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WW&F Track Laying Weekend, May 2000
WW&F Track Laying Weekend
May 13 and 14, 2000

© George C. Thomas 2000

I had planned to go to my 40th high school reunion on May 13, but on May 8 I found out it was also the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway’s track laying weekend. 40 minutes over to Pennsylvania or nine hours up to Maine. It didn’t make sense, but I chose the latter.

My wife and I drove up to Kennebunk after work on Friday and spent the night at a friend’s place. I left the next morning and arrived in Wiscasset around 9:00. A work train was about to head out, but a visit to the head was in order. First things first. I was told to go around the engine house to the green house. Being from New Jersey, the Garden State, I was impressed; a bathroom in a green house! But then reality struck...

My trip to the work area was nothing less than total luxury. How else could one describe a ride in the Wiscasset & Quebec coach 3, which ended a bit past the 1/2 mile marker. I was greeted by a friendly group of volunteers ranging in age from 8 to 80, or thereabouts. I didn’t ask who was oldest, but the 8 year-old, who came with his dad, told me he was almost nine.

Other than knowing that spikes were pounded into ties with hammers, my knowledge about laying track was limited to a visit to the WW&F Ry website. But I soon found myself using a heavy pry bar to lift ties while skilled workers spiked down the rail. There were often three spiking crews at work and the sound of the hammers was music to my ears. My poor hand-eye coordination prevented me from being at all effective swinging the hammer; besides, those spikes can go zinging off in any direction if they’re not hit correctly, and I did not want to cause any injuries.

I did, however, carefully drive in a few spikes, so if you ever ride on the WW&F Railway, and I sure hope you do someday, think to yourself, “George pounded some spikes on this section!” as you pass over the area known as Cock-Eye Curve. No matter how many other times I work on the WW&F Railway, I think this will always be my favorite part of the right-of-way. After all, it was the site of my first track laying experience.

We kept spiking the rails, and when we reached the end of the ties we had to stop working. We took the “work train” back to Sheepscot Station and found that the flatcar was already loaded with a more than ample supply of ties. So we hopped on the flatcar and rode back to Cock-Eye Curve. Our next job was to carry the ties and place them on the cleared roadbed.

By that time the rail cutting crew had completed their job back in the shop. When the rails arrived the experienced crew decided which rail should go where, and we carried them and placed them on the ties. The rails were then bolted together with joint bars and the spiking process began again. By this time I was beginning to feel my age, and then some. Carrying a heavy pry bar, railroad ties, and rails are not the usual activities of a fourth grade teacher.

The crew worked hard and finished spiking this “new” section of track. I should mention that we did stop to eat a most welcome lunch sometime during this second spiking session. Then, for a change of pace, a front end loader loaded (what else?) some ballast on flatcar 118 and we were off again. I found yet more muscles to get sore as we shoveled the ballast between the ties. It was, however, fun to experience a different type of work. Our reward for emptying the load? Why naturally, another trip for more ballast!

And then the work day came to a welcome end. And when I use the word work, I mean work. Our total for the weekend was a record (so far) of about 740 feet of track put in place. Not bad when you consider that a large number of the work crew was inexperienced. A wonderful barbecue cookout followed; the Museum sure knows how to thank an exhausted work crew!

Speaking of our crew, the photo at right shows about half of our 25+ workers, including me, second from right in the front row. A disadvantage of being a photographer is that you’re not in too many pictures. But that’s outweighed by a big advantage; cameras are much lighter than pry bars, etc. After all, someone has to record the events, right?

As darkness fell I had to find a place to sleep. I had planned to bunk down in the “Hotel Sheepscot,” also known as boxcar #309, but it was already full. I guess I should have called ahead for a reservation! So I got my bindle and headed for caboose #320. It was locked. A few of the guys had invited me to spend the night in the station, but I had my heart set on sleeping in some rolling stock, so my search continued. Then I remembered old (1894) coach 3. With bindle in hand I headed for bay 3 of the engin house. My persistence was rewarded; I got to spend the night in the “Sheepscot Hilton.” A historic coach sure beats out a boxcar!

Photo by James C. Patten

I awoke early the next morning feeling older than the 100+ year-old coach. Stiff and sore! Was it from the all the previous day's work or the hard floor? Probably both.

After breakfast at Karen’s Kitchen in Wiscasset a smaller work crew headed out for Cock-Eye Curve. More spiking continued until we ran out of rail. While we were waiting for more to arrive, several of us hiked along the cleared right-of-way to the Humason Brook trestle. Wow! That area will sure be a scenic highlight of future trips on the WW&F Ry.

And then it was time for me to leave. My long trip back to Delran, New Jersey, via Kennebunk lay ahead, but somehow I knew I’d be back for more track laying weekends.

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