This steam locomotive is heading to Ellsworth

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Number 470 in service along the Rockland Branch, 1950. Ron Johnson Collection (used by permission)

Railroads may still thrive in many parts of the world, but in rural Maine — especially in sparsely populated eastern Maine — they have fallen out of practical favor as highway improvements paved the way for cars and trucks to become the preferred mode of transportation.

That does not mean, however, that there aren’t people in eastern Maine who love trains.

There are, of course, and many of them are involved with Downeast Scenic Railroad and New England Steam Corporation, two nonprofit volunteer-run organizations whose goals are to preserve railroad heritage in Maine. They are teaming up with each other to restore Maine Central Number 470, the largest steam locomotive in the state, and to bring it back into service in the Ellsworth area.

In today’s world, when oceans can be flown over in a few hours and people can see and hear each other around the world in a digital instant, it can be easy to forget that when it came to crossing continents, the railroads once were the fastest means of both transportation and communication. In the second half of the 19th century, railroads and trains represented the peak of technological advancement.

Technologies overlap as they wax and wane. After World War II, analog and electrical devices were becoming more prominent as steam locomotives were being replaced by more cost-efficient and powerful electric and diesel engines.

Because of that technological overlap, and because of the nostalgic appeal steam engines still had for many even as they were being phased out, there are film and audio recordings of Number 470’s final run from Portland to Bangor and back again in June 1954.

And thanks to contemporary digital technology, they have been posted on the Internet and I can embed them directly into this blog post. Take a few moments to watch and listen to what it is rail enthusiasts want to bring back to life in Hancock County.

The video at top was preserved by Northeast Historic Film of Bucksport and the second one was shot by Joseph Vaughn (neither of which have audio tracks). The third and fourth videos consist of interviews conducted by WGAN radio (with some audio glitches) and are accompanied mostly by still photos. The bottom two videos show the current condition and location of the steam locomotive in Waterville.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for 20 years, Bill Trotter keeps track of how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coast shape the lives, lifestyles and livelihoods of coastal Maine residents and visitors. A resident of Ellsworth, Bill covers Acadia National Park, Hancock County, fisheries, marine-related topics and more for the BDN. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.