopped relying on trains.  It will take money but it will be well spent as it costs less to ship by rail then road!

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Nov 10, 2012 10:05

Nice memory Humble. Never rode to Boston but we used to ride in the switcher and go aboard the mail car. We helped unload watermelons from refrigerated cars and used to push cases of sardines along the rollers from trailers to box cars. Kids wouldn't be allowed to do those things today. I remember my brother Lewis heading out for the Marine Corp back in "57". Nana Belle and Mother Beverly shed a few tears that day. The comeback of trains will never match the peaceful feelings of the fifties.

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