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