Facebook Page

The Sandy River & Rangeley Lake Railroad Trip 6/22/2015

by Chris Guenzler

Robin and I drove into Maine and travelled through beautiful countryside on the way to Phillips our first stop of the day in this state.

The Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad station in Phillips, built in 1905. We then drove across the river and drove onto the property.

The Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad

The Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad (SR&RL) was a two foot narrow gauge common carrier railroad that operated approximately 112 miles of track in Franklin County, Maine. Former equipment from the SR&RL continues to operate in the present day on a revived, short segment of the railway in Phillips.


Josiah L. Maxey, a Gardiner banker who had recently financed construction of the Kennebec Central Railroad, obtained legislative approval for consolidation of the Sandy River Railroad and Phillips & Rangeley Railroad (P&R) on March 10, 1891. Maxcy purchased controlling stock of the Sandy River Railroad in 1892 and then obtained controlling stock of the Franklin & Megantic Railway (F&M) in 1897. Under Maxey's direction, F&M purchased the Kingfield and Dead River Railway (K&DR) at auction on August 2, 1898; and the F&M, K&DR and Sandy River railroads operated under common management until formally merged as the SR&RL in January 1908. Under Maxcy's direction, SR&RL purchased the P&R and the Madrid Railroad at auction on June 12, 1908 and the Eustis Railroad at auction on August 24, 1911.

Maine Central control

As part of the New England transportation monopoly organized by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, the SR&RL operated as a subsidiary of the Maine Central Railroad from 1912 until receivership in 1923. Maine Central built 37 box cars, 37 flat cars, three cabooses and a baggage-RPO car in their Portland Terminal Company shops for the SR&RL between 1912 and 1917. SR&RL locomotives 15, 16, 17 and 18 were re-boilered in the Maine Central Waterville shops during the same period and a four-mile freight branch was built from Perham Junction to Barnjum.

Outbound lumber traffic declined from 50,000 tons in 1906 to 11,000 tons in 1919. Pulpwood traffic increased as smaller spruce trees were harvested. The Phillips shop converted two-thirds of the flat cars for loading with four foot long pulpwood logs by installing high, slatted sides and ends loosely resembling a stock car with doors and roof removed.

Federal railway post office service between Farmington and Phillips ended March 13, 1917. Freight traffic peaked at 157,809 tons in 1919; but 84 percent of that freight was pulpwood, and demand for pulpwood declined dramatically when federal paper contracts were canceled at the end of World War I. 1919 was the last year of service on the three miles of the former Eustis Railroad beyond Langtown.

Various curtailments of winter service were tried over the following years to reduce operating costs. Winter service was discontinued on the former K&DR north of Kingfield from 21 December 1921 to 1 May 1922. Winter service on the former P&R was discontinued from December 15, 1922 to May 1, 1923. Eight of the railroad's thirteen operational locomotives were damaged when the Phillips roundhouse burned on February 12, 1923. Josiah Maxey and Kingfield mill and hotel owner Herbert Wing were appointed receivers when bond interest went unpaid.


The receivers took control on July 8, 1923 and discontinued freight service north of Perham Junction on the former P&R from November 24, 1923 until June 1, 1924, but passenger train service was continued over the entire system through that winter. For the next five years, winter freight and passenger service on the former P&R north of Phillips was discontinued from December through May. The former F&M remained in service for receiver Wing's mill in Kingfield and for a Carrabasset wood veneer mill built by the Lawrence Plywood Company in 1924. The veneer mill used surplus World War I tanks to haul logs out of the woods.

The Phillips shop built internal combustion railcars numbered 3 and 4 in spring 1925. These passenger rail motors substituted for steam passenger trains during the summer months until October when snow and ice removal required daily operation of steam locomotives with pony plows. Railcar number 5 was built during the winter of 1926-27.

Rails were removed from the 1.9-mile Mount Abram Branch to Soule's Mill in November 1924 and from the northern 4.4 miles of the former K&DR from Carrabasset to Bigelow in summer 1926. In 1927, rails were removed from the P&R extension formerly serving the Rangeley Lake House hotel.

In 1928 Oxford Paper Company began shipping pulpwood from Barnjum to their mill in Rumford Falls. The receivers operated extra winter trains to Barnjum and were encouraged to resume full year service over the former P&R commencing May 20, 1929. The last steam train left Rangeley in May 1931 and railcar service over the former P&R north of Phillips ended in autumn of that year. Following a precedent set three years earlier on the Kennebec Central Railroad, Maxey suspended all train and railcar service when the last mills shipping their products via the SR&RL transferred their business to highway trucking firms. Two SR&RL highway trucks began carrying express shipments on July 8, 1932 and no trains operated over any part of the railroad through the following winter.


After observing reliability of winter truck traffic over Maine State Route 16, the Lawrence Plywood Company petitioned the railroad to resume service from their Carrabasset mill to Farmington. Operations resumed on April 17, 1933 with sale of unused equipment as scrap to meet operating costs. Dismantling of the former P&R began during summer 1934, but service to Phillips was required to reach the railroad machine shops; so the receivers petitioned for abandonment when rail removal reached Phillips in April 1935. A scrap metal firm purchased the railroad at auction in May and service ended on July 2, 1935. Remaining rails were lifted for scrap metal in 1936.

In 1970 a group of local railfans at the Phillips Historical Society formed a project to document the SR&RL. This group eventually formed a separate non-profit organization to preserve remaining equipment from the railroad. The non-profit now operates a short heritage railroad on the trackbed of the original SR&RL at Phillips.

Our Visit

We stopped the car by the old Phillips station and parked.

The tender of Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes 2-6-0 18 built by Baldwin in 1893 and rebuilt in 1916 as a 2-6-2. It was the last locomotive to run on the railroad and the engine was scrapped in 1936.

We drove to the roundhouse where we found our hosts Bob Troup and Al Houghton.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes coach 6 built by Laconia Car in 1884.

Phillips section house built in 1900.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes box car 59 built by the railroad in 1909.

Sandy River Railroad replica 0-4-4T 4, built by Wesley Spear in 1972, with a gasoline engine that makes it move.

The Armstrong turntable built in 1904.

The Blacksmith Shop. Now let us tour their roundhouse.

An unlettered box car.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes 7 ton switcher 14, nee U.S. Metals 14, built by Plymouth in 1947.

Unknown passenger cars under restoration.

Diesel generator.

Work carts.

Box car 121 built by Maine Central in 1912.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes 12 ton switcher 11, nee U.S. Metals 11, built by Brookville in 1980.

Two views of the roundhouse.

Roundhouse view.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes box car 73 built by Portland Company in 1898.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes tool car 562 built by the railroad in 1883.

A sink in the roundhouse. Now let us go back outside and look at more.

The outhouse.

Coal loader.

Back of the roundhouse.

The Maplewood station.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes caboose 559 built by Al Houghton in 1988 and is a copy of 556.

A marine boiler.

The rear of the section house.

Reeds Mill section house.

A Phillips view.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes open car 32, nee Edaville Railroad 34 built by Portland Company in 1895.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes coach 33, ex. Edaville Railroad 54, built from Bridgeton and Saco River boxcar 54 by Portland Company in 1895. Edaville converted it to a coach with longer roof, platforms and windows.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes box car 155 built by Portland Terminal in 1917.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes caboose 556 built by Maine Central in 1912.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes logging flat car 271 built by the railroad from a boxcar in 1922.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes one quarter of a milepost sign.

Handcar shed.

An original switch stand.

Roundhouse view.

Two Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes views.

A hand car.

A nice rolltop desk.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes baggage cart.

Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes views.

They were preparing to put the engine on the turntable for our trip.

Moving an Armstrong turntable.

Diesel 11 will sit and watch.

The engine moves to the center of the turntable.

The engine has turned sufficiently to exit the turntable and we would now climb into the engine for our ride.

Click here for Part 2 of this story!