Rail revival continues in Brooks

By Steve Fuller | Dec 01, 2008
Photo by: Tina Shute

Brooks — People driving through town Sunday, Nov. 2 had the chance to see a real, live locomotive moving along the tracks.

That former Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad locomotive — B&ML 50 — brought an open-air excursion car with it, and visitors to the Brooks train station could ride in the locomotive.

Joe Feero, executive director of the Brooks Preservation Society (BPS), estimated 40 to 50 people welcomed the locomotive's arrival. Attendance would have been greater, he said, but the group had only received confirmation a few days earlier that it would be able to move the locomotive from Unity to Brooks.

Making the move possible, however, took much longer than that. Feero said volunteers worked throughout the summer repairing tracks between Brooks and Unity. That entailed fixing washouts, cleaning crossings and removing trees that had grown up along the tracks.

Some work also had to be done to the rolling stock. The open-air excursion car, for example, had to have bad wheels replaced. That involved removing the entire wheel assembly, replacing the wheels and putting it all back together.

"It wasn't really a big chore, but we were dealing with heavy stuff," Feero said. "One of our members had a tractor, and that did the heavy lifting."

The excursion car is actually a former bulkhead flatcar from the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad. The B&ML acquired the car, Feero said, and cut the ends off and added railings and fencing to turn it into a passenger car.

Another new piece of equipment acquired by the BPS is an enclosed, motorized inspection car. It, too, has something of a lengthy history. The Brooks group got it from the B&ML, who Feero believes had acquired it from the Canadian National railroad line.

Feero added new bearings, and other members have done work on it as well. The inspection car runs on gas and has a four-cylinder Ford Pinto motor. Feero said it can move along the tracks at a pretty good clip, transporting volunteers from one work site to the next and carrying tools.

Looking ahead to next year, Feero said BPS is planning on running excursion trips along the line. Where those trips will go is not known for sure just yet. In the meantime, volunteers continue to work on getting the track up to snuff.

"We've been partnering up with City Point folks to complete those tasks," Feero said, referring to the Belfast-based City Point Central Railroad & Museum. "It's definitely a joint effort."

Work also continues at the train station in Brooks. The leakiest side of the roof has been replaced, and work is being done to continue cleaning the grounds around the station. The rail siding has to be fixed, Feero said, which entails removing grass and dirt and putting in new wooden ties. The station's floor also needs to be replaced.

One new addition will allow people working inside the station this winter to remain warm. Feero said one BPS member recently sold a station agent's stove to the group at a very discounted price. The stove dates back to the late 1800s or early 1900s, Feero said, and would have been a common sight in many passenger train stations at that time.

The stove runs on coal, and has the ability to heat the whole station. BPS members found that out Oct. 31, when they were getting ready for a Halloween event.

"We got it so hot on Halloween Day that we had to open the windows and the doors," Feero said. The stove adds a "nice, homey comfortable feeling to the station," he added.

The Oct. 31 event, said Feero was very well attended by community members -- about 100 came -- and he said the preservation society is glad to get people back in the station.

"Traditionally, local railroads have been community centers," he said. "We would like to continue that tradition."

While BPS is glad to have volunteers for the manual labor, it also wants to hear from members of the community who have memories of railroading in general and of the Brooks train station in particular.

"Even if they just want to share stories and talk about stuff — that's the people history that's so important," Feero said. "Those stories are important and we love to hear them."

Now that there is once again activity on the railroad tracks, Feero asked people to be alert when traveling over railroad crossings. Even if a sign indicates railroad tracks are exempt, he explained, there may still be rolling stock and other railroad equipment moving along the line.

Exempt crossings, Feero said, mean people in the locomotive or motorized inspection car need to stop when they get to the crossing. Once they're sure it's clear, they proceed through. If a vehicle comes along on the road while the railroad equipment is going through, Feero said it's the vehicle operator's responsibility to stop and wait.

"Usually, when automobiles hit railroad equipment, the automobiles lose," said Feero, who added that people need to remember the adage of stop, look and listen.

The Brooks Preservation Society meets 6:30-8:30 p.m. the third Thursday monthly at Harvest Home Grange No. 52. Anyone wishing to make a contribution to the group may do so by writing to the Brooks Preservation Society, 31 Veterans Highway, Brooks, ME 04921. Feero may be contacted at jfeero@brookspreservation.org.
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