“We have lots of balls in the air and none of them have fallen to earth yet,” said Donnie Carroll, executive director of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co & Museum., this afternoon. “We are getting really good at walking forward and keeping the balls in the air.” he said laughing this afternoon in a telephone conversation. Laughter was a relief from the long list of issues confronting the mini-railroad these days. The railroad, often called the two-footers because the tracks are only 24 inches across, is located at 58 Fore Street, on the Munjoy Hill waterfront.
Carroll, director for four years now and a former Maine State Legislator between 1982 – 1994 has just renewed the mini-railroad’s lease through the end of November 2017. He hopes for another extension following that one from CPB2LLC, the current owner of the property that is undergoing redevelopment of the historic property.
However, the building in which the railroad is housed is slated to be redeveloped into a retail/office space. When those plans become firm, the railroad will have to get up and go – no more lease extensions. Plans to build a luxury hotel in a nearby building with an outdoor swimming pool have already been announced by West Elm for the recently renamed property Portland Foreside, formerly known as the Portland Company.
For more than the past seven years, the mini-railroad has been looking for a place to relocate to and the funds to make it happen. The most promising option is a 25 acre plot of brush and tree covered land behind the Gray Plaza in Gray. The land and several stores in the Plaza are owned by Dan Craffey.
A sub-committee of the mini-railroad board plans to meet with Craffey associates early next month to discuss a purchase and sale agreement for the 25 acres. Years ago a railroad ran through the same property, but new track would need to be laid at considerable cost to accommodate the two-footers.
A second priority of Carroll’s is to raise the funds to lay the tracks in Gray and build a museum. The combined cost of these two projects is estimated at $4 – 5 M. The nearby SMRT, Paul Stevens, firm is the architect for the Museum. Carroll and the board are in the process of interviewing firms to lead a full scale capital campaign to raise $7 M within the next year. Carroll’s third priority is to find locations where train equipment can be stored for an indefinite period of time. That’s something he’d been doing for the past 18 months – to expedite clearing the outside lot. Several options have been offered including Sanford, Bridgton and another location in Gray. There are other locations as well that may be able to assist such as the Boothbay Railway and up in Philips. He is also looking for space to store the indoor equipment, but that location would have to be under cover as well.
“We are trying to stay in Portland. It’s always something that appeals to us,” said Carroll. “But it’s about money. It’s always about money.”
Back in the early 90’s a group of rail-fans, led by Phineas Sprague, Jr., of the Portland Company, purchased a large amount of train equipment and rolling stock from the Edaville Railroad, in South Carver, MA. The equipment came up for sale due to a dispute between the then land owner and the owner of the mini-railroad. An enormous convey of volunteer antique trucks brought the equipment back to Maine over the Labor Day weekend. The antique trucks were procured from fellow antique truck owners by the now deceased Irv Bickford, of Yarmouth.
Following what was dubbed “The Great Train Robbery” by mini-railroad volunteers, a pot luck dinner for several hundred volunteers was held where the Museum is currently located. The two-foot track was laid by an all volunteer corps under the tutelage of and with the use of equipment from volunteers at the Trolley Museum, Kennebunk. Dick Norton, one of the those original volunteers who laid track, is still a volunteer at the railroad.
Back in the 1800’s, these two-footers serviced a number of businesses and passengers in small towns down east of Portland. For example, one line hauled slate from the quarries in Monson. The narrow gauge was built because it was cheaper to build and navigate the rocky terrain of down east better than standard gauge. Following World War 11, Ellis D. Atwood, owner of a cranberry plantation in South Carver, trucked much of the still remaining equipment to that site. The rolling equipment was initially used to haul cranberry workers and their supplies through the vast cranberry bogs. Eventually, the location became a favorite holiday amusement park – the Edaville Railroad – the initials of its owner who died during an accident at the theme park. It became a holiday destination park in Atwood’s memory. A place that the wealthy Sprague family of Cape Elizabeth enjoyed as well. But, the Sprague’s ambitious and impractical ideas for its presence in Portland did not materialize as they’d hoped.
For more information, please call the mini-railroad at: 207 828-0814 or go to the website.
mhn.com has posted numerous stories about the railroad going back to at least September 1, 2010.