Narrow Gauge Leader Blames Volunteers For Slow Relocation Process; Process Began Almost Two Years Ago & Remains Unresolved


Volunteer John Middleton: "It's easy to mentally move the railroad. But it's something else to do it physically."

By Carol McCracken (Post # 876)

Eighteen years ago this month – September 19, 1993 to be exact – a convoy of antique trucks transported most of the former Edaville Railroad mini-cars to the Portland Company complex on the Portland waterfront. The massive undertaking was organized by Phin Sprague, Jr., manager of the Portland Complex, with the vital assistance of at last several hundred volunteers. Shortly thereafter, a “Vision” document was written by the non-profit volunteers and delivered to the City. It had two specific goals. The first was to run an “Ocean Gate” line along Commercial Street down to the former site of the International Ferry Terminal to meet passengers disembarking from cruise ships. The second goal was to run a “Sea Dogs” line, right through the East End, along Marginal Way to Hadlock Field. The “Vision” never became reality for the Narrow Gauge Railroad. Some reasons may be obvious and others not so obvious.

Almost two years ago, the Railroad, not under Sprague leadership anymore, initiated an effort to relocate to another community. Jeff Monroe, former city employee, mailed out about 60 RFPs to communities looking for a permanent new home for the Railroad – permanent being key here. The search for a new location has been narrowed down to four locations. They are Portland, Monson, Gray and Bridgton. The original responses came with no financial assistance in the deal. When asked yesterday afternoon why this process of finding a new location for the Railroad has taken almost two years, Brian Durham, Chairman of the Relocation Committee, said it’s because of the volunteers. “Volunteers who are busy with their own lives.” It’s hard to get a group of volunteers together to attend meetings and perform other functions, he said.

When asked how the railroad cars and tracks (laid by volunteers exclusively) would be moved to another location, Durham said by truck. Fundraising would have to be done to raise the money to rent trucks to make the move somewhere east of Portland – to Monson, Gray or Bridgton. Portland is not viewed as a serious relocation site. Irv Bickford, who owns numerous antique trucks and was responsible for organizing the 1993 move from the Edaville Railroad, in South Carver, MA. is no longer involved with the Railroad.
“The Great Train Robbery” as it was called was a monumental logistical nightmare including a police escort and extra trucks to carry spare parts in case the antique trucks broke down along the way – none did.

“It’s easy to mentally move the railroad. But it’s something else to do it physically,” said John Middleton a volunteer at the Railroad since “Day One.” The biggest problem here is we have no way of moving the trains and tracks anywhere. The tracks must be picked-up as well because the property is owned by MDOT – it will want the property cleaned up and left as it was. We have no trucks to do it. Middleton who volunteers as an engineer was one of the original crew members who laid the narrow gauge tracks along the waterfront route.

Other volunteers think this move will never happen. One volunteer told recently this relocation idea is only a “Plan B” alternative. Only if Phin Sprague, Jr. evicts them from his property. Durham has been reassured by Sprague that he has no intention to evict them. However, the valuable roughly 10 acres of waterfront property has been up for sale for years. A future landlord/developer might not want the Railroad on his property.

Phin Sprague, Jr. is on vacation and cannot be reached. Jeff Monroe did not respond to a telephone call for comment.
For more background information, please see Post # 688, dated January 17, 2011.

editor’s note: MHNO was formerly a volunteer at the Railroad and wrote numerous articles about it for several local publications, including its in-house newsletter.