The Tenth annual Polar Express drew families from all over the area for the opening of the holiday season of 2017 for many children and their families. For some, it was the first Polar Express ride ever and for others the magical ride has become a family tradition – sometimes spanning generations. The Polar Express is the major fundraiser for the Maine Narrow Gauge Museum & Railroad, currently located, although temporarily, at 58 Fore Street on the Portland waterfront.
Karen Adams, of New Hampshire, treated her two grandchildren and their parents to a Polar Express ride on the first train of the season at 5:15 pm this evening. Karen treated her two children to rides on the Polar Express in Conway, NH twenty-five years ago and wanted to repeat that experience for her two grandchildren. The drive to Portland was shorter than going to Conway, Karen told this blogger. See above left photo.)
The Nason family has made the Polar Express ride part of its holiday tradition. Now living in Pittsburgh with his family, Chad Nason is originally from Gorham. For the past four years, the Nason family has made a trip on the Polar Express as part of their holiday visit home to Gorham. “I hope it continues,” said Chad. “This has become a family tradition.” (See below right photo.)
For many years now, the Maine Narrow Gauge Museum & Railroad, formerly the Edaville Railroad of South Carver, MA., has been looking to relocate from its waterfront location because of the inevitable development of the almost ten acres of valuable property. And in fact, several years ago, the property was purchased by a development team led by Jim Brady.
Over six years ago, a large plot of wooded and trackless land behind the Gray Plaza in Gray, owned by Dan Craffey, was identified to be the future two-footers home. (Craffey owns the grocery store and the hardware store in the Gray Plaza.) The minis have been trying to raise the multiple millions of dollars necessary to make the complicated move to the site.
In fact, Donnie Carroll, the executive director, has spent much of his four year tenure searching for those funds to relocate to Gray. First he looked at government funds and found nothing. Then Carroll, a former state legislature, searched for grant money. Same result.
Several years ago, Gray voters rejected a ballot referendum that would have formed a partnership with the minis. It would have given the minis money to do necessary preliminary work at the Gray Plaza site involved with permitting and surveying work and the like. At times, Carroll has made no secret of his frustration at the enormity of the undertaking. The tree and brush covered site needs to be cleared and tracks laid thereon. Plans for a railroad station have been drawn up by local architect, Paul Stevens. (See above left photo.)
A purchase and sales contract between Craffey and the mini-railroad for the Gray property has been under negotiation for several months now. It remains under negotiation and not signed according to the cantankerous Conductor volunteering tonight at Ocean Gateway. “You know lawyers. They are always looking for billable hours,” he said, sarcastically this evening. Carroll said earlier this fall that the deposit needed for the down payment for the sales contract has been collected. This August Carroll told this blogger that he hoped to continue to obtain extensions of the lease until plans for an announced hotel by West Elm in the Museum building become firmed up. (West Elm expects to open its boutique 150 room, full-service hotel with an outdoor pool in 2020 in the building in which the mnis are headquartered.)
However and this is an important however, the railroad bed on which the mini-railroad runs is owned by the Maine DOT. It has a many year agreement with the minis that it can use the tracks in exchange for the upkeep and maintenance of the volunteer laid two-foot tracks. That is in the event the standard railroad should ever want to restore standard service to the area. But whether or not the minis could find adequate storage for all its rolling equipment and the volunteers to manage the event is up for grabs – when the minis relocate – to Gray?
Please visit post herein dated August 25, 2017 for more background information on the situation. This blogger, as a former volunteer at the Museum, has written numerous other posts – going back as far as September 9, 2010.