This incident occurred long before I was born, but I do not question its authenticity because it was told to me by Henry Hill himself while we were surveying a wood lot that was the subject of a law suit. I was in my teens, he in his eighties:
Maine people have never been very tolerant of "people from away" who move into town and start telling the "natives" what to do. In the 1880’s, one such smart aleck named Rufus Fowles arrived in town. He bought one of the better farms in Whitefield, and put up a big sign on the front of the barn proclaiming that it was The Wild West Farm. He claimed to be a retired cowboy from Minnesota, and he sure looked the part. He stood six feet six inches, wore Western boots and a ten-gallon hat with a red handkerchief around his neck.
Although the natives looked upon him with awe, they were not about to jump when he snapped his Western bullwhip. Soon after Rufus arrived, so did the engineers, headed by Henry Hill of Augusta. They staked out the right-of-way for the Narrow Gauge Railroad that was to be built through this area. The line was staked out to go through Fowles’ pasture. The road bed at that point was to be built about six feet high, and would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Fowles’ cattle to get to the other side.
When Rufus saw what was planned, he erected a sign at the point he needed an underpass. The sign read: "I want an underpass here. Signed: Rufus S. Fowles." When Hill came back from lunch and saw this sign, he wrote on Fowles’ sign, "Kiss my ass. Signed: Henry H. Hill." (This is just an example of the reply that would be given by a real "State-of-Mainer" to those pushy ones from "away.")
The Narrow Gauge Railroad is a story in itself. It was incorporated as the Wiscasset, Waterville, Farmington, and Quebec Railroad. They laid track to Waterville, but were denied permission to cross the Maine Central tracks. In those days, the only regulatory body was the Board of Railroad Commissioners. They were largely "in the pocket" of the big railroads who feared competition from the "little two-foot railroad" if it were to run its line up through the rich farming country around Farmington, the resort town of Rangeley, and on into Quebec City, Canada.
The Commission ruled that if the Narrow Gauge could insert a "frog" (which was a mechanism for crossing the Maine Central track) without disturbing train traffic, they would be permitted to do so. Only about two hours were needed to install the "frog" which could have easily been accomplished between regularly scheduled Maine Central trips. However, Maine Central was not about to let this happen, so they ran their switching engine back and forth continuously, night and day, until the Narrow Gauge folks gave up and laid track to Albion. This was as far as they ever got.
The Narrow Gauge prospered from 1890 to 1920. It was our lifeline to the outside world. All the farm produce was shipped on it as well as freight and passengers coming into the area.
While the little Narrow Gauge railroad was of tremendous benefit to the natives commercially, it was looked upon by those "from away" as somewhat of a toy. As a matter of fact, during the "twenties" when the line began having financial trouble, a man from New York accompanied by his young son had occasion to ride on the Narrow Gauge. The boy was so fascinated by the little train, he induced his father to buy it for him. They operated it for a couple of years, but the fact that it lost money soon discouraged the old man, and he put it back on the market.
My uncle from Boston got a big chuckle out of an experience he had riding this train from Wiscasset to North Whitefield on one of his March visits to Derby Oak Farm. He reported that everything went well until they got to the stretch between Kings Mills and North Whitefield. The track ran through a large hay field near Prebles Crossing. They passed through the field and had entered a wooded area when, with bell clanging, the train stopped and started backing up.
The conductor explained that the engine had somehow blown a live spark out into the dry field and set it on fire. Apparently, this was not an uncommon occurrence because at the rear of the passenger car, they kept a big box containing brooms and shovels just for that purpose. The conductor passed out the implements to all passengers who volunteered to help beat out the flames. Most accepted the assignment, beat out the fire, and resumed the journey.
Prebles Crossing was one of several private crossings between stations. It was a convenience to the farmer who lived some distance from a station (otherwise known as a "depot" at that time). The train would stop and pick up produce or an occasional passenger at these "crossings."
Due to competition from trucks and lack of maintenance during the early "thirties," the Narrow Gauge was in deep financial trouble. The final owner was an astute businessman from Auburn who professed a great desire to restore the railroad to its former glory. He asked the farmers along the line to help him by buying debenture bonds in denominations of ten dollars each.
He held meetings in the towns along the line, and claimed he had a buyer in South America who would take the rails and rolling stock. "If you don’t believe I am ready to ship everything to South America, take a look at the two ships I have waiting at the town dock in Wiscasset ready and waiting to receive the Gauge as cargo. If you help me by buying bonds, I will keep the railroad running and with your financial assistance, improve the road bed and rolling stock."
It was true he had two old schooners tied up at Wiscasset, but what he had failed to tell them was that both were unseaworthy and had to be towed into the harbor. True enough, the Hesper and Luther Little were waiting at the dock. Who was to know that they could not get to Portland under their own power, let alone South America!
The scheme worked. The farmers bought the bonds before they discovered the ships were unseaworthy and that their new partner had several million board feet of lumber to transport from Palermo to Wiscasset. He did little, if anything, to improve the roadbed or the rolling stock. Indeed, the Public Utilities Commission prevented him from carrying passengers because of safety problems.
Alas, on a hot summer day in 1933, the little train that had served the area for almost fifty years broke through a trestle and plunged into the Sheepscot River never to run again. By that time, the roads had been improved, and trucks were more plentiful. The transition from railroad to motor carriers was smooth, and the little Narrow Gauge railroad became only a memory.
The Hesper and Luther Little sat at their berths for years and eventually became a great tourist attraction. By 1999, they had rotted to the point where they were no longer a tourist attraction, but rather a public nuisance. The town paid for their demolition and removal. Thus ended another era.
from "Recollections Of The Early Years of The 20th Century" by Hon. Paul A. MacDonald
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