By Carol McCracken (Post # 289)
Sixteen years ago this Saturday, September 19th, many cars of the narrow gauge railroad were returned to their native Maine. The rail cars transported by a convey of antique trucks arrived in front of Portland Yacht Services about 6:15 p.m. (The railroad had previously been the centerpiece of the Edaville Railroad in South Carver, MA.) The dinner for several hundred volunteers was held on the property and catered by many of the volunteers. It was good fun.
However, the last sixteen years have been full of controversy and upheavel for the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum. T he railroad is far from where it wanted to be – for example, most of the railroad cars remain unproteced and exposed to the year-round weather. One of the original goals of providing t ransportation to the Sea Dog baseball games at Hadlock Field in Portland has not been met. The railroad has been dogged with personnel problems, lack of money and more recently by a growing movement to “Return Of The Rails” to Bridgton, Maine.
Susan S. Davis, the current executive director, confirmed that the board of directors is having an off-site retreat on Saturday, October 31 to discuss the future of the railroad. Jeff Monroe, former Transportation Director for the City of Portland, who recently joined the Board, will facilitate the retreat. At first Davis said that Monroe had been instructed to keep the “Return Of The Rails” subject off the agenda. But seconds later reversed herself and said the subject would be part of the retreat agenda next month. Davis has also met with Greg Mitchell, director of the city’s economic development office, discuss other locations in Portland where the railroad might be established. Davis said that she wants the railroad to remain here, but appears uncertain and nervous as to whether or not Sprague feels the same way. Sprague allegedly will offer the group only a two-year lease later this year; presumably to keep options open should a purchaser come along. The valuable waterfront property has long been for sale.
Davis who has retained her position for almost 3 years is the longest of the many directors to do so in the railroad’s 16 year history; a record of which she is proud. “It has given the museum stability,” she said. In that time, she said during a recent on site interview, she has “raised the profile of the railroad as one of the city’s non-profits rather than someone’s little railroad – it used to be known as Phin’s railroad. We had to get him out of public view,” she said. “We’ll always be grateful to Phin for his vision and free rent for 13 years and all of his efforts to make it a success,” Davis added hastily. She said her responsibilities include tracking the city on matters related to the railroad, attending PAC meetings, fundraising and editing the newsletter. “I get the bills paid,” she said, grinning.
“Love is the basis of everyting that goes on here. We are a big, happy family. Everyones voice is heard,” said Davis. “We’re all on the same page here now.”