Rail enthusiasts in Portland say goodbye to Monson No. 4

Posted April 01, 2014, at 5:31 a.m.
Last modified April 02, 2014, at 5:31 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Smoke and steam billowed from the gleaming black locomotive as it clacked its way around the curve on Saturday. A crowd of people lined the two-foot track, snapping hundreds of pictures while the train chugged around the city’s eastern shore. Children on a nearby walking path waved. The conductor tugged at a cable, the whistle shrieked a salute and Monson No. 4 made its last runs.

“The Federal Railway Administration certificate on Monson No. 4 expires at the end of [March]”, said Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. and Museum trainmaster Brian Dunham on Saturday. “So, this is the last day we get to run Monson No. 4 before we have to do some major maintenance.”

The locomotive needs a new boiler. Officials at the museum don’t know when it might be back in service — certainly not before the operation moves to Gray sometime in the next two years. So, Portland has probably seen the last of the nearly 100-year-old engine.

The museum still has its diesel locomotive and will continue operations as usual this summer, but without a steam train. Volunteers are currently restoring Bridgton & Saco River Steam Locomotive No. 7. It was built in 1913 for the Bridgton and Harrison Railway. Its new boiler is scheduled to be installed this summer and the train might be ready to roll by late fall.

Railway enthusiasts from all over New England were on hand Saturday to say goodbye. They watched the train roll out of the shed in the morning, then take on 800 gallons of water. They aimed video cameras at engineer Joe Monty as he stoked up the boiler. Later, they were given the opportunity to take pictures on a special night run.

Monson No. 4, built in 1918, started its working life hauling quarried slate six miles from Monson to Monson Junction, where it met the Bangor and Aroostook line. When the Monson Railroad, affectionately called the “two by six” for its six miles of two-foot track, went belly up in 1943, it was the last commercial narrow gauge railroad in the country.

Following WWII, the locomotive spent many years at Edaville Railroad in South Carver, Mass. In the early 1990s the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. and Museum brought it back to Maine. Volunteers at the museum have been seeing to its needs, polishing its brass and running it up and down the tracks since then.

“It’s a living, breathing thing,” said fireman Kyle Collins, who works in insurance when not tending to trains. “You treat her well, she’ll treat you well. If you screw up, then she’ll let you know. I’ll definitely miss it.”