Maine's Forgotten Railroad

Pure Americana Snowmobiling
race report2
Rare Iron – Snowmobilers in the Northeast flock to see these massive rare old steam trains and relive a piece of Maine’s lengthy logging history.
race report3
Cherished memories – Rod Fraser, Maria Fraser and Paul Lehane check out the interior of the 1901 Locomotive No. 2.
race report1
Historic Site – The locomotives of the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad have stood out in the cold and exposed to Maine’s elements for 44 years.
race report4
Glimpse of past – Operating from 1927 to 1933, these trains moved an average of 6,500 cords of wood across the tracks to the West Branch watershed in Maine each week.
One of northern Maine’s most interesting snowmobiling destinations is the abandoned steam locomotives and rail cars of the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad on the shores of Eagle Lake, located in northern Piscataquis County.

Eagle Lake is part of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a pristine 92-mile-long protected area made up of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams winding through the heart of northern Maine’s vast commercial forests and managed by the State Department of Conservation.

This old abandoned railroad is accessible only by water or hiking in the summer, but is easy for snowmobilers to get to in winter and provides a fun, historical destination for riders wanting an adventurous day trip.
Through the years the popularity of the abandoned locomotives as a destination for snowmobilers has been increasing. This is not only an entertaining trip, but a glimpse into Maine’s lengthy logging history.

Some background
The railroad was built in 1926 by Madawaska Co., owned by Edouard “King” LaCroix, to bring wood for the paper making industry from the region surrounding Eagle and Churchill Lakes over to Umbazooksus Lake, owned by Great Northern Paper. This connects to the west branch of the Penobscot River for transportation down to Great Northern’s mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket.

All of the equipment for building the railroad was moved by Lombard tractors from Lac Frontiere, Que., to Eagle Lake. LaCroix sold his operation to Great Northern in 1927 and the first load of wood was moved on June 1 of that year.

There are two locomotives on the site, one built in 1897, the other in 1901. The Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad operated them here from 1927 to 1933, moving on an average week more than 6,500 cords of wood along the tracks to the West Branch watershed.

On Sept. 3, 1933 operations ended. The locomotives were not worth the cost of transporting them out of the woods, so they were parked in a shed, shut down and abandoned. In 1966, the shed was burned and the engines have stood outside, exposed to the elements and victimized by vandals, ever since.

Riding off the map
The day trek to the trains can begin from Millinocket, Greenville, or by
trailering to a closer starting point, such as Kokadjo Village or Northeast Carry on Moosehead Lake.
We began our excursion from Millinocket and traveled ITS 86/85 to the Grant Brook Rd., a local club trail, and continued on club trails that took us across Third Debsconeag Lake, Rainbow Lake and Chesuncook Pond, before arriving at the southern tip of Chesuncook Lake. From there, we traveled on the lake along the western shore to Chesuncook Village.

The trail to the trains is not shown on the Maine Interconnecting Trail System (ITS) map, or on local area trail maps. To get there, you must take the ITS and local club trails to Chesuncook Village on the western shore of Chesuncook Lake. There, you can get further directions to the trains at the Chesuncook Lake House from the Suprenant family that lives there and operates the Lake House as an inn.

The Chesuncook Lake House was built as a farmhouse and boarding house in 1864 by Ansel Smith, to supply logging operations in Northern Maine. It is a great place to gas up and enjoy a nice lunch from the Suprenants before heading back out on the trails.

The trail from Chesuncook to the trains takes you through beautiful back country. And riding the lake provides you with awesome views of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain and its surrounding mountains and countryside.

Wildlife is abundant in this area and it is not uncommon to come across a moose in the trail, taking a break from traveling through the deep snow.

Coming off Chamberlain Lake onto the final stretch through of woods to the trains, you will see, on your left, two boilers and a steam engine. These made up a steam driven tramway that was built in 1902. It transported logs over ground from Eagle Lake to Chamberlain Lake. The boilers were built by E. Hodge Co., East Boston, Mass., in 1901. During the six years the tramway was in operation, it is estimated to have hauled 100 million board feet before its use was discontinued.

The entire round trip excursion to the locomotives totals 144 miles from Millinocket and 162 miles from Greenville.
Driving your sled alongside immense steam locomotives that are over a century old is something few snowmobilers will experience. This all but forgotten railroad is a rare piece of American history unknown by most and it will not be found in history books.

Having the opportunity to visit these trains, this remote area of Maine and share this experience and history with my son and daughter is an experience I will never forget.
This is the essence of why we snowmobile, producing fun and exciting family experiences we will cherish for a lifetime.

For more info about the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad, visit the Maine Department of Conservation website, www.maine.gov. Learn more about the Chesuncook Lake House at www.chesuncooklakehouse.com and view its webcam and blog to find out the latest trail news. Get more info about Chesuncook Village at http://chesuncookvillage.com.

The Engine's history

Locomotive No. 1 was built in June 1897 at Schenectady Locomotive Works, Schenectady, N.Y. and stamped No. 4552, for the Chicago, Hammond & Western Railroad No. 109. It also served as the Indiana Harbor Belt No. 109 then in 1912 as Potato Creek No. 8 and on the Grasse River RR in upstate New York as No. 63, before being purchased by LaCroix for work in the Maine woods.
Locomotive No. 2 was built in 1901 in Dunkirk, N.Y. by the Brooks Locomotive Works and stamped No. 4062. It was built for the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern RR, as No. 780 for hauling freight. It later became the New York Central No. 5780 and operated in Ohio until it was purchased and moved to northern Maine.
This locomotive became the primary engine, with the Schenectady locomotive as a backup. They were built to burn coal, but were converted from coal to oil to prevent the start of forest fires caused by escaping burning embers from the coal-fired boiler.
All of the oil was transported in 50-gallon drums by truck from Greenville, Maine, to Ripogenus Dam, then by barge to the terminal end at Umbazooksus Lake.

COMMENT ON THIS ARTICLE
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of AmSnow.com are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
0
Sign up for our free newsletter
By signing up you may also receive reader surveys and occasional special offers. We do not sell, rent or trade our email lists. View our Privacy Policy.

IN THE MAGAZINE