The International Steam Pages
Survivors from the Maine Two-Footers, 2011
James Waite reports from a brief New England trip in October 2011.
Maine possessed five public two-foot gauge railways after taking account of mergers etc. amongst the little lines. The two-foot concept was introduced to the USA by one George Mansfield who had visited the Ffestiniog Railway in the UK in the 1870’s. His first 2ft gauge venture was the Billerica & Bedford RR in Massachusetts, opened in 1877 but which closed after only a few months of operation for want of traffic. Its hapless shareholders can’t have been too pleased with Mr. Mansfield who received little of their money back, even after its rolling stock had been sold on to the Sandy River RR up near the Quebec border in Maine, his next venture, which opened in 1879. The Sandy River line was much more successful, becoming a part of an interconnecting system well over 100 miles long built by several independent companies which eventually merged to become the well known, and much lamented, Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes RR.
The Bridgton & Saco River, later the Bridgton & Harrison, in the west of the state, followed in 1882 and was another line whose construction was overseen by Mr. Mansfield. The Monson RR, only six miles in length, opened the following year up in the north. It was built and ran primarily to transport slate and slate products from slate quarries at Monson to the main line at Monson Junction. The public stretch of line was about 6 miles long and there was a mineral extension to the quarries which ran for another two miles. It must all have been a bit like the Talyllyn Railway in the UK!
Even shorter was the Kennebec Central, only five miles long which opened in 1889 mainly to serve the US Army’s National Soldiers Home at Togus, not far from the coast at Wiscasset. Last of the five to be built was the grandly-named Wiscasset & Quebec which hoped to tap into the lucrative trade from southern Quebec to the Maine ports but which never got anywhere near the province and whose first stretch opened in 1895. Its impecunious existence later led to financial reconstruction as the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington but it was no more successful in reaching the latter two towns than it had been in crossing the Canadian border.
First to go was the little Kennebec Central in 1929 after it lost its contract with the US government to transport coal to the soldiers home. The entire railway was sold to the proprietor of the Wiscasset line in 1932 but he only wanted its locos to cover a motive power shortage. Their operation there was short-lived as one of them derailed with a passenger train the following year. Services ceased at once and never resumed, the line and most of the remaining stock being scrapped in 1937.
The SR&RL shut down in 1935. Many US enthusiasts never quite came to terms with its loss, just as British enthusiasts still mourn the closure of the Lynton & Barnstaple the same year. The loss of the SR&RL and the destruction of almost all its stock the following year must have acted as a wake-up call. Enthusiast specials over the country’s remaining narrow gauge lines became almost common-place in the late 1930’s, the first special over the 3ft gauge East Broad Top down in Pennsylvania running in 1936. At the Bridgton & Harrison, the only lengthy two-footer left in Maine, they became sufficiently plentiful to make a significant contribution to its finances. When the local authority which owned it decided to close it down in September 1941 attempts were made to rescue it to become the world’s first preserved railway.
Sadly these failed and it was to be another nine years until the rescue of the Talyllyn after its owner’s death in 1950 showed the world what could be done. Happily most of the Bridgton line’s rolling stock was bought for preservation, much of it by Ellis Atwood, a wealthy cranberry grower from South Carver near Plymouth, Massachusetts. He couldn’t rescue it at once; Pearl Harbour was bombed soon after he handed over his money and wartime transport restrictions meant that the stock had to stay out in the open at Bridgton, subject to the privations of the weather and of vandals for a further four years, until it was moved to South Carver and construction of the new Edaville Railroad got under way. The Edaville soon became a fine recreation of all that was best about the Maine lines albeit that South Carver is a good 100 miles or so to the south of the state. In its prime the line was home to four of the surviving five steam locos from the five public lines, two each from the Bridgton & Harrison and from the Monson along with a large collection of coaches, vans and wagons. Sadly Ellis Atwood was killed by an explosion in the heating plant at Edaville in 1950. His family continued to own the land which was home to the largest cranberry-growing business in the country. The railway was operated by a succession of lessees but increasing financial difficulties led to its closure in 1991.
Last to go was the little Monson line which closed in 1943. Were it not for the small band of preservationists that would have been the end of this much-loved group of railways. Happily things have moved on, fostered to a large extent by the writings of Linwood Moody, a Maine resident who fell in love with the two-footers in the early 1930’s when most of them were still running. He was a competent photographer as well as an entertaining writer. He assisted Ellis Atwood in setting up the Edaville RR and his first book about the Edaville line, published in 1947 when the later parts of the line were still under construction, is still a valuable reference book today. He went on to publish “The Maine Two-Footers”, very much a US railroad classic and a must-read book for any narrow gauge enthusiast. His affection for the little lines jumps out from every page. Happily Mr. Moody soon discovered that the Monson’s last two locos had not been scrapped on site as everyone had expected but were transported by the scrapmen to their yard at Rochester NJ. Mt. Atwood bought them at once for the Edaville RR.
The first preservation project in the state was the Boothbay Railway Village on the estuary some eight miles south of Wiscasset, founded by George McEvoy in the early 1960’s. From the locomotive point of view the star exhibits here must be two small Baldwin 0-4-0ST’s which had spent their working lives at the S.D. Warren paper mill at Westbrook, near Portland. They are no. 1, Baldwin 14283/1895 and no. 2 Baldwin 14522/1895. The 2ft gauge railway system at the milll was built in 1874 mainly to transport coal and pulpwood between what became the Boston & Maine and the Maine Central Railroads and the mill, the line having been worked by horses until no. 1's arrival. No's. 1 and 2 survived until the narrow gauge closed in 1949 when they were sold to a theme park in New Jersey. They moved to Boothbay in 1969. Equally notable are two vans and a coach from the SR&RL and a van from the Wiscasset line, some of the few items of Maine two-foot gauge rolling stock which had not found their way to Edaville. Today no. 1 and the coach and vans are on static display. No. 2 is undergoing major restoration to working order.
Back in the 1960’s no original loco from the Maine public railways was available for preservation and the working railway here became home to four Henschel 0-4-0T’s which had been imported from Germany. Three of them run there to this day.
Boothbay is also home to two standard gauge station buildings, quite a number of reconstructed typical old Maine wooden buildings and a large collection of superbly restored old cars. There's an excellent small exhibits museum consisting of billboards, station name boards and other relics from Maine's five public 2-foot lines. There’s also a miniature 4-4-0 built by the Miniature Railway Co. of New York in 1904 and which I would guess is something like 15" gauge.
The railway has an especially well equipped workshop, one of the few in the US capable of undertaking a full range of boiler work including the construction of new boilers. I was shown round by Bob Ryan, the museum’s vice-president who very kindly took the time to drive over and open it up for me as it had closed for the winter.
Altogether a fascinating place - well worth visiting.
In 1970 volunteer efforts began at Phillips, one of the principal towns on the SR&RL, to establish a working museum on a short stretch of the old trackbed. Several of the line’s old coaches and vans had survived as farm sheds or the like in addition to those which found their way to Edaville. Some of these were rescued and formed the nucleus of a museum collection. A half-mile line, at the old Sanders station, opened in 1985 and there are hopes eventually of extending it. Wesley Spear, one of the enthusiasts there, has built a petrol-engined replica of one of the line’s Forney 0-4-4T’s, probably the most characteristic loco type on all the two-foot lines. Unfortunately its website isn’t particularly up-to-date and I didn’t receive any response to an email enquiry about whether the line would be open when I was in Maine. It would have been a long drive there just on the off-chance that someone might be there so I didn’t visit.
Preservation also came to the old Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington line in the early 1990’s . The late Harry Ramsdell, the preservation society’s founder, bought the old company from its receiver. Its assets included all the trackbed which had not been sold off since the closure, roughly half the total. Back in 1937 at the time the line was being dismantled a small group of enthusiasts had bought loco no. 9, one box car and a flat car along with some of the rail and moved them to a farm in Connecticut. These were stored there for many years before being leased to the fledgling preservation society. The van and wagon have been fully restored to working order after arriving in derelict condition.
Rebuilding loco no. 9 has been a much larger operation as a new boiler and substantial alteration to its chassis were needed to comply with the stringent FRA regulations which have been in effect since 2001. The boiler has been built at the Boothbay workshops and work continues on the rest of the loco. It's a Forney 0-4-4T, the last survivor of several built for the Maine 2 footers by the Portland Company. It started out life on the Sandy River line, moving later to the Kennebec Central and finally to the Wiscasset line in 1932 just nine months or so before its closure. It's the only surviving steam loco from all three of these lines. The society has built a replica of a caboose which was designed for the line in the early 1900’s but was never built.
The society has also acquired a second Forney loco which it has numbered 10. This loco spent its working life as a 2ft 6in gauge loco at the Revere Sugar line in Louisiana, was acquired by Ellis Atwood for his Edaville RR and converted to 2ft gauge. It moved to Sheepscot after the Edaville’s closure in 1991.
The society has gradually been extending the line which now runs for around 2½ miles north from Sheepscot. The most recent extension was opened only three weeks ago but there will now have to be a pause as the line has reached the boundary of the route owned by the society. It has also built most attractive replicas of old station buildings from along the line at Sheepscot and its intermediate station at Alna Center and a large works and shed building at Sheepscot loosely based on the old carriage shed at Wiscasset. Most services are steam-worked during the summer and early autumn. I was shown round the station and taken for a ride on its replica Model T Ford inspection saloon by James Patten, a most helpful and knowledgeable person. Happily the preservation society there has been able to acquire all but one of the few remaining original pieces of rolling stock and enough of the line has been rebuilt to give a good taste of how travel must have been in the line’s heyday.
After Edaville closed in 1991 most of the Maine stock was bought by the newly-established Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum which operates out of one of the buildings which was once the home of the Portland Company which had built some of the two foot lines’ Forney 0-4-4T’s many years earlier. Some of the stock has been passed on to the other preserved lines. Monson no. 3 Vulcan, Wilkes-Barre 2093/1912) was leased to the Sandy River line for 15 years on terms that they should rebuild it to working order to comply with the stringent FRA regulations introduced in 2001. This has proved a more onerous and expensive exercise than anyone expected and, four years and several tens of thousands of dollars later, the loco is still undergoing major boiler work at the Boothbay’s workshops. Wiscasset & Quebec coach no. 3 has been sold to the WW&F society and is now a prized exhibit at Sheepscot. It survived the scrapping of the Wiscasset stock in 1937 thanks to having been sold to the Bridgton & Saco River RR back in 1903 and so had found its way to Edaville with the rest of the Bridgton stock in 1945. It's the only coach to have survived from the old Wiscasset railway.
Still at Portland are the two ex-Bridgton 2-4-4 Forney tanks no. 7 (Baldwin 40864/1913) and 8 (Baldwin 57659/1924) and ex-Monson 0-4-4 Forney tank loco no. 4 (Vulcan, Wilkes-Barre, 2780/1918). When I visited the Monson loco was making its first public appearance after an overhaul lasting more than two years. It’s currently the only working loco. Bridgton no. 7 is in need of a new boiler and should eventually run again. No. 8, the last, and also the heaviest, loco built for the Maine 2ft gauge, hasn’t run for several years and there’s no current plan to rebuild it. It languishes at the back of the loco shed. The museum has a magnificent collection of coaches there, beautifully restored to their original condition, some in use on the working railway and some inside the museum. The prize exhibit is undoubtedly “Rangeley”, the old SR&RL’s parlor car which has, incidentally, now spawned a twin in “Carrabasset”, the replica built by the Ffestiniog a few years ago for Adrian Shooter’s Beeches Light Railway. There are also an original Model T Ford inspection car and a railbus, both from the SR&RL.
By way of postscript it’s worth mentioning that the Edaville operation resumed some years after the 1991 closure and is now a flourishing theme park. The railway’s still there. It’s now diesel-operated but also has an ex-Fiji 0-6-0 which is believed to be more or less in working order. There are also two narrow gauge and one standard gauge static exhibits. Well worth visiting if you’re in the district though, of course, the railway is only a shadow of its former self and, at $18, entry just for the railway is expensive.
Clearly things on the Maine two-footers can only go on getting better as the restoration of the locos and stock continues. There’s plenty here to make for a really worthwhile visit.
WW&F no. 10 inside the shed at Sheepscot and WW&F no. 9’s new boiler
The WW&F’s repair shop. No. 9’s frames are in the foreground and coach no. 3 behind.
The replica Model T inspection car being turned at the far end of the line – on the track laid early in October.
WW&F no. 10 in the yard at Sheepscot. It had been pushed out for my benefit.
Boothbay no. 7 (Henschel 24073/1938) in the stock shed and Boothbay no. 13 (Henschel 12313/1913) in the workshop.
The outer and inner fireboxes of Monson RR no. 3 under repair in the workshop at Boothbay. No. 13 on the left and a poster in the small exhibits museum at Boothbay.
SD Warren no. 1 (Baldwin 14283/1895) on display at Boothbay with their WW&F van immediately behind its tender and Boothbay no. 6 (Henschel 22486/1934) in the loco shed at Thorndyke station.
Monson RR no. 4 outside the shed at Portland.
Bridgton & Harrison no. 7 being restored in the shed at Portland and Bridgton & Harrison no. 8 at the back of the loco shed at Portland .
Freight stock in one of the sidings at Portland.
SR&RL parlor car “Rangeley” in the museum at Portland.
Ex-SR&RL coach in the museum at Portland.
The ex-SR&RL Model T Ford inspection car in the museum at Portland.
The ex-SR&RL railbus at Portland. The line had at least two of these.
One of the two B&H (ex-B&SR) coaches in the museum at Portland.