By Abigail W. Adams
Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railway Museum President Steve Zuppa stands in Coach 3 before it pulls out of the station during the museum’s annual picnic Saturday, Aug. 8. The coach is one of the many pieces of equipment that are operational once again, due to the work of the museum’s volunteers. (Abigail Adams photo)
The year could be 1895 or 1922 as passengers board the train and ride through 2.5 miles of Alna’s rolling hills and woods. The passengers could have been farmers transporting their crops to the market, children attending school in a neighboring community, or merchants transporting their wares.
The men, women, and children who boarded the train that departed the Alna station Saturday, Aug. 8 were there to celebrate the history of the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway at the annual picnic held by the museum’s volunteers.
The stories of the people who used to ride the lines are disappearing, museum President Steve Zuppa said. While first-person narratives are harder and harder to come by, the volunteers of the museum are working to ensure history is not lost by restoring and preserving the railroad that served as the only reliable year-round transportation for Lincoln County residents over a century ago.
“This was the internet of its day,” Zuppa said, pointing to the railroad lines rebuilt by Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum volunteers. Those lines connected people to each other and to the market when traveling by horse and buggy was impossible in the winter months, he said.
Founded in 1895 as the Wiscasset & Quebec Railroad, the railroad line was constructed due to the dream of entrepreneurs convinced they would make their fortune if they were able to connect to Canada’s grain market. The railroad line never did reach Canada – the lines stretched from Wiscasset as far north as Albion before debt forced the railroad to reorganize as the Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railroad in 1901.
Again in financial trouble, the railroad reorganized into the Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railway around 1907. While the lines never reached Waterville or Farmington either, the railway remained operational until 1933, facilitating commerce, connecting people, and building the economy of Midcoast Maine.
Approximately 25 years ago, one man’s passion project brought back the railway that was, at one time, a crucial part of the infrastructure of the region. Harry Percival purchased the remaining right-of-way owned by the railway in Alna, resurrected the Wiscasset & Quebec Railroad Corp., and formed the Wiscasset, Waterville, & Farmington Railway Museum.
The museum now has over 1,000 members, 2.5 miles of restored railroad lines, approximately six railroad cars, three locomotives, and counting. The railroad lines and equipment were resurrected through the work of the museum’s volunteers – people who share Percival’s passion for restoring the past. “This was huge,” Zuppa said. “The railroad never made a lot of money but it made a huge difference in the lives of people that lived here.”
The restoration of Engine No. 9, the last surviving 2-foot steam locomotive constructed by the Portland Locomotive Works Company, is in its final stages at the Wiscasset, Waterville, Farmington Railway Museum in Alna. No. 9 will hopefully be operational by the museum’s next annual picnic, museum president Steve Zuppa said. (Abigail Adams photo)
While a museum, the organization is not static, Zuppa said. It is in constant motion, with volunteers engaged in repairing and restoring the railroad lines and equipment that Lincoln County residents depended on so long ago. The museum hopes to add another 8/10 of a mile to its railroad lines to connect it to Route 218.
Volunteers are also in the last stages of a project that has lasted for 20 years – the restoration of Engine No. 9, the only surviving 2-foot steam locomotive built by the Portland Locomotive Works company. Engine No. 9 was leased to the museum with the stipulation that it be restored.
Volunteers have worked for two decades to make the locomotive operational again and are now on the verge of placing it back on the railroad tracks.
The museum’s annual picnic has also been occurring for approximately 20 years. Initially an opportunity for the museum’s membership, which includes people from Australia, the U.K., Germany, and other international locations to reunite, the long-standing event is now open to the community and is an opportunity for the museum’s volunteers to showcase the work they have done in the past year, Zuppa said.
The membership is hopeful next year’s picnic will feature Engine No. 9 back on the rails of the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway, pulling behind it the museum’s line of restored passenger coaches, boxcars, and flat cars.
The Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum, located at 97 Cross Rd., Alna, is open Saturday and Sunday through Columbus Day with trains running six times a day. Those with anecdotes about the railroad are strongly encouraged to contact the museum at www.wwfry.org or 882-4193.