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WW&F Track Laying Weekend, April 2001
WW&F Track Laying Weekend
April 21 and 22, 2001

© George C. Thomas 2001

The Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railwayís 2001 track laying weekend coincided with my 59th birthday--what better way to see if my advancing years were getting the best of me! So after work on Friday I drove 462 miles to Alna, Maine. I didnít want to waste time stopping for food so I took along a bag of Baby Ruth candy bars and a 12-pack of Coke. Sounds healthy, eh? But the caffeine probably helped me stay awake after a busy week. I arrived at Sheepscot Station around 1:00am, and after a quick trip to the ďgreen houseĒ I crawled into my car for a few hours of shut-eye. Luckily Iím not bothered by cold weather so I was plenty warm in my sleeping bag.

I must have slept fairly well in the reclining front seat of my little Toyota ECHO, because I was awakened by the sound of the motor in the car next to me. It was early Saturday morning, and the Syracuse guys were already up and getting ready to head to Wiscasset for breakfast at Karenís Kitchen. I rolled down my window, asked them to wait a minute, and slipped out of my sleeping bag and into my moccasins. In my haste I forgot my glasses, so I couldnít read the menu, but at least you donít have to see well to appreciate good pancakes. Three cups of coffee helped complete the transition to the waking world.

After breakfast we drove back to Sheepscot Station and gathered back at the WW&F yard. It was great to realize that I recognized several of the guys. Iím talking faces now, not names--I share that problem with many people. It also felt good when many of them remembered me (and my web page) from last year. What a difference a year makes!

We hopped in the caboose, and the Plymouth diesel took us out to the 3/4 mile marker, currently the end of the line. But not for long! The ride was most enjoyable, especially Cock-Eye Curve where I helped lay 740 feet of track last year. I think this will always be a favorite part of ďmyĒ railroad.

Several ties were already in place, so our first big job was getting the rails. Nothing like starting us off with heavy work, but then again, carrying the ties would not have been an easy job either. Several 30-foot lengths were loaded on the little yellow work flat and pushed to the end of the track. Then the muscle work began! Iím not sure my body was ready, but I didnít want to be known as a shirker, so I joined the crew.

ďEast rail, to the edge of the car, lift (ugh!), north, four feet, two feet, down (whew!), south two inches, good!Ē The above pictures show this being repeated with the west rail. Then the insta-track was attached so the work car with the track could be rolled to the end, and two more rails were added. When all the rails were in place the spiking began.

Because of my poor hand-eye coordination, I elected to abstain from spiking. A spike can go zinging off in any direction if theyíre not hit correctly and I did not want to hurt anyone by hitting them in the face. So I found a pry bar and used it to lift the ties while skilled workers spiked down the rails. Not that this was easy work; the pry bar was heavy and I could feel my arm getting longer. By the end of the day I figured I could tie my shoes without bending over!

We were careful to use the track gauges as we spiked the west rails. We certainly didnít want a repeat of the June 13, 1933 derailment! Two feet apart on the straight parts--a little wider on the curves. When we were finished spiking the 150 feet, more ties arrived. A tape measure helped us space them out, two feet apart, for another 150 feet. A few of the younger, stronger guys carried one or two ties alone--I preferred to share the fun with another worker.

On and on the cycle went, but to be perfectly honest, it never got boring. Thatís probably because it was so much fun working with these volunteers. Oops, I forgot. The WW&Fís RULES AND STANDARDS FOR OPERATIONS states that volunteers are considered to be employees. At any rate, this employee really enjoyed working with all the members of this track laying crew.

150 feet of ties, east rail, west rail, insta-track, more rails, insta-track again, and finally spiking when all 150 feet of rails were in place.

A well deserved lunch break helped rest our weary bodies. In general, pizza is OK, but on this particular day it was great. The fact that Jason called in the order a little late made it taste even better!

The afternoon would have been a repeat of the morning except for all the mud in the straight section after Cock-Eye Curve. And when I say mud, I mean mud! We laid a total of 480 feet of track before dinner. We hopped on flatcar 118 and the Brookville took us back to Sheepscot Station. A few drainage ditches were taking the water away from where we would be working on Sunday, so we had high hopes that there would be little or no mud.

Dinner was superb. Jason can work a spatula almost as well as he can boss a track laying crew. James offered to take pictures of the group before people departed for the evening. Here are 22 of the almost 30 that worked on the WW&F that day. Iím the one with the railroad hat and the beard. Which one? Oh, Iím in the back row right in front of the front end loader.

Photo by James C. Patten

A night trip after dinner capped off a super 59th birthday. I even got a cab ride in diesel 52. When we got back to Sheepscot Station I was offered a space in the freight station or old coach 3. But I wanted to do something different from last year, so I slept in caboose 320 on Saturday night. Oh, did my muscles ever ache!

The next morning several of us headed for Karenís Kitchen. The biscuits and gravy really hit the spot, and I enjoyed seeing my breakfast while I ate it!

A smaller crew laid more track in the muddy section; showers during the night ended out dreams of the area drying out. The mud made carrying the rails especially challenging, because we had to take baby steps to minimize the chance of slipping. It made me feel like we were in a chain gang, you know, ďWhereís Cool Hand Luke?Ē

It should also be noted that I joined the spiking crew on Sunday. Why? Well, the spikers were quite tired after all their work on the previous day, so I figured that I could hit the spikes just as good. And guess what--I did! It was so much fun I wish I had tried it earlier.

I glanced at my watch an saw that it was almost noon. I helped carry the last rail into place and then called it a day. That gave us 180 feet on Sunday for a weekend total of 660 feet. Less than last yearís record of 740 feet, but still very impressive. My long trip home to Delran, New Jersey, was ahead of me, and I knew I needed a good nightís sleep before I tackled a full week in my 4th grade classroom. But Iíll be back to work on the WW&F again!

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