Brooks Preservation Society continuing to make tracks

By Steve Fuller | Oct 05, 2008

Brooks — Since acquiring the Brooks train station and a former Belfast & Moosehead Lake locomotive this summer, the Brooks Preservation Society has been chugging right along.

The old platform between the train station and the tracks, which forced visitors to choose their steps carefully due to rotted wood, has been torn up and replaced with a new platform made of pressure-treated lumber.

The materials for the platform — 90 pressure-treated boards — were all donated by EBS. At $16.95 for each board, that works out to be a gift of more than $1,500.

Work is also being done on the building’s roof. While shingling, it was discovered some of the boards in the roof needed to be replaced. Workers have tackled the side of the roof that was leaking, and are moving on from there to shingle the rest of the roof.

The inside of the station, which is filled with indications that people have been toiling, can now be illuminated when needed, as the electricity to the building has been turned on.

The society has also acquired three pieces of rolling stock — a locomotive, an open-air excursion car and an enclosed inspection car. That particular locomotive, B&ML 50, holds a special place in the history of the now-defunct rail line for two reasons. It was one of the first pieces of brand-new rolling stock the railroad ever purchased and also one of its first two diesel-electric locomotives.

Railroad historian Bruce Cooper, on his Web site detailing the history of the B&ML (cprr.org/Museum/BMLRR), said the railroad purchased two 70-ton diesel-electric locomotives from General Electric in 1946.

Cooper said the two new engines, which were numbered 50 and 51 and delivered in late November 1946, “were soon hauling freight and passengers with remarkable efficiency, thus opening a new era for the B&ML.”

To illustrate that point, Cooper included the following information on his Web site — at 660 horsepower each, locomotives 50 and 51 produced 60 percent more traction power than the three circa-1901 locomotives that preceded them, and also cut fuel and labor costs by as much as 80 percent.

Cooper wrote that the new and improved locomotives “turned the B&ML from a money loser into a profitable line almost overnight.”

He continued:

“The line did so well with its new power, in fact, that it was able to pay off the $104,000 cost of the new engines by June 1950, which occasioned a well-attended celebration held next to the hand-powered Armstrong turntable in the Belfast train yard, at which the mortgages for the two engines were ceremonially burned on a pyre of old railroad ties.”

Joe Feero, executive director of the Brooks Preservation Society, said the group hopes to bring locomotive No. 50 (currently in Unity) and the open-air excursion car (currently in Thorndike) down the rail line to Brooks in early November.

Volunteers, Feero said, have done a lot of work on the tracks in preparation for the move. A large washout in Knox, for example, has been filled in. All of the work has been done by hand, as Feero noted with a chuckle that young organizations such as BPS don’t have the luxury of using power equipment.

The Belfast & Moosehead Lake Preservation Society also made a sizable donation to BPS — an extensive collection of the railroad’s records and other materials dating from the 1920s to the 1990s.

Feero said the amount of material donated was staggering — two extended cab pickup trucks, filled in both the back and the front, and a similarly loaded Chevrolet Cavalier, each made two trips to move the records to their new home.

“They would fill the station,” said Feero of the donated materials.

The group also recently acquired a railway express stamp that dates back to the early part of the 20th century. Sitting in the train station on a recent evening, Feero said the stamp would have been used by well-known station agent Linwood Moody.

“This is the first time it’s been in the station where it came from for probably 40 or 50 years,” Feero said.

The station has recently been included in the Maine Historic Preservation Commission’s “Maine Historic Resources Inventory.” Feero said MHPC staff informed him this listing “will provide the same protection as if it were already listed in the National Register [of Historic Places].”

“That is big for us, because it protects the building,” said Feero.

The station may eventually be included in the national register. Feero said he has been told the station, in the commission’s judgment, “is eligible for nomination” to that list. The commission will review the matter in April 2009.

BPS is planning to open up the station and host a Halloween event Oct. 31, where kids will be able to come in and trick or treat.

Feero offered his thanks to the City Point Central Railroad & Museum, a group he said has done a lot to support BPS by sharing everything from historical knowledge to tools to make track repairs.

He also thanked Harvest Home Grange No. 52 for allowing the society to use the grange building as the site for meetings.

Brooks Preservation Society meets 6:30-8:30 p.m. the third Thursday monthly at the grange. Membership has grown to almost 20 members, but people don’t have to join in order to attend meetings.

Donations of money, or of materials relating to the B&ML or Brooks Station, are welcomed by the group, Feero said. Anyone wishing to make a contribution can write to the Brooks Preservation Society, 31 Veterans Highway, Brooks, ME 04921.

The society’s goal is to create a museum inside the train station. To that end, BPS is specifically looking for material related to either the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad or the Maine Central Railroad, which owned the tracks through Waldo County for more than 50 years.

The group has a Web site, currently under construction, at brookspreservation.org. Feero may be contacted at jfeero@brookspreservation.org.
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