CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Maine Trip - MNGRM (part 3)

Sunday (day #2) of our trip looked to be sunny and warm, but not too hot. It also happened to be my birthday. We decided to go to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and walk around for a bit. Apparently, it was "Maine weekend" and anyone who lived in Maine got in for free. As a result, it was busy. And, they were under construction so the whole road and parking situation was torn up. That being said, we managed just fine. We took the "tram" around the park to get an idea of what was there, which turned out to be quite a lot. Sadly, the tram came in the form of a golf cart... no train.

The gardens were lovely, and they had a Children's Garden area that was especially enjoyable. They also had lots of hiking trails, a rose garden area, and several quiet areas where it was possible to get lost among the plants. I believe my wife really enjoyed it too, and it was more for her than for me. After an hour, a plant is a plant. But, they also had a kettle corn vendor on hand originally from Utica and we had fun talking to them about that.

Then, in the afternoon we went exploring for a lighthouse. Specifically, we went to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park. I mean, why not. It is Maine, after all! We arrived in the mid-afternoon and walked through the fisherman's museum at the base of the lighthouse, then walked along the rocks. It was startlingly beautiful, and my first real impression of "the ocean." I have been to Boston a lot and seen the water, but this was different. The rocks on the shore were really cool looking, and we searched for some small shells to bring back. Along the way we slipped and got our shoes wet, but I suppose that is how it goes. It was pretty neat to see the dozens of buoys marking lobster traps below the water. Then, after a dinner of leftover pizza (from my birthday lunch) the sun set over the inn and I passed out exhausted from all of the walking we did.

Monday, Memorial Day, was entirely different. It was rainy, gray, and cold. I believe it was in the fifties, and we did not pack winter jackets though we saw some people in them. However, it was the last day of our trip and we planned to explore Portland and walk around the shops. The first stop was the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway Museum. Located along the coast, the museum ran along tracks that originally were standard gauge belonging to the Grand Trunk Railway. When Edaville closed in 1992, the MNGRM stepped up and purchased a lot of the trains and shipped them up. They have quite a collection, housed indoors in a formal museum, as well as at least 8 coaches outside which they use for excursion trains. The ride isn't all that long, along the coast and back, and today proved to be especially difficult for them.

We arrived around 10AM expecting to miss the train scheduled to depart that hour, but were told that their regular engine wasn't working, their operable steam locomotive had been loaned out for the summer, and their back up engine wasn't starting up. So, there was no 10AM train but they hoped to get things working by 11AM. Despite having much to photograph outside, I only took a couple quick shots and headed indoors to the heat. Their collection consists of several coaches (including the only Parlor car in existence in the USA, the "Rangeley"), some freight cars and cabooses, and a steam engine.

Actually, they have two steam engines that originally ran on the Monson Railroad. A special note about them was that after the Monson closed the engines were sold to a scrap dealer in Rochester, NY, where they remained until found and sold to the Edaville Railroad. One engine as I said was on loan, and the other was on static display. They were located in Rochester in a junkyard at the corner of Lyell Avenue and Mt. Read Boulevard, only a few miles from where I lived as a kid. Pretty neat, if you ask me. Two-footers in Rochester yet! 

My wife and I love riding the open-air cars, but today it was just too cold to do so. Despite that, we enjoyed our little trip out. We rode out close to an old swing bridge that was taken out of service in 1984. Then, we were allowed to disembark and walk around. Kids could sit in the engine (I think only kids could fit in it) and ring the bell... a nice touch. Then, after everyone had boarded again the train made its way back to the station. All told, the trip was about 45 minutes though it felt like a lot longer. On a nice day, I bet it would have been enjoyable and perhaps refreshing to ride along the coast and feel the spray from the water. Instead, we were subjected to cold water and our views were of a few boats and a lighthouse in the distance.

The staff were extremely pleasant considering the unfortunate situation they were placed in with the engine not working. There is a movement afoot to relocate the museum to a place that is better suited for it, and I do hope that they succeed. Everything we saw was in good shape and it really is a shame that they are located in what amounts to a run down warehouse in seemingly the middle of nowhere.

We took a bus tour around Portland and the driver/narrator told us all about the city. It was a bittersweet trip, as we wanted to enjoy it but it was so cold and miserable out. Plus, it was our last afternoon in Maine before a 6 hour drive home that evening. We went to another lighthouse, which was much nicer than the first even though we didn't walk around much outside. Then we checked out lots of little shops including a candy store, a popcorn store, a toy store, a potato donut shop (yum), a cooking supply store, and a general tourist trap.

I had a wonderful trip for my birthday and saw a lot of trains. It is a shame that there are four or five places scattered around Maine with two-foot trains and it just isn't possible to see them all in one weekend unless you really rush. We skipped the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad entirely but that too is a railroad being rebuilt on its own old roadbed. Frankly, it would be nice if everything combined into one place but that just isn't realistic. The WW&F, Boothbay Railway Museum, and SR&RL have history where they are and aren't going to move. The MNGRM should somehow become centered among the three, which might be the best of all worlds. I hope to make it back up to tour them again someday.

Maine Trip - Boothbay (part 2)

After leaving the WW&F, we headed through Wiscasset on our way to the next train destination. Though I am admittedly not a big fan of seafood and have never to my knowledge eaten lobster, a vacation in Maine and a trip through Wiscasset wouldn't be complete without stopping at Red's Eats for a lobster roll. While waiting in line, we met a great chap from Canada (Wendel) who was touring the USA. The 20 minutes in line went by quick and the weather was perfect for socializing and taking in the views. I ordered the fried haddock sandwich with cheese, lettuce and tomato. It was huge. The bun underneath barely held half of the fish and it tasted wonderful even though I ended up using a fork to enjoy it. My wife had the lobster roll and she said it was fantastic. Wendel had the lobster roll and scallops, which were huge (The scallops were as large as an Oreo cookie)! However, the real show stopper for me was their fried mushrooms. They were incredibly good.

Then, we lounged around on the pier in Wiscasset and took in the sun. While my wife talked with someone in the information booth, I looked at the ocean and noticed the remains of the pier where the WW&F came into town and interchanged freight with the Maine Central Railroad. By now, there was little left of the piers. as 80+ years of salt water had broken them down. 

We then headed off to the Boothbay Railway Village. This was arguably the first restored 2-foot gauge railroad in Maine and was started by a gentleman who wanted to own his own 2-foot railroad (who doesn't?). He built some track on his property and over time developed it into a tourist attraction focusing not only on trains. The photo at right shows that the track follows the land, with sharp curves and steep grades. 

As it currently stands, it is a restored village of sorts with houses, barns, a blacksmith shop a town hall from 1847, a chapel from 1927, and several train stations. Restored inside these buildings are treasurers from a collection of housewares (including dozens of salt shaker sets), antique firetrucks, and farm equipment. However, I came for the trains so I was focused on them. 

They have several areas with trains to see. There is an old porter and some boxcars and a coach under shelter. They have a room with an extensive train layout that really got the kids excited (though the loud music and noise from all of the running trains gave me a headache.) They had a barn focused on 2-foot trains, with models and pictures devoted to each of the five railroads. They had an old 2-foot train that people could play on and in. They had some exhibits such as a boxcar gifted from France after WWII, and a caboose. But, the highlight for me was the 2-foot gauge train that encircled the museum grounds. 

Surprisingly, the star of the railroad are engines that weren't built in Maine but originally were constructed in Germany by Henschel & Son. Boothbay currently owns four of them- two operating, one for parts, and one on static display- and a member owns a fifth engine under rebuilding. These engines were made famous in G scale by the company LGB. The train consists of a small coach that looks to be in excellent shape and which I suspect is a reproduction (it is too short to be an original 2-foot coach, likely a concession to the sharp curves at Boothbay) and a second car with benches. 

The weather was perfect, so we chose the second car. The train runs around the grounds past the car barn, workshop, through a station, into a covered bridge, past a pond, and then back to the original station. The trip is two laps around, though during the second loop the train stops at the far station for 5 minutes if people want to get off or back on from an earlier trip. It saves about 5 minutes of walking, but is a nice touch. I chose to get off at the 2nd station to set up for some photo opportunities. While I was waiting for the train, I saw several frogs and a turtle in the pond. 

After the ride, we talked with the crew briefly (it was their last trip of the day, and I didn't want to hold them up from going home) and they offered to let me tour the shop the next day. Sadly, we had other plans. The gift shop was nice, but aimed more at the general tourist than the railroad buff. Sure, there were railroad things there but lots more "Maine" stuff in general. We heard about Moxie soda, and though they didn't sell it I vowed to find some to try. 

All in all, I had a much better time than expected. I thought it would be a bit childish and to be honest, in parts it was. But, trains bring out the child in me so I don't mind. The train alone was fun to ride and though it didn't evoke feelings of riding in Maine it certainly was enjoyable. It felt like an amusement park train ride, but a train is a train. Since we passed this museum every day to and from the Inn where we were staying, I got to see the train depart multiple times. I wish I had an extra hour here to see everything, as 2 hours just isn't enough if you care to read and see it all. 

Maine Trip - W.W. & F. (part 1)

We drove up to Maine after getting out of work on Friday evening, which meant that by the time we actually crossed over the border into Maine it was pitch black outside. Along the way, my wife looked at the GPS on her phone to see that we were crossing over inlets, railroad tracks, and other points of interest. As I was concentrating on driving and couldn't see anything, I could only nod. Hopefully, tomorrow I can actually see something!

Our room at the Beach Cove Waterfront Inn was absolutely perfect. They had recently renovated half of the rooms and the bed overlooked an inlet out the window. Though the scenery was more reminiscent of the Adirondack Mountains than coastal Maine, it was beautiful and relaxing. We checked in late around 11PM, and we could smell the pastries that they were preparing for next morning's breakfast.

The history of Maine two footers is a convoluted one, with there being five original 2-foot lines developed to bring railroad service to the smaller communities of Maine at a much cheaper price than regular 4', 8" (standard gauge) railroads. However, as one after another began to fail in the 1930s and 1940s some of their equipment was purchased by the remaining railroads. Then, in the late 1940s much of the surviving equipment was purchased by Ellis D. Atwood and transported to Carver, MA, to run on a loop of track surrounding his cranberry farm. He also built from scratch some cars for his visitors to ride on. His passed away in 1950 in a boiler explosion, his successor passed away in 1967, and the Edaville Railroad struggled on until 1992 when it was closed and most of the equipment was sold to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway Museum.

As a result, some equipment I saw this weekend could have been: (1) original to one or more 2-foot railroads, (2) replicas of equipment built by Edaville, (3) cars built within the last 60 years purely to carry passengers without regard to historical accuracy, or (4) authentic reproductions built in the last ten years or so. As someone whose knowledge of 2-foot railroads is pretty thin, I just planned to take pictures and enjoy the ride.

When we got up on Saturday morning, we headed off to Alna, Maine, and the Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railway Museum (WW&F). The real WW&F operated from 1894 to 1933 when it folded. However, as fate would have it portions of the old roadbed were acquired by a gentleman and in 1989 a museum and foundation were established to rebuild the track along the former roadbed. At the time of our visit, they had over 2 miles installed and were quite proud of the fact that it was all done by hand. They have several steam locomotives in various stages of repair, as well as a railbus, a diesel engine, a tractor-powered engine, some coaches, a couple of boxcars, a caboose, and what looked to be a tank car body. Their facilities consisted of a reconstructed station, car barn, turntable pit awaiting construction of a roundhouse someday, water tower, and a small yard.

The train ride was pulled by a steam locomotive that originally ran at one time on the WW&F, and I was told that this is the only existing situation where an original 2-foot engine is running on the railroad that it originally worked on. There were two coaches, one (B&SR #11 loaned from Boothbay)  containing full-length benches and one (WW&F #3) containing seats with backs that flipped over depending on the direction of travel. We sat in the chair car, which was unique in that it consisted of one seat per side of the car. There just wasn't enough room for two chairs per side in this tiny coach! The interior detail was beautiful, with the carved woodwork and trim. Despite their small size, the builders clearly took pride in their work.

The train ride lasted about 20 minutes or so, traveling through the woods and past streams, and also going through one station area with a passing siding. We ventured to the new end of track which also had a passing siding and a clearing for a future sawmill exhibit. The train rocked back and forth and at times made me concerned (and I am a train buff, so I should have known better). I suspect it had more to do with the suspension in the trucks than the condition of the tracks. I have no idea how fast we were going, but had it been at night I would likely have been a bit uneasy. One can only imagine what it was like to travel at night in the 1920s when maintenance of the line was down and there was only an oil lamp to provide any visibility.

The engine ran around the train, coupled up, and back we went. It was cool to see them couple up. We stopped at the middle station where the railbus (referred to on the schedule as a "second class train") was waiting for us. We didn't ride it, but it would have been fun. When we got back we wandered around and took some pictures and then visited the gift shop. Though small, it has an extensive collection of railroad books on Maine 2-footers, as well as the usual magnets, pins, etc. We saw a print on the wall for sale that we wanted to buy, but sadly were told it was out of stock. I did come away with the book The Maine Two Footers by Linwood Moody, which I planned to purchase to read during the trip.

The staff were friendly and in abundance. I am not sure if it was their first public run day of the year, or a training day, or all the volunteers just wanted to "play trains" but there were probably 8 people on the crew for a two-car train. They were instructing at least one person in the duties of a brakeman, which was important here as the coaches are controlled with handbrakes.

All in all, the WW&F was fun and represents a lot of hard work by its volunteers. We didn't stay much longer as I am not sure what else there would have been to see, but when they put in the sawmill and provide demonstrations it will add something else to do. I was quite impressed with the place and wish them luck in the future.