“Where have all the boxcars gone?”

Empty storage tracks at Bucksport paper mill. – September 2016

Alas, another trackside industry that relied upon dependable railway service  has finally met the scrapper’s torch. The Verso Paper mill in Bucksport, Maine, closed down December 1, 2014. At first, I thought this was another example of creative destruction. However, I am not sure anymore. At present the physical destruction has begun. Unfortunately no creative concept for future development of the property has been revealed. According to local press releases the digital shift, consolidation and off-shore competition were the primary catalysts for closure.

Empty storage tracks behind Bucksport commercial buildings next to seawall. – September 2016

The eighty-six year old paper mill operated under the aegis of four different owners: the Seaboard Paper Company, St. Regis Paper Company, Champion International Paper and Verso Paper Corporation. During this period the mill, valued at $385 million in 2014, was served by a single nineteen mile long railroad branch line that had undergone three consecutive masthead changes: the Maine Central Railroad Company, the Guilford Rail System and Pan Am Railways.

GP40-2LW shunting tank cars at Bucksport paper mill. – May 2007

Constructed at a cost of $10 million, the mill opened its doors in November 1930. It employed as many as 1,000 workers in a town of 5,000 inhabitants in the year 2002. When the mill closed, 570 employees lost their jobs and all of the slow moving strings of boxcars and tank cars were doomed to oblivion. The net result was the loss of 24/7 rail activity punctuated by the sound of railcars rocking and rolling over unruly track behind growling diesel switch engines that shunted their daily burdens parallel to Rt 15. Together the railroad and mill provided the perfect place for train watchers and railroad photographers alike.

When the mill was in full operation one could either walk or drive behind the quaint storefronts that cradle the main street of tiny Bucksport. There, one could find three storage tracks crammed with lines of 50 foot boxcars arrayed before a dramatic backdrop that embraced the Penobscot River, historic Fort Knox, the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and the rambling mill complex. Today, as a lamenting trackside photographer, I have to ask myself the question,”Where have all the boxcars gone?”

Boxcars on storage tracks at Bucksport paper mill. – May 2007

David Kahler, FAIA – Photographs and text Copyright 2016

5 thoughts on “Trackside Elegy

  1. Sorry to hear about Bucksport. I’ve been up there in the fall photographing the moose population a few years back. At that time all that was left was one paper line (the factory at one time had five) and the main street was nearly gone of business. Talked to one woman who has to drive 35 miles now to see a doctor. Bad news for sure…off shore business is killing us.

  2. When you are up in Maine, go to Rumford and there’s a mill that is still in operation and is serviced by Pan Am railroad, they also have a big old roundhouse in the yard

  3. A nice, well-written piece, if a little melancholic. It’s always sad when rails are no longer active. Thanks for sharing this story.

  4. David, thanks for this story. I visited Bucksport as a guest of St. Regis Paper in the 1980’s, when the entire output of Paper Machine #4 was purchased in advance by Time Incorporated. Paper was expedited by Maine Central to printing plants all over the country, with just-in-time deliveries to many. Hard to believe the dramatic decline in paper manufacturing and resulting massive changes in related industries (including railroads).

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