The Roundhouse Podcast

Wandering Spirit: Another Historic Journey

Ed Note: This report was written by Ed Lecuyer, who hosted Wandering Spirit during the Fall of 2019.

The next day we visited the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and then went to the Stewartstown Railroad to meet another celebrity railroader. As seen on “Have Steam Engine, Will Travel”, John and Barney Gramling were visiting Stewartstown with “Mack” one of their travelling tank locomotives. Being a fan of the show, I was a little star-struck when I pulled into the historic Stewartstown station lot to find John and Barney kibitizing among the other railroaders, with the same good humored camaraderie they delight in on TV. Would they welcome this outsider from the obscure world of Maine narrow gauge?

John immediately recognized my WW&F cap and quickly recalled his visit to Maine several years ago. Barney was delighted to meet “one of those crazy WW&F guys” and quickly was asking questions about our ongoing boiler constructions, and the Mountain Extension over the Trout Brook bridge. He regretted that his schedule would not permit him to help lay track over the bridge the following weekend.

While John retired to the camper (“for a nap” Barney explained) we took two excursions down the Stewartstown behind “Mack” and Stewartstown’s little Plymouth, “Mighty-Mo.”

Oct. 5, 2019: Wandering Spirit with TV stars “Mack” (Jeddo Coal #85) and Barney Gramling.

The Stewartstown is a delightful gem of a railroad. Its route sneaks through the woods, climbing and curving as if it were narrow gauge. Complete with light 60# rail, it is a true time capsule of the “farmers railroads” that once populated the area.

Wandering Spirit’s Fall 2019 Adventure would culminate at the WW&F. We’ve been working tirelessly over the last few years on the Mountain Extension, a 3/4-mile of railroad twisting down a 3% grade, through a nature preserve, and culminating with a crossing of Trout Brook. Hundreds of volunteers would be converging at the museum over the four-day work weekend to lay 2100 feet of track to and across the bridge. If all went according to plan, the track would cross the bridge on Saturday morning, with WW&F locomotive #9 crossing Trout Brook for the first time since 1933 that evening during a special “first run”. I intended to be on that Saturday night train, with Wandering Spirit.

As one who is not facile with a spike maul, my role as Dispatcher would instead keep me stationed at Sheepcot, WW&F’s base of operations, during the most of the work weekend. Of course, Wandering Spirit would be at my side in the dispatcher’s office.

Oct. 11, 2019: Wandering Spirit poses atop a ticket cabinet in the WW&F Sheepscot station / dispatcher office.

Friday’s track laying went according to plan and the railhead was now just a few dozen feet shy of the bridge. But Saturday’s weather was damp, which caused delays negotiating the mountain grade (and its non ballasted track.) When difficulties prevented the final train from getting “out of the hole” it was decided that the first non-track-building train over Trout Brook would best wait for Sunday or Monday. My and Wandering Spirit’s much-anticipated trip on that first train would have to wait.

Sunday, the weather cleared and track laying was now well past the bridge. Trains were running on schedule (pleasing this Dispatcher) as over a hundred workers descended the WW&F to lay track, while families came to ride seven scheduled steam trains to take a ride to a pumpkin patch. But then the dispatcher’s phone rang…

It was Jason, the railroad’s CMO. He needed locomotive #9, the 1891 Portland-built Forney that is the pride of the WW&F to deliver a replacement rail down the Mountain. A rail had broken during spiking, trapping the rail train and its crew at the end of track – over the Trout Brook bridge. Thus, there would now be three active trains on the line: the work train, a rescue train, and the scheduled passenger train – requiring train orders under Dispatcher control. My heart sank as I realized I would be trapped as Sheepscot station Dispatcher – and completely unable to be on the first train over Trout Brook. As I filled out the Form 19 authorizing the extra movement, I came upon an idea.

I quickly packed up Wandering Spirit in its handsome wooden case. Delivering the train orders to engineer Bob, I asked him for a favor. Holding the box aloft I explained that I wanted him to bring it on the first run over the bridge. Perplexed at the urn-sized container he exclaimed, “who’s in the box!”

Chuckling, I opened the case to reveal Wandering Spirit – and he agreed to have it in the cab. So not to damage the model railcar, we placed it back in the box and Bob positioned it carefully in the Engineer’s seat. Wandering Spirit would be going over Trout Brook in style!

Oct. 13, 2019: With Trout Brook bridge just ahead, Wandering Spirit (in box) occupies the engineer’s seat of WW&F locomotive #9. This would be #9’s first trip over Trout Brook since the railroad closed in 1933. (Photo by Bob Longo)
Oct. 13, 2019: Mission accomplished. WW&F #9 crosses Trout Brook for the first time in 86 years. Wandering Spirit (in box) is clearly visible in the engineer’s seat. This photo has been widely distributed, appearing in Trains Newswire, and on the cover of both the WW&F Newsletter and Mass Bay Railroad Enthusiast’s Callboy. The post featuring this photo has been seen by over 43,100 Facebook users – bringing great exposure not only to the WW&F, but to the Spirit Railcar project. (Photo by C. Stewart Rhine)

While saddened that I personally could not be on the first run over Trout Brook, I realized that this encapsulates the whole point of the Spirit Railcar project – to be able to go and experience places that time and resources would not allow. Circumstances kept me off the first train that I (along with hundreds of others) helped make possible, but I could be there – in Spirit. In a sense, I was not only on that train, I was in the engineer’s seat!

Wandering Spirit is now off to its next adventure. I can’t wait to see where it goes next – regardless if it lands on a modest basement empire, or if the stars align (and Scott Lindsey gets his wish) in the cab of the Big Boy.

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