The Old Trolley-Car Days up in Maine

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MY hometown of Freeport, here in Maine, lately demolished a building that long since had run out of a future, and a reporter, in describing this, said the old structure had various uses and at one time had been a station for the trolley cars. The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts, but when a young reporter tries to write a history he should consult an authority.

The building was never a trolley station, because our trolley line didn't have any stations. Rain, hail, high commotion, and wintry blasts went unheeded, and the incipient passenger stood by the tracks and waited. The motorman stopped, and when you stepped aboard he would say ``Mornin', Sam,'' or Sarah or whoever you were, and collect 10 cents.

The turn-of-the-century building now demolished was the car barn, the repair shop, the power house, and the offices for our 18-mile cross-country electric trolley line, which failed in the 1930s as a victim of the automobile. A sentimental pity, all the way. Maine was crisscrossed early in the century by such public transportation, each independent line connecting at both ends with other lines so one could, if lame-witted, ride out of Park Street in Boston and ride all the way to Old Town, beyond Bangor.

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It would take several days. The best way, then, to get to Bangor from Boston was aboard the Calvin Austin, the Governor Cobb, and the Governor Dingley, the white pride of the Eastern Steamship Lines. For $2 you could get a stateroom and sleep right through to Bangor, arriving in time for the 35-cent breakfast at the Penobscot Exchange Hotel. This breakfast was steak and eggs, home fries, corn bread and cream-tartar biscuits, apple pie, and a side order of logging berries, known back in Boston as baked beans. The Penobscot Exchange was a good place, but a bit expensive. Then there were always the steam cars, which left Boston's North Station and were already running clear through to Fort Kent.

Our Freeport line connected at Yarmouth with the Cumberland County system, which served the city of Portland, and at Brunswick with the Androscoggin & Kennebec Railway, which ran from Bath to Lewiston, and then on to Augusta and Waterville. But between Portland and Lewiston the traveler had an alternative. It was the Portland & Lewiston Interurban, a plush pullman line of 40 miles that was superior to the rest of our Maine lines. It had a graded roadbed that engineers considered the best tracking in America, and with five scheduled stops it made the 40 miles in exactly an hour. That was fast. It left Monument Square in Portland on the hour, and exactly 60 minutes later it arrived at Haymarket Square in Lewiston. You could set your watch by it. The 60-foot cars, each self-propelled with a wonderful chime whistle to boot, were cloud-cushions for riding, and of course that line was the first in Maine to go bankrupt because of Henry Ford.

Freeporters used the trolley line. Now and then some of us youngsters would save up to have a day in Portland. We'd catch Mr. Walsh's early morning car - he was the favorite motorman - and have lunch at the Oriental Restaurant. Then we'd look at I'd-like-thats in Owen-Moore's, see a movie (with vaudeville) at Keith's, have a ginger-ale float at Moustaki's, and then home. Didn't we make sure not to miss the last car! That made a real Saturday. Every trolley line had an amusement park, and on Sundays the whole town rode the trolleys to Casco Castle. The stone tower of the castle still stands, but the summer hotel is gone, and so are the zoo, the bridle paths, the rides, and the baseball diamond.

The school bus hadn't been invented, so when we high-school baseball boys played an ``away'' game, we got to ride not only our own Freeport line, but for Gray, New Gloucester, and Cumberland Center we used the Interurban. No school had a gymnasium, so we suited up at home, and always removed our cleats in the Interurban car - which had stained glass in some of the windows.

So this building that has just been demolished was hardly a ``station.'' It housed all the rolling stock, which included work cars, some freight cars, a snowplow, and a repair shop. It had the generator for the low-voltage that ran the cars, and this could be heard at a distance. Mr. Varney, who was the superintendent, had a roll-top desk and a lead pencil that amounted to the company office. The old trolley-car days weren't all bad.

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