Steam is Alive in New England

| July/August 1979

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.