All aboard … for Rail Fan Days

15 years ago

ImageHoulton Pioneer Times Photo/Karen Donato
ALL ABOARD — An estimated 200 visitors took part in the annual Rail Fan Days at the Oakfield Train Station on Saturday. Guests toured the refurbished train station, a caboose and engine. Several former employees and railroad families gathered for photos. The gift shop was busy selling railroad memorabilia, books and clothing. The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. through Labor Day weekend.
By Karen Donato
Staff Writer

    Gray skies and intermittent showers didn’t dampen the nostalgia at Oakfield’s annual Rail Fan Day on July 18. The restored train station known as the Train Museum attracted more than 200 visitors from throughout the County and beyond. Many retired railroad workers returned to visit with colleagues they hadn’t seen since they retired close to 20 years ago. Other visitors came because they were from railroad families and still others just because they were interested or wanted to support the endeavors of the volunteers in keeping the Train Museum in operation.
ImageHAVING A TOUR — Don Marley, left, of Smyrna volunteers at the Train Museum in Oakfield. He visited with Phyllis and Ron LaJoie of Caribou at the annual Rail Fan Day held on Saturday. Relatives of the family had worked for the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad many years ago.
    Volunteers Bonnie Pratt and Arthur Collier were happy with the turnout and even more excited that some visitors had brought items to donate to the museum. Earlier in the day several former railroad workers were photographed for the museum’s annual calendar. Each year volunteers plan a commemorative calendar to sell as a fund-raiser. The museum gift shop was busy selling Bangor and Aroostook Railroad clothing, caps, coffee mugs and books.
    A magic show, colorful clowns and cookie decorating kept the attention of the children that attended. Grandparents showed their grandchildren around, touring the station, sitting atop a rail motor-car, climbing aboard a rejuvenated C-66 caboose and an engine on loan for the day.
    Former railroad employees, George Smith of New Limerick, John Brannen of Oakfield and Joe Mitchell of Smyrna Mills gathered inside the train station to reminisce. They laughed and joked about some of the experiences they had 20, 30 or more years ago.
ImageRETIRED B&A EMPLOYEES — These three retired Bangor & Aroostook employees took a walk down Memory Lane during the annual Rail Fan Days at the Train Museum in Oakfield. From left, John Brannen of Oakfield with 41 years of service, Joe Mitchell of Smyrna Mills with 42 years and George Smith of New Limerick with 39 years.
    The main topic was working long shifts that started with 16-hour days or nights, then being reduced to 14 and finally to 12-hour schedules. They talked about the sub-zero weather they had to work in and how they learned fast the kind of clothes they needed to stay warm.
    Although the work had its drawbacks, railroad workers made good money and when they could work overtime it was even better. Being on the railroad was a good career for many County boys. These three men retired with an average of 40 years each in the railroad profession.
    When asked, “What would have been the best job in the railroad business, Mitchell laughed and said, “Being the President.” That resulted in a roar from his good friends.
    No matter what you did as a railroad worker, it was hard work and you were on call much of the time. It was not a glamorous job.
    Fred Hirsch from Old Town, a volunteer for the Operation Life Saver organization, brought a model train set for visitors to see that had been made by another volunteer. This group visits schools, driver education classes, snowmobile clubs and ATV organizations and gives safety presentations. They teach youngsters and adults the importance of safety around railroad tracks and crossings. There are approximately 70 volunteers throughout the state that offer their time for this cause and they do it for free. Volunteers must complete a course to be certified and there is a need for volunteers in Aroostook County.
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times Photo/Karen Donato
GRAMPY AND THE GRANDKIDS — Former Bangor & Aroostook Railroad electrician, Richard Burton of Island Falls brought his grandchildren to Rail Fan Days at the Train Museum in Oakfield on Saturday. From left, Kenzie Leask and Shayann Hamilton from Brunswick and Carson, Halee and Parker Grant from Island Falls. Burton retired from the railroad after 38 years of service.

    A poster attached to the table with the model train depicted a man with part of his leg missing and a set of crutches. It read, “I wasn’t born this way, but now I have to use crutches for the rest of my life. When I was 10 years old I hopped a train on a dare. I slipped, fell under the train and lost my leg. I’ve never forgotten that day. If someone tells you to jump a train, Don’t! Live safe, watch for trains and don’t play on the tracks.” Stay off, Stay away, Stay alive.
    Author and semi-retired businessman, Jerry Angier and his wife, Nancy came to Oakfield to autograph his latest book entitled, “Bangor & Aroostook, The Life of a Maine Railroad Tradition.” This hardcover book with more than 300 pages of rich history was four years in the making.
    Angier, from Portland, who has spent his career in the insurance industry, became interested in railroad life through his friend Curtis Hutchins who was an usher at his wedding. Hutchins went on to be President of the B&A Railroad and when celebrating the 100th anniversary of the railroad in 1991 said to Angier, “You should write a book.” So he did.
Image    After the first one, he put together a picture book in 2004 and now he says this third book is his last. It includes stories and photos of former employees from the 1880s to 2003. A wonderful keepsake.
    Rail Fan Day ended with an overwhelming crowd enjoying a baked bean supper at the Community Center followed by musical entertainment for the evening.
    The Train Museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. through Labor Day. It is located in Oakfield off I-95 exit 286. Turn onto the Oakfield Smyrna Street toward Oakfield’s Main Street, then turn onto Station Street by the Fire Department to Oakfield Station. For more information call 757-8575 or visit the Web site: