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Edition #265  March 1, 2016

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People Made It Fun

Photographer: Bob Hughes

                                                                                                             Photo by  Bob Hughes


People Made It Fun

Modern Railroading isn’t as much fun as it was in the old days, and I believe the difference is the people.  Until 1965, I didn’t know what a “railfan” was. One day I noticed a printed flyer posted on a college bulletin board announcing a “Railfan Meeting”.  Intrigued, I showed up and found about six other guys who were interested in a hobby I did not know existed!  I got lucky with this first introduction to railfanning, because Waterville Maine was home to the Maine Central Railroad’s large classification yard, with a robust business sorting cars hauling wood pulp and paper products, trainloads of potatoes from Aroostook County, and other kinds of freight.

Before computers and email, there was a lot of manpower and paperwork required to run the railroad.  There were train crews consisting of engineer, firemen, conductor, and head and rear brakemen; track workers, car inspectors, shop mechanics, block operators, freight agents, yardmasters, and bill rack clerks.  And they were just some of the people. It seems quaint today, but dispatchers wrote train orders by longhand, and with “Form 19, copy three” on the dispatcher’s open wire, summoned their operators, who copied the orders in long hand with double sided carbon paper, or if they were lucky, manual typewriters.  Without their orders, the trains didn’t move.

The people on the Maine Central were almost always friendly to anyone expressing interest in what they did.  Of course, the main event was usually finding, chasing, and photographing trains, but in pursuit of that goal, I found meeting and talking with working railroaders to be lots of fun.  I made some lifelong friendships, and heard many great railroading stories from earlier years.

One person I became friends with was Maine Central Railroad agent-operator Phil Tracy.  Phil held a relief job covering Tower A Waterville for weekend shifts, and finished his work week at Burnham Junction, about twenty miles east of Waterville, the interchange point with the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad.

Here’s Phil finishing up some reports and paperwork.  The waybills showing the details of incoming and outgoing shipments have been processed, and he is completing his car report to send on to Portland.  Burnham Junction was sometimes used to deliver train orders, but there are none today, so the order board levers are locked in the clear position. The typewriter is at the ready, a bunch of railroad keys are hanging from Phil’s belt, and the only thing missing from the scene is Phil’s corncob pipe, which was a signal that we were about to hear some good railroading stories from Phil’s vast experience with the Maine Central.

It was the people like Phil Tracy who made railroading fun.

Bob Hughes

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