The volunteer crew reattaches the smokestack to the boilers at the tramway on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Credit: Courtesy of Roger Morneault

Roger Morneault is one of those guys who, when he says he is going to do something, it happens! Roger has been one of the driving forces behind the restoration of the tramway in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The tramway is a unique log-moving apparatus that transported logs from Eagle Lake to Chamberlain Lake, a distance of 3,000 feet.

The tramway is nestled in a cove at the northeastern end of the Chamberlain Lake. It was built in 1902-03 in an area so remote that when operations ceased five years later, the owner just walked away and left everything in place. Once the logs were dumped into Chamberlain Lake, they were boomed up and towed down to Telos Dam. From there, the logs were sluiced through the dam, down Webster Stream and eventually arrived in the Bangor area via the log drive.

In 2012, I put out the word that the AWW was looking for volunteers to help restore a section of the tramway. Roger, who had previously volunteered to repair the Allagash Mountain fire tower, contacted me expressing an interest to work on the tramway project. He recruited a bunch of family and friends. They were signed up as volunteers and they went to work clearing a section of the 100-plus-year-old railbed.

The work was not easy, but they stuck with it. One of the trees that had to be cut was over 20 inches in diameter. The stumps and roots had to be dug out using hand tools, come-alongs and a chain fall. When I went to check on them three days into the project, they were hard at work chopping roots and pulling stumps. They made several remarks about how difficult it must have been to build the tramway back in 1902 using only manpower and horses.

This initial volunteer effort energized others to help. Steve Barnes, a carpenter in the Ellsworth area, heard about what was going on and offered to reconstruct a 25-foot section of the tramway. Jim Young from Connecticut undertook the installation of the belt between the steam engine and drive mechanism. A group from Chewonki that was paddling the waterway helped rangers dig out the giant cog that turned the cable that moved the logs.

Roger has been back with friends on three other occasions to work on the restoration project. They jacked and leveled the drive mechanism, connected the steam pipes and reinstalled the smokestack.

Roger wants to come back and resurrect the rollers at the end of the tramway next summer. When the logs came off the tramway cog, there was a system of rollers that transported logs into Chamberlain Lake.

One of the unique things about the tramway restoration is that the original parts were all lying on the ground right where they were when the tramway was in operation.

There has been tremendous support for the tramway restoration effort. The timbers were donated by Viking Lumber, 100 miniature railroad spikes were forged at the Windsor Fair by a group headed by Bob Brann, Cianbro Corporation cut and donated the steel for the spikes, Brookfield Power had a bearing forged, the late Tom Thornton donated $2,000, and the late Rick Denico, former Chairman of the AWW Advisory Council, worked behind the scenes helping to line up donors.

Roger Morneault once told me, “I never thought this would happen in my lifetime.”

The tramway is an engineering marvel that operated more than a century ago. The steam-powered system for moving logs is a testimony to those who came before us, their ingenuity and willingness to take on any problem. The tramway is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The AWW has about 1000 volunteer hours donated annually. People help with anything from maintaining campsites to building a chimney. If you would like to volunteer in the AWW or donate towards any of our ongoing projects, please contact me by email or phone.

The AWW is managed by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Parks and Lands as a wilderness canoe area.

Matt LaRoche is Superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a Registered Maine Guide, and an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at 207-695-2169 or at matt.laroche@maine.gov.