Steam is Alive in New England

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A Cranberry Belt Line train running beside the bogs. The consist includes an 1895 Wiscasset & Quebeck passenger coach.
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Edaville's No. 4 shown here in its original revenue service on the Monson Railroad circa 1937. (Edaville collection).
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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

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