A Maine Central Education

Waterville Yard
Waterville Yard in 1968

Fifty years ago Railroading was far different from today. My introduction to the Maine Central started in 1964 when I went to Colby College in Waterville. Once exposed, I became fascinated by this amazing industry, the people who worked in it, and the coordination and teamwork required to run the railroad.

The Maine Central, Scott Paper, Hathaway Shirts, Keyes Fiber and Colby were among the largest employers, and Waterville was a thriving industrial community.

The Maine Central Railroad was originally known to me only as a name painted on a boxcar. I knew very little about railroading, but I had always enjoyed puzzles, and how this industry worked became a lifelong interest and hobby. Read more

Maine Central Remembered

January, 1968
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“Tower MD’s building housed the CTC machine, relays and electronic equipment, a robust heating system, the operator, and a cat.”

When passenger service on the Maine Central Railroad (MEC) ended in 1960, I was 15 years old and had never been to the State of Maine. After the passenger trains were gone, the freight business was alive and well, thanks to the smart investments and wise business management of E. Spencer Miller, President of the railroad from 1952 through 1975.

My introduction to Maine was in 1964 through Colby College, which together with the railroad, was a major presence in Waterville, where the Maine Central had its repair shops, and its largest and most important classification yard.

Excursions beyond Waterville served as a diversion and study break from grinding through textbooks in the college library, and presented the chance to learn more about the railroad and how it worked.

One bitterly cold January day, a trip to explore the eastern portions of the Maine Central seemed like a good idea. I headed up toward Northern Maine Junction, where the MEC interchanged cars of Maine products, including printing paper, pulpwood, and potatoes, with the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad.

Around 1957, the Maine Central was still very much investing in the railroad, and a new CTC installation between Pittsfield and Northern Maine Junction was authorized to realize savings in redundant trackage and improve efficiency in the operation. The upgrade eliminated double track, and replaced the automatic block signals with a modern centralized traffic control system.

Tower MD’s building housed the CTC machine, relays and electronic equipment, a robust heating system, the operator, and a cat. On this winter day, I’m sure Phil Butler, the tower operator,  was not expecting any weekend visitors to his lonely outpost, but he was most cordial and welcoming. I think he appreciated anyone who was interested in what he did and how he did it. After some railroad small talk, he explained the machine and how it worked. Tower MD was also a train order office, and so the order hoops and train order signal over the building were part of the station’s equipment.

To me, these photos are a time capsule of the Maine Central in good times. Trains were run at speed on well maintained track, most of the time with “High Green” Clear signals displayed.

After the boom years of the 1970’s, a combination of business and economic factors brought the Maine Central to its knees. Wall Street raiders took over the debt free railroad, precipitating a long and bitter strike of the Maine Central’s loyal and hardworking employees.  Hundreds of track miles which had served the state’s industries for one hundred years and more were either abandoned or no longer maintained.

Today the CTC is gone. Most of track has a speed limit of 10mph, and many of the paper mills have closed as their product has become unneeded in the internet world.

It has been hard to watch the decline, but I certainly have many wonderful memories of what main line railroading was like Down East, back on that bitter cold winter afternoon.

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Tower MD – Northern Maine Junction

Bob Hughes – Photographs and text Copyright 2016

A Job Well Done

A big event for the small town of Dresden, Maine
A big event for the small town of Dresden, Maine

Derailments are a fact of life in railroading. Today teams of well equipped, well trained contractors wearing high visibility reflective vests are called in to help. Their specialized equipment makes quick work of most derailments and cleanups. But for many years, the railroads maintained wreck trains equipped with flat cars carrying replacement wheels and huge steam cranes, along with tool cars bringing everything, including the kitchen sink, to the scene.

In spring 1967, Maine Central (MEC) train B-12 was meandering on its usual run along the Kennebec River, just south of Dresden, Maine. This was a daily, routine trip from MEC’s Bangor interchange with the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad at Northern Maine Junction to Portland. Something went wrong—probably a broken rail or wheel, dragging equipment. or whatever—which resulted in about eight cars “on the ground.” Happily there was no leaking cargo or injuries. Once the damage was assessed, the engines took the front part of the train on to Portland, and the caboose and rear end of the train was towed back to Waterville and routed down the back road via Lewiston and on to Portland.

Heading back to Waterville Yard
Heading back to Waterville Yard

That left the derailed cars and damaged track to be dealt with by the Waterville wreck train, which was dispatched along with track and car department crews to get started on the delicate and dangerous job of re-railing the cars and clearing the line.

Planning the job
Planning the job
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Where to start?
Undercar springs not where they should be
Undercar springs not where they should be

Pictures of railroad accidents usually make the news, but photos of the crews doing the cleanup work, not so much. On this job, the crews working under the supervision of the wreckmaster have been careful and methodical in clearing the wreckage. The cleanup has gone well, and after working through the night, all the cars are back on the rails and ready to be towed back to the Waterville shops. New track is in place, and soon the railroad will be back to normal.

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A job well done

Here’s the weary crew riding on the open deck of the tool car, just under the big hook’s boom. Their difficult job is complete, nobody got hurt, and you can tell by their tired but relaxed expressions that they are pleased with their work, and know the railroad is ready for tomorrow’s B-12.

Their faces reflect a job well done.

Bob HughesPhotographs and text Copyright 2016