108 Garfield Avenue, Madison, New Jersey 07940
'Boar-r-rd,' calls the conductor. There is a moment of silence then two short blasts on the whistle followed by the ripple of the slack coming out of the cars as the eleven o'clock departure of the EDAVILLE RAILROAD moves out through the yard trackage. The bark of the exhaust is clearly audable above the rhythmic hissing of the cylinder drain cocks as this anachronism of American railroading begins another day. We are riding on patent leather cushions in a former Wiscasset & Quebec passenger coach from a two foot gaugeyes I said two foot gauge revenue railroad, the last remaining equipment of a former empire of profit making revenue railroads.
As we move out through the yard we pass the engine repair shop where locomotive Number 4 is having a cylinder rebore job as giant men crawl over what appears to be a pigmy steam locomotive. Out of the corner of the eye we get a quick glimpse of the car shop where a former Bridgton & Saco River Railroad passenger car is being overhauled. And, just beyond are several box cars and other equipage and paraphanelia of an old time steam railroad. Take a quick look for now we are moving at an increasing pace as the engineer begins to lengthen out on the throttle of former Monson Railroad Number 3 and this diminutive 18 tonner leans into its assigned work.
We have come to assure ourselves that steam is still very much alive here in South Carver, Massachusetts, at the Edaville Railroad which is the last bastion of the two foot gauge railroads. For, here it is that the late Ellis D. Atwood assembled all the equipment that he could gleen from the wreckers and junkmen who were fast disposing of these unique items of railroading. Now, however, there is a very active action museum in a theme park of both narrow gauge and standard gauge railroading. Here one can slip into a brown study of early travel style as the train winds its way through the cranberry bogs and around the reservoirs fringed with pine and oak on the five and half mile Cranberry Belt Line.
Just how did it happen that a railroad was actually operated as a common carrier on so slim a gauge as only two feet? Well, it all began with a trip to Wales, England, around mid-1870 by one George Mansfield, promoter and entrepreneur extraordinary. Here he saw the 23' gauge Festiniog Railway. This little slate quarry line suggested to him that in remote areas and in difficult terrain there was a place for so narrow a pike in his own New England. And thus was born the idea that grew up into an empire in Maine involving several hundred miles of main line track and hundreds of cars and locomotives.
To put things into perspective we might review for a moment where railroad gauges stood here and abroad at that time. We apparently had not used the metric system narrow gauge which is 60 centimeters or 235/8'. We did have the other extreme, however, on the Erie where the tracks were then 6 feet apart. In Europe, the Spanish still use a five foot gauge but then that originally was so that the French armies could not attack them through the Pyranese Mountains and carry their impedamenta by rail since France in the early days was, like much of the United States at 4' 8'. We had a great deal of 'slim gauge' in the western mountains set at 36' and in fact had a sizeable coal road in the east at that measurement in the form of the East Broad Top Railroad. Tourist operations still exist today out of Orbisonia, Pennsylvania, on this line. But, basically, the 2' gauge is all American, for that matter all New England as shore dinners, rock bound coasts and tall pines.
Our train is now running easily through a stand of pines and after rounding a 20 degree curve gives two short blasts on the whistle in tribute to the roads founder, Mr. Atwood, as it passed his grave. Soon we are running along the banks of a large reservoir whose waters are used to flood the cranberry bogs as needed. For so narrow a gauge the cars have surprisingly little sway or oscillation. This is due not only to the low center of gravity but to the excellent condition of the roadbed, and the 56 pound rail is quite devoid of 'soft spots.' Conductor Web Reynolds has made his rounds collecting tickets and is up in the combine car ahead where he can fill us in on some of the background on the railroads operation by using the inter-com system.
Our train is being served by a former Monson Railroad engine of the 0-4-4RT wheel configuration built in 1912 by the Vulcan Iron Works. She is a Forney type, that is the boiler and tender are all on a single frame. The four 32' driving wheels carry most of the weight while a single four wheel truck under the tank carries the remainder of her 36,000 pounds. Along with a sister locomotive of almost identical dimensions she operated the 'two by six' railroad, two foot wide and six miles long, from 1883 until 1943 thus having the distinction of being the last of the Maine 'two footers.' The sister, Number 4, is also in continuing active service here at Edaville after having spent so many active years hauling slate products from Monson, Maine to Monson Junction on the now abandoned Greenville Branch of the Bangor & Aroostook.
Steam is the thing on the Edaville and they have a total of five Forney type locomotives to keep the railfans and steam buffs happy. I have a color print of Number 7 taken in 1974 during a visit to the 'slim gauge' as a railfan. However, I think that a 1922 photograph of her on the point of a passenger train when she was in revenue service on the Bridgton & Saco River fits the atmosphere of the area much better. From this photograph in the Edaville collection we can reconstruct the service provided the 'summer visitor.'
This engine is really a modified Forney type in that it has a single axel pilot ahead of the 35' drivers giving an arrangement of 2-4-4RT. Baldwin Locomotive Works was the builder in 1913. Her sister engine, No. 8, from the B & S R is essentially identical but was built in 1924. These are heavier engines in that they weigh in at about 40 tons. They are the last remaining engines of this road which operated from 1883 until 1941. Fortunately for all those that cherish the lonesome sound of a steam whistle echoing through the hills and the smell of coal smoke they are in scheduled operation throughout the year.
The largest of these diminutive common carriers started out as the Sandy River Railroad in 1879. Later through mergers with other lines in the area it became the Sandy River & Rangely Lakes Railroad and operated about 120 miles of main line trackage. At one time it was a part of the Maine Central Railroad. Today, however, we remember it best by still being able to ride over Mount Urann on the Edaville in comfort aboard passenger cars preserved from an untimely end by the present operation.
Bridgton & Saco River No. 7 running in passenger service at Long Lake Lodge on August 24, 1922. This locomotive is No. 7 on the Edaville Railroad. (Edaville collection)
By now we are drifting down from the summit of Mount Urann and soon will be arriving at the Edaville terminal. Here we can walk around and enjoy the exhibits that would gladden the heart of any steam man.
When it comes to railroads, I am partial to short lines and to logging operations. Here there is one of the very few remaining examples of an early geared locomotive as built by Climax in Cory, Pennsylvania. The one at Edaville was built for the Moore-Keppel & Company operation at Ellamore, West Virginia, in 1913. It is a 40 ton engine of the two truck type or their Class B. Later in 1948 the engine was sold to the W. H. Mason Lumber Company of Elkins, West Virginia and remained with them until coming to Edaville in 1959. Here it is preserved in a 'hands on' static display. So, I climbed aboard and sat on the engineer's side and just let my hands slide from the Johnson bar to the throttle and down to the air brake. All you have to do is just partially close your eyes and you can almost hear the staccato bark of that quick exhaust on some far away mountain side.
Oh, well, close the throttle. We can't go anywhere. There is a Buffalo-Springfield road roller on the tracks ahead of us as if it were trying to work on the crossing. This particular one is only one of several at the museum along with a Frick traction engine. In order to expand the interest to other phases of steam power a steam show was put on in July. There were a number of machines brought in for the event. One was a monstrous log splitting machine which put on interesting demonstrations for the crowd. Another interesting steam engine is the portable engine originally used to power the carousel. It is an import from Holland and was manufactured by Nederl Industrie Mij around 1909.
The excellent collection of antique automobiles and fire engines is housed in a large brick building along with an extensive collection of the industrial revolution memorabelia. As a part of the machinery collection there is a fine grouping of stationary steam engines in a setting in which the background is a large mural of an early sawmilling scene. Those that follow these things will immediately recognize the scene as a copy of a woodcut that first appeared in a catalog of the J. I. Case Machine Company, Racine, Wisconsin, around 1882. At first I could not remember where I had seen a print of this old woodcut, but then it came to me, Floyd Clymer's Album of Historical Steam Traction Engines, page 133. It is a perfect background for the display.
This was not my first visit to Edaville. I had been there several times in the past. It is a place that one can visit more than once. It is many things to many people in that it is satisfying to various backgrounds. On this particular trip there were several groups enjoying the ride on a unique steam train of yesterday. One of the groups was made up of children of oriental ancestry, Vietnameze I believe, and it was interesting to speculate on their reactions for it is not likely that they had ever seen a steam locomotive before. But, at the same time, there was a professional photographic group interested in getting action pictures of the railroad.
A portable steam engine from overseas. Built by Nederl Industrie Mij for powering the carousel. The 1856 carousel was powered first by horses then in 1909 by this engine
At least once each year there is a 'railfan' weekend in which the place is covered by photographers of all ages, sizes and shapes. Special freight trains are made up for photo-runbys to give simulated revenue operation for both still and movie camera action with sound.
At these sessions there is always the 'smoke fiend' that wants lots of billowing black smoke. And, there is the 'head light nut' that simply insists that it be turned on. After one run-by I overheard one man ask, 'When does the film supply train arrive?' Always bring lots of film!
After Mr. Atwood's death, Edaville was owned and operated by the late Nelson Blount. Currently it is operated by Mr. George Bartholomew as President of Adaville R.R. and a most understanding and co-opeative person. I feel that he is trying to preserve something of historical value for those that have an interest in such things and at the same time provide wholesome entertainment for the entire family in the traditional free enterprise system in which full value must be given if the enterprise is to survive. And, Edaville has survived and is likely to continue to do so.
It is easily reached from Massachusetts Highway 25 between Boston and Cape Cod. Most oil company road maps show the location. For those traveling by recreational vehicles there are several good campgrounds in the area including the Miles Standish State Forest. Other points of interest in the area include Plymouth Rock and the mansion tours at Newport, Rhode Island. To enjoy this most interesting place one should, however, allow the better part of a full day. There is a lot of ground to cover and things to do, particularly if you wish to confirm that steam is alive in New England.