PHILLIPS — More than 1,400 railroad buffs from around the world are attending the 36th national Narrow Gauge Railroad Convention in Maine this week, including a stop Friday to see the recently restored Monson No. 3 engine.

“Last year’s convention was in Houston, Texas, and it drew 700 people,” said Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad Museum member Bill Berry. “More than twice as many came to Maine this year, so I think we’re doing something right.”

Transported from convention headquarters in Augusta, visitors piled off air-conditioned buses Friday into Phillips’ steamy late-summer sun. They were greeted by the engineers of the Monson No. 3 engine and freight cars that would take them on a two-hour excursion through Dill Woods.

Brad and Ann Makaric from LaSalle, Ontario, drove 14 hours to the convention, which runs from Thursday to Sunday. He joined dozens of others snapping photos and capturing video of the engine as it rounded the curves ahead, whistles tooting and gray smoke billowing from the coal-fired boiler. Along the route, Tom Moore, president of the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad Museum, gave visitors some history of the railroad in the area.

“It used to take a farmer with an ox cart all day to go to Farmington for grain or tools,” he said. “The railroad cut that down to one hour each way.”

Passengers had the freedom to travel for work, education or enjoyment. Tourism boomed, he said, at the beginning of the 20th century, so the railroad gave Americans a new kind of freedom, along with some social divisions. The first-class car was a way to separate groups of people, he said, but the parlor car was for all passengers.

John Forsythe of Blooming Glen, Pennsylvania, was on the hunt for the sounds that make model railroad enthusiasts happy.

“I’m listening for the chuffs, the whistles and the bells that make this engine unique,” he said.

He will go home to his studio and digitally re-create the sound effects to add to his collection of more than 60 whistles, 40 bells, and others sounds made by railroad cars and equipment. He sells them to railroad buffs.

Bronwyn and Bill Hanks came from Australia to see Maine’s railroads, but their eventual destination is Nevada, where they’ll watch their son Gareth compete for a second world record on the recumbent bicycle at the World Human-Powered Vehicle Challenge.

Other visitors came across the Atlantic from Wales.

At convention headquarters at the Augusta Civic Center, railroad buffs had the opportunity to learn history and how-tos, and socialize. Chartered buses took groups on day trips to historic sites in railroad lore, including the Phillips museum, the Boothbay Railroad Village and the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum in Alna.

The two-foot, or narrow gauge, railroad carried freight and passengers from 1894 to 1933. Locomotive No. 9 is the only surviving locomotive from the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington railroad, the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes and the Kennebec Central lines.

Built in 1891 by the Portland Company, it is the oldest of the surviving Maine two-footer locomotives and the only known surviving Portland Company engine.

Visitors got a guided tour of the Boothbay Railway Village, including a shop that builds full-size steam locomotive boilers. 

The Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad Museum in Phillips will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday for one-hour trips through Dill Woods. 


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