Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad

Seasonal Escapes April 2004
Engineering family fun
The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum offers regular train rides on its “two-footer” track, plus a place to buy engineers’ hats.
All aboard! Join the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad on a ride along the Eastern Promenade and the banks of Casco Bay in Portland. Lighthouses, forts, islands, boats; enjoy the offshore sights. Help celebrate the 10th anniversary of their railroad museum.

The train trip includes two changes of the locomotive, first heading towards its India Street stop, then proceeding to the old bridge on Casco Bay. The engine will actually go past you on a separate track as it’s moved so it can pull the train in the opposite direction. On my recent visit, I heard a parent explain to children that it was like a push-me pull-me. What a clever viewpoint! According to the museum, plans are in the works to continue on towards the Hadlock Field baseball field, as funding allows. The train currently has available 1.5 miles of track.

In the museum, you have the chance to climb on board several rail cars. I always wonder at the romantic, nostalgic feel the old trains have. I marvel at another time period when women would be rustling between the narrow passageways swirling a long dress, or tucking the skirt into one of those seats. The tracks these cars ran on were only 2 feet apart, therefore the compartments of the train were correspondingly skinny, hence the names narrow gauge or two-footer. The two-footer became important to Maine by helping transport products and people. The purchase and maintenance of the narrow gauge was more economical than the standard gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches.

A special, featured exhibit is the Rangeley Lakes parlor car. This beautifully adorned rail car showcases the luxury available to some people. The green velvet, cushioned armchairs are imprinted with flowers. Imagine the fringe on the top of the windows swaying in the breezes from panes slid up to catch the air. According to the museum, this is the only known two-foot parlor car in existence.

I was particularly interested in the Railbus Number 4. This is a bus on tracks; a unique exhibit since I’ve never seen one before. It was an answer by the railroad companies to increase passengers when people began to prefer travel with wheeled vehicles.

The rail cars of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum were acquired from the Edaville Railroad in South Carver, Mass. I remember visiting there for the Cranberry Festivals and on Sheep to Shawl days. We’d take the train ride, which was on a circular track, visit the museum tucked into a crowded basement and eat barbecued chicken in the enormous picnic area. I remember the light displays at Christmas too, very similar to those we see today at the WinterFest, or Santa Fest.

According to the museum, in the heyday of the narrow gauge, there were five of the two-foot railroads in use in Central Maine. These were the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes, the Bridgton and Saco River (which later became the Bridgton and Harrison), the Monson, the Kennebec Central, and the Wiscasset and Quebec (which later became the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington).

Now, a dedicated crew of volunteers keeps this train running. The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum is always looking for more volunteers. Since it’s a nonprofit organization, a huge asset for the museum is the people who come from near and far to help out; they come because they love the trains. Their four steam engines have been identified as requiring major work in order to comply with Federal Railroad Administration standards; inspection on the engine that will be used this summer is complete. The volunteers are doing a great deal of the labor-intensive maintenance, as funding allows.

Hours: The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. and Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Dec. 23. The train will run on the hour on weekends from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through May 9. For school vacation week, April 19 to 23, trains will run daily on the hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The new season begins May 15, when trains will run daily on the hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information check www.mngrr.org or call (207) 828-0814.

Admission: Admission to the museum is free; donations are welcome. There is a fee for train rides: $6 for adults, $4 for children age 4 and up. A small gift shop is available where you can purchase items such as the popular engineer’s hat and choose from a selection of books with railroad themes. Light refreshments are also available.

Getting there: Take Interstate 295 to the Franklin Street exit, which is exit 7. Watch for the signs to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad. Turn left onto Fore Street at the traffic light; stay on Fore Street through its intersection with India Street. The museum is located in the Portland Company complex at 58 Fore St., on the right. Turn in at the museum sign, drive between the buildings toward the left. Parking is on the water side.

Edith Churchill is a freelance writer living in Auburn who frequently takes day trips with her family.
Special springtime activities
April vacation: For the week of April 19 to 23, train rides will be available on the hour between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

May 15: Military Family Day will be held on Armed Forces Day. The museum will offer reduced admission for active and retired military people and their families.

May 29, 30 and 31: Steamin’ Into Summer. People can take a steam-powered train ride.
Tracking down other Maine railroads
Here are some other Maine locations to visit for railroad lore:

• Boothbay Railway Village is on Route 27 in Boothbay. For information, contact www.railwayvillage.org or (207) 633-4727.

• Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad is in Phillips. For information, contact www.srrl-rr.org.

• Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum is at 97 Cross Road in Alna. For information, visit www.wwfry.org or call (207) 882-4193.


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