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Edition #254  September 15, 2015

Supper Time is Over

Photographer: Bob Hughes


                                                                                   Photo by  Bob Hughes


Supper Time is Over

I’ve always had an interest in trains and railroads.  The usual kid’s stuff; pretty good layout of post-war Lionel trains (which I still have, somewhere), always tried to get a window seat on the New Haven train trips to the City, always counted the cars on the passing freight trains and wondered where they were from and what they were carrying, that sort of thing.

It wasn’t until 1964, my freshman year at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, that I first heard the word “Railfan”, and realized there were other people who liked trains.  That led me to Waterville Yard, the Maine Central Railroad’s operating hub and largest classification yard.   Switchers (I later learned they were “Alco’s”) could be seen working the yard almost anytime switching out incoming loads from the branch lines, taking empties to the Scott mill in Winslow, returning with loaded paper cars, and making up new outbound trains.

Over the next four years, I became fascinated by the Maine Central and the key role it played in the State of Maine’s economy.  All the traffic serving Central and Northern Maine went through Waterville.  The company shops were there.  Tower A was a busy place with train orders, register books, and a modern interlocking machine, paid for by the State of Maine after a highway relocation project.

I learned about freight cars and how they were handled.  Waybills told a story of each car.  Switch lists were puzzles worked out by the Conductors and their brakeman, who unscrambled the different cars on different tracks, their only break being “Time for Supper”.

On this particular evening, we find 2nd Trick Yardmaster Burns Hillman (now enjoying retirement in Florida) getting some air in the summer evening, with his arms crossed in anticipation.  He’s watching the locomotive’s headlight, which is reflected off the signal mast, about to peek around the corner of Tower A. RB-1, a Portland to Bangor daily freight, is coming off the “Back Road”, having descended the hill around Colby with dynamic brakes whining.  He’s got a bottom green on the signal, and is preparing to stop in about a mile at the east end of the yard.

The train orders to “Run Extra to Northern Maine Junction” are in the high hoop, and will be caught by the fireman as the engines drift by.  The lower hoop holds the Conductor’s copy of the Form 19 orders, as well as waybills for the cars RB-1 will pick up at the east end of the yard.  Yardmaster Hillman is keen for this move to go smoothly; he has his eye on his watch, and hopes RB-1 reaches the interchange with the Bangor and Aroostook before 11:59pm, saving the Maine Central Railroad the per diem charge of $6 per car.

The two new diesels behind the switcher are the Wood Job’s power, a weekday train of 60 cars loaded with pulpwood brought in from the branch lines by the locals running out of Waterville.  With RB-1’s arrival, the Back Road is now clear for this heavy train to run to Leeds Jct., then up the branch to the new IP mill at Jay, and on to the huge Rumford paper mill at end of track.  The Wood Job’s crew is impatient; they want to tie onto their train, get a brake test, and get out of town.  But first the switcher will go down through the yard to help RB-1’s crew with their setoff and pickup.

The Switcher 4’s crew is just getting their jackets on, ready to head back to work; they have only a few minutes before RB-1’s train and buggy are by Tower A.

Supper time is over.

Bob Hughes

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