After almost eight years of doing road trips for the Sun Journal, this freelancer has decided to take a back seat and strike out on some new personal journeys. To celebrate, I am sharing with you one of my favorite road trips — not only what I offered in the original article, but the back story, the story of the people I talked with and met, and what I experienced.

For me, one of the most rewarding parts of doing the road trips has been all the really great Mainers I’ve met over the years. How helpful they have been, how interesting, how much knowledge and how many great stories they have shared.

A lot of it I was unable to tell readers about because of the column’s format and length restraints. But today I will share one of my favorite trips with you, and the stories behind the story.

I was given a golden opportunity in June 2007 to ride in the locomotive for the 57-mile trip from Brunswick to Rockland on the Maine Eastern Railroad. It’s a train ride I will never forget. My companions included engineer Leon Peasley, Gordon Page, the director of Passenger Operations, and conductors Linwood Lothrop and Henry Groth.

You can’t imagine what it is like sitting up in that 75-foot-long diesel locomotive, (sadly, this is not one of the package offerings) and feeling it skimming the tracks under your feet. You hear the hiss of air being released, and the sound of the horn when you approach a road crossing, and the clanging of the bells when you pull into the station.

I was offered some ear protection, but it was too bulky; I handed it back and tried some soft earplugs but found they were interfering with my whole experience of being up in the locomotive. I pulled out the earplugs and stowed them in my pocket, and experienced my time in the locomotive to the fullest — loving every minute. More than once I wondered where I would go to become a train engineer. What a great job!

You’re basically up in the locomotive alone, enjoying the trip. Trains are so full of today’s technology that it would seem they almost run themselves, but don’t be fooled, they don’t! Next to engineer Leon on his instrument panel was a big yellow button. About twice a minute an alarm would go off and he would push the button to silence it. Leon explained that it’s the “deadman button,” an alert timed to go off about every 30 seconds or so. If the engineer doesn’t push the button to turn off the alarm, it will get increasingly louder until he does — or it will automatically stop the train. This is a fail-safe mechanism to protect the train and its passengers in the event anything should happen to the engineer and the train is left unattended.

Being in the locomotive and seeing what is straight ahead, rather than being seated in the passenger cars and only seeing what is rushing by on the sides, gives a much different perspective, particularly when crossing one of the rusty trestles on the route or cutting through a narrow corridor cut out of the landscape. It can almost be claustrophobic at times, but then it opens up into fantastic landscapes that can only be seen in Maine.

The trip one way is about two hours, and during that time I traveled over bridges and looked out on the ocean, marshes and scenic landscapes. Leon pointed out many beautiful things along the way, including a field covered with lavender-colored flowers — a beautiful sight until he told me they were invasive plants and would some day choke out the marsh. And at one spot he told me to watch for seagulls and, sure enough, as the train got closer to a coastal area hundreds of birds took flight right in front of the train. He told me he sees deer and all sorts of wildlife while riding the rails.

Most people love trains, so it’s not surprising that people of all ages were standing and waving along the route. I waved right back. As Leon said, “Being an engineer on a train is the best job in the world. Everyone loves you!”

According to Leon and Linwood, for years an older person along the route would stand outside her home, which was in Wiscasset right off the tracks, and wave every time the train went by. She loved trains, always had, as the story goes, but had never been on one. Word got around, and when Maine Eastern’s employees found out her birthday was coming up, they decided to give her a special present — a ride on the train. Some of the locals were in on it, and when the train came into town it stopped right in front of her house, much to her great surprise, and she was escorted onto the train for a round-trip birthday ride. Now that is one great birthday present.

Oh, to be a train engineer!

So, make some memories for yourself by taking some road trips. And take the time to stop and talk with people, ask questions and listen to their stories. After all, that is an important part of what a road trip is about, other than enjoying Maine sights! Thank you for allowing me to share my road trips with you for these many years.

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