The Beginning of an Era
By CHARLES V. KIHLMIRE
THE BANGOR DAILY NEWS
November 30, 1946
"This here railroad might not be as long as the Canadian Pacific," Pat
Shaw, the conductor on the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad, admits,
"but, by gorry, she's just as wide." And that loyal pronouncement just
about sums up the B&ML. For the B&ML, the only municipally owned
railroad in the United States, has always been a frustrated railroad. It
started out in 1867 with a charter to lay a line to Moosehead Lake so that
the rich timber and other resources of the interior of Maine could be freighted
to the seaboard and then shipped by boat from Belfast. It never got farther
than Burnham Junction, 33.07 miles away. But it has kept running and now
enters a new era.
For the first time in more than 20 years the “Broken and Mended,” as the road is affectionately referred to by Waldo County folk, is going to have some brand new equipment. Two brand new Diesel-electric locomotives will be in service within the next few days on the line. They'll save the road more than $21,000 a year in operating costs, according to preliminary studies, but it won't be the old “Broken and Mended” any more.
The B&ML was originally planned to hook up with the Dexter and Newport, but finances ran out before this ambitious program came to fruition. In 1870 the road reached Burnham Junction, about 14 miles outside of Waterville, and was then leased to the Maine Central Railroad for 50 years.
In 1920 that lease expired and the Maine Central then leased the road on a year to year basis until 1925 when it gave it up as unprofitable. Then the City of Belfast, which is the majority stockholder in the road, had to take it over. Although it still retains its corporate entity as the Belfast and Moosehead Railroad and is operated by a board of directors and officers elected by them, there is no blinking the fact that the city is the actual owner.
Out of 6,481 shares of stock, the city owns 5,000. There are 115 other
stockholders among whom the 1,481 other shares are split, with no one person
owning more than 300. This came about because in the railroading boom of
the late 1860's the city borrowed $500,000 to start this railroad as an
adjunct to the then active port of Belfast. It was issued stock for its
money and this stock it has always retained.
BACK HOME AND BROKE
When the line was returned to its owners by the Maine Central in 1925, it was so broke it had to borrow money to get started again. It leased its rolling stock and its locomotives were secured from the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad—locomotives that were then outdated and are now some 44 years old.
In the period since the road came back home, it has paid for the rolling stock it leased and has shown a profit of some $5,000 a year. That the road did come back and now, in a measure, achieves its original purpose with something of a reverse twist is one of those things for which there is no logical explanation except community loyalty, hard work and good service.
A look at the company's books is enlightening. In 1945 the trains on this 33-mile railroad traveled 53,993 miles, a distance equal to twice around the earth at the equator. It carried 24,152 passengers an average distance of 18.92 miles each and it carried 101,402 tons of freight. Prospects are this year it will carry even more freight and come closer to achieving its original destiny.
Today the B&ML is about half a supply line and half an export line. Its biggest single freight item is grain which it carries into the rich dairy section lying behind the coast. Its next principal item of freight, however, is pulp which it brings out to the seaboard or ships through to the mills at Waterville. Next to pulp is canned goods, which is an export item coming from the farming and canning communities of the hinterland and going to the markets of the world. The next item is anthracite which is an import by way of the sea to Belfast harbor and so into the hinterland.
And so, although it never tapped the rich forests of interior Maine
and never shipped slate from the Monson quarries, it did in its own way
take on the job of supplying and exporting the products from the land through
which it runs.
Right now the granite quarries at City Point, which have been inactive for a generation, are booming again and granite is being shipped to the sea over the B&ML. This is a new source of income for the railroad and it is expected to develop into quite a carrying trade.
The road right now employs some 39 people and has a weekly payroll of
$1,200. Peculiarly enough although it has but 33 miles of roadbed and services
a limited section of the State of Maine, the road is under the jurisdiction
of the Interstate Commerce Commission and files the same reports and statistics
each year as does the New York Central or the Pennsylvania. "Only there
aren't so many of them," Wilfred I. Hall, auditor of the road, smiles.
THE NEW LOCOMOTIVES
The new Diesel-electric locomotives were built for the road by the General Electric Company at its Erie plant. A preliminary survey of the roadbed and the load factors made it necessary for the GE to provide a new type of locomotive between the giant continental type and the yard switcher.
At Knox some 15 miles out of Belfast, the road, which has been gradually climbing almost from the time it leaves the sea, comes to the apex of the grade—a point 500 feet above sea level. The profile of the line as the engineers laid it out looks like a picture of the Rocky Mountains, since the height of grade in comparison to the length of the road is all out of proportion. This made necessary a pretty powerful locomotive and GE came through with a 70-ton job developing 600 horsepower.
The steam locomotives currently in use weigh 120 tons with the tender, and thus a definite saving in weight on the roadbed is made. It will take some time for the new locomotives to be put into service after they arrive. Crews must be trained to operate the Diesel-electrics and running tests must be made before they can actually be put to work.
But one of these days the old sweet-toned whistles of the 6-4's will
give way to the blare of an air whistle on the cold seacoast air and while
the Belfast and Moosehead will enter into a new era of modernity the good
old days of the Broken and Mended will be gone forever.
Courtesy Charlie Campo, Chief Librarian, Bangor Daily News.