Click for larger imageWhen I was about ten years old, my father brought home a book called "Two Feet Between the Rails".  This heavy volume detailed the history of tiny, narrow-gauge railroads in the far away state of Maine.  I spent hours pouring through the book and imagining life in the early 1900s riding these small trains.  Two decades and four thousand miles later, I saw the trains for myself.

The United States experienced a boom in railroad building after the Civil War.  While most of the country was linked by standard gauge lines, remote or geographically isolated areas often installed narrow gauge lines as they were cheaper and easier to build.  The smallest of these Click for larger imagewere the two-foot gauge railroads of Maine. Between 1881 and the Great Depression, these tiny railroads provided freight and passenger service throughout the state.  Highways, trucks and the recession doomed the lines and they were torn up and scrapped. In 1991, the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum was created to collect and restore the remaining pieces of these little trains.  (Gauge refers to the space between the rails.  Standard gauge measures four feet, eight and one half inches between the rails and is the gauge used in most modern railroads.  By comparison, narrow gauge lines in Maine had just twenty four inches between the rail - less than one half the size of standard gauge.)

Click for larger imageThe museum tracks are just a few feet from my hotel.  After breakfast at the Port Hole Cafe with lobstermen selling the day's catch to a broker across the street, I head down to the museum.  It would be easy to mistake the trains here for an amusement park ride; the size of the cars and the track are so small they resemble toys, not serious trains which once transported a significant portion of Maine's economic output.

I really want to see the steam locomotives, so I tell my sob story of reading the book when I was ten and driving across country to the museum staff.  They dispatch a tall, young, lanky volunteer to take me out to the dark and dirty engine house (this is how they described it to me).  The young volunteer repeatedly apologizes for the cramped and tight space.  The engine house is too small to allow much photography, but I'm amazed to be standing next to century-old locomotives I've only ever seen in photographs. 

Click for larger imageAfter the private tour of the engine house and a ride behind a more modern diesel locomotive along the Portland waterfront, I wander through the museum itself.  The miniature passenger cars are amazingly detailed and well restored. I wonder what it would cost to have them fire up one of the old steamers for a private run, but I decide it probably would be outside my traveling budget.

My visit to the museum complete, I head downtown for a haircut.  The woman who cuts my hair clearly is not comfortable using clippers and she's a bit shaky in her work.  I glance in the mirror back at the hotel and decide I either need to find a barber to fix the problem or shave my head entirely.  I go back out in search of a barber/repair person and find a tiny shop lodged in the basement of a building.  The ancient barber (who may well remember riding the trains when they weren't in a museum) says to me:  "A woman did this."  I nod.  He says:  "I Click for larger imagecan tell.  Only a woman does something like this." 

People in Maine have an accent that sounds a bit like sheep with peanut butter stuck to top of their mouths.  It is wonderful to listen to, especially when spoken by shipyard workers on their way home from building oil platforms. 

In cities like San Francisco, where most of the men spend time working at computer terminals or sitting behind desks, we like to pretend we still have a connection to manual labor.  We buy work boots and overalls to wear while we fix dripping faucets.  The flimsy nature of this facade is made obvious in a place like Portland where men heave dripping traps full of lobsters onto docks, weld ships together, build boats and pour concrete.  The image of the hardworking laborer still holds a lock on the idea of masculinity, but we'd rather it didn't come with so much...manual labor.  The older I get, the less I enjoy working in the intellectual Click for larger imagerealm and think more and more that I'd like to own a nice little farm on the edge of a town somewhere.  The reality of this dream might violate my fantasy, but it is nice to consider.

It is hard not to love a state where people have so much flannel and facial hair. 

Portland seems to be a rather liberal place.  They have a troupe of nuns, pot brownies, a big safer-sex condom store right downtown and bookstores hawking just about every gay title you can imagine. 

Speaking of liberal gay places, tomorrow I go to Provincetown...
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Road Trip 2003 Statistics
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The Plan - Road Trip 2003
Itís time for a road trip - a really, really big-ass road trip...[More]
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San Francisco to Maine, twenty two states, two countries and 8,000 miles...[More]
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An itty, bitty car with just enough space for a suitcase, GPS unit and...[More]
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Who would be crazy enough to drive 8,000 miles in a really small car...[More]
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