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Frank Winter was a lumber baron who owned sawmills and lumber interests in Palermo. According to the book “The Maine Two-Footers” by Linwood Moody, his grand schemes were brought to a halt by the great Depression and his death in 1936.
The wreckage of his business was left to rot. The most famous relics were the two schooners, Hesper and Luther Little, which Winter bought to haul lumber south and return with coal. These were abandoned next to the pier in Wiscasset, where they became one of Maine’s most cherished reminders of the past.
Less well known is little narrow gauge Engine No. 8, which derailed south of Whitefield.
Winter had purchased the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railroad to operate the land aspect of his coal-and-lumber scheme, but he abandoned the line after this derailment. Poor little Engine No. 8 sat with its nose in a ditch for years, slowly succumbing to rust and vandalism, until it disappeared in the scrap metal drives of World War II.
The WW&W Railroad started out as the Wiscasset & Quebec, which was founded in 1854, but remained nothing but a grand dream for 40 years. Then in 1894, a narrow gauge rail went into construction, stretching ambitiously north from Wiscasset toward Quebec.
To quote Linwood Moody, “To say the Wiscasset & Quebec had grandiose dreams would be an understatement. To gullibly accept all the promises its promoters made would be an insult to our alleged intelligence.”
The promoters did their jobs well, and people poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the project. All would regret their investment decision.
The rail crept up to Albion and Alna, Whitefield and Week’s Mills. But the dream ended near Belfast, where further progress required the line to cross tracks owned by the larger Maine Central Railroad.
The Maine Central had no interest in letting an upstart competitor built a crossing. The W&Q complained to the railroad commissioner, who decided that they could indeed cross Maine Central’s track using an overhead bridge (a rather unlikely solution, given that the terrain was flat), and they could install a temporary diamond crossing, as long as the construction did not disrupt Maine Central’s operations.
When construction crews showed up to install the crossing, they found that traffic on the Maine Central had suddenly increased drastically, giving them no time to tear up the tracks without disrupting the line. So much for the dream line to Quebec.
The W&Q eventually became the WW&F. The narrow gauge line struggled to break even and changed hands several times. To keep it from shutting down, a coalition of local farmers and businessmen raised $60,000 to buy it. These unhappy investors would eventually sell or give their shares to Frank Winter for the total sum of $6,000. The railroad had $5,000 in cash, so the whole operation only set him back $1,000.
The railroad went downhill quickly. The track repair crew was cut to six men, most of them elderly. Train crews were slashed to three men: engineer, fireman, and conductor. As track maintenance suffered, derailments became more common.
On June 15, 1933, little Engine No. 8 was moving along south of Whitefield when it broke through the outer track and came to a rest just a few feet from a narrow river bank.
At one time, this sort of mess would have been cleaned up in a day. But Winter abandoned the engine and the entire railroad. Linwood Moody’s book shows three photos of No. 8 taken years apart, the wooden cab withering and the bell and other parts being stripped away. It sat there even after the tracks themselves had been hauled off for scrap.
Finally, to quote Moody, “when scrap for war became important, somebody sneaked across the Whitefield bridge one night, cut up the little engine, and on the way back cut up the iron bridge too!”
Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The wreck of Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railroad Engine No. 8 on June 15, 1933.