UNITY — Peter Reny climbed into the engineer’s seat of the locomotive, opened the window, sounded the whistle and pulled out of Unity Station to head to the Common Ground Country Fair.

“That’s it — we’re on our way,” he said.

Reny, 76, has been volunteering the last 17 years to drive the Belfast and Moosehead Lake train from Depot Street to the fair, spending three full days ferrying passengers to and from the fairgrounds every 35 minutes.

It was just after 8 a.m. Saturday and some 80 passengers were seated behind him in an open air car and two enclosed cars. They had parked in a nearby field and walked to the station on Depot Street to board the train to the fair, hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Reny, of North Vassalboro, has been working with trains for 58 years and never gets tired of volunteering, he said. He also drives them two or three times a month for various Belfast and Moosehead events, including fall foliage and holiday trips.

“I like the people, I like doing it,” he said. “It helps the railroad out — they need the help. It’s something that’s in your blood and it kind of gives you a little satisfaction.”


Folks from Waterville fill a table in a passenger car Saturday while taking the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad train of the Common Ground Fair site in Unity. From left are Jessica Cook, Michael Roderick, Ethan Roderick, and Rose and Scott Crossman. David Leaming photo

The train rumbled east along the tracks Saturday, passing lines of cars and trucks stuck in traffic on Depot Street and Route 139, trying to get to the fair. Reny’s train passed through stands of apple, cherry, birch and pine trees, as well as green pastures, hayfields and Amish country. Taking the train is much easier than waiting in traffic, according to train passengers who said they also loved the scenery.

About 13 minutes after pulling out of the station and traveling about 3 miles, the train stopped at the fairgrounds and passengers started pouring out.

“This is our first year on the train,” said Dawn Grant, a travel nurse from South Dakota who works at Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville. “It’s very nostalgic, it’s beautiful and it’s old history.”

Her husband, Rick Grant, said they will never go back to driving to the fair in a car.

“We met some good people from England who sat next to us,” he said. “We need to get back to the old days when we meet, greet and talk to people. We talked and talked all the way here. Beautiful people.”

Belfast and Moosehead Railroad also runs a train from Thorndike to the fair and back.


Besides providing a service to fairgoers and reducing the number of vehicles on the roads and at the fair, the train service provides needed funding for Belfast and Moosehead, according to its president, Joe Feero, who volunteered Saturday as a conductor and rode in the cab with Reny on the way back to Unity Station. Feero said that last year, about 4,000 fairgoers used the train during the fair.

Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad engineer Pete Reny inspects the front headlights of a 1957 engine used Saturday to pull passengers to the Common Ground Fair site in Unity. David Leaming photo

“For the railroad, this is the biggest event of the year,” Feero said. “This is the event that helps keep the railroad going and pays the insurance and such.”

Reny is essential to the operation, having been an engineer and worked on trains for many years, according to Feero, who said such volunteers are hard to come by.

“Pete is our most experienced volunteer and that’s what he brings,” he said.

Reny started working for Maine Central Railroad in 1966, earning $2.54 an hour as a laborer and eventually progressing to car repairman, welder, air brakeman, car inspector, engineer and supervisor.

Passengers Ethan Roderick of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, his sister, Jessica Cook of Winslow, their mother, Rose Crossman of Waterville, father, Michael Roderick and stepfather, Scott Crossman, got off the passenger train and headed into the fairgrounds. They said they had been attending the fair for many years and love taking the train and avoiding traffic jams. Cook said she paid $32 online for both the train ride and ticket to the fair.


Cindy Kilgore of Jay exercises her brown Swiss steers Grit and Gravel at the livestock section of the Common Ground Country Fair on Saturday in Unity. David Leaming photo

Bee Berks of Westbrook and Max Abraham of Portland also said they enjoyed the ride. Though Berks has been coming to the fair since she was a child, it was Abraham’s first time, he said. He said grew up in New York where he rode trains all the time, but the Unity train was much better.

“Very communal energy, where in New York it feels very separatist, definitely a very different pace of life,” said Abraham, a saxophonist, composer and musician with the band Corpus Chicanery.

At the fairgrounds Saturday, where it was a comfortable 63 degrees and sunny, visitors were watching horse, cow, border collie and sheep demonstrations and perusing tents selling jewelry, artwork, pottery and other items.

They strolled about or sat at picnic tables and consumed culinary offerings including grilled eggplant and hummus sandwiches, Italian sausage, flatbread, fried dough and french fries. They visited booths selling fresh vegetables, bread, bagels, cheesecake, cinnamon buns, coffee, tea, fruit smoothies and other offerings.

The fair opened Friday and includes more than 1,000 exhibitors and speakers. Train rides will continue all day Sunday. Situated on more than 200 acres owned by MOFGA, the fair highlights agricultural life and rural living. The first one was held in 1977 at the Litchfield fairgrounds.

The crowds grew each year and the fair moved to Windsor before the land was purchased in Unity in 1996 and the fair began to be held there in 1998. MOFGA also offers a year-round agricultural education center at the fairgrounds. A schedule, list of vendors and ticketing information is available at www.mofga.org.

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