PHILLIPS — A piece of railroad history made its way from Portland to Phillips on the back of a flatbed truck Friday afternoon.

The newly refurbished Monson No. 3 steam engine was greeted by a small fan club of railroad aficionados, many of whom enthusiastically documented each moment of the big event.

Volunteers worked throughout the hot and humid afternoon to transfer the 13-ton artifact onto the old narrow-gauge railroad bed. When filled with water, the engine weighs 18 tons, according to volunteer Sharon Barber.

The engine left the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad about four years ago for repairs, and its homecoming was long overdue for the organization’s dedicated members.

Bill Berry, a local supporter of the restoration project, said the engine is one of two that worked the slate quarries in the town of Monson. The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. and Museum in Portland owns it, he explained, but it has a summer home in Phillips.

The old No. 3, built in 1913, was put to work hauling slate six miles from Monson to Monson Junction, where it met the Bangor and Aroostook railroad line. The short railroad was one of five in Maine that carried freight and passengers before the affordability and availability of the automobile changed transportation in the state.

In 1943, the Monson railroad office closed its doors. After World War II, the engine went to the Edaville Railroad in Massachusetts, but the Portland Museum brought it back to its home state in the early 1990s. By then, it needed significant and expensive repairs.

It was hauled to the Boothbay Railway Village for the first stage of work. “The Boothbay group rebuilt the smoke box and did lots of other smaller repairs,” Berry said.

Inspectors found that the boiler was completely rusted and important welding joints had failed. Boiler repairs had to be done by certified professionals to pass state standards, so the No. 3 spent time at the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum in the town of Alna.

Railroad fans spread the word, Berry said, and enough money was raised to pay for the $143,000 in repair work.

The Portland group is one of several national organizations dedicated to preserving and operating this historic two-foot gauge railroad equipment for the public, according to Executive Director Donnell Carroll.

“These railroads were part of building our country, and it’s important that we preserve what remains,” Carroll said by phone from the museum’s Fore Street headquarters.

Wes Heinz and Jay Monty, engineers from the Portland Museum, came to help Phillips members Dick Stinchfield, Sharon Barber and Steve Earle move sections of the track and ascertain that the engine was seated securely before it could be used for public rides.


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