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To stiffen the long pressed-steel panels.
The slate underlying what became the town of Monson, Maine had very low ionizable mineral content, and was well suited for manufacture of electric switchboards. Quarrying commenced in the 1860s and slate finishing operations began in 1870. Slate was shaped into sinks, bathtubs, tabletops, chalkboards, roof shingles, and headstones. Transporting these heavy slate products was difficult in any weather, and became nearly impossible when spring thaw turned the roads to slush and mud. The Monson and Athens Railroad Company was chartered 1 November 1882 when the standard-gauge Bangor and Piscatquis Railroad (later part of the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad) bypassed Monson by six miles. The railroad was built with 30-pound rail in the summer of 1883, reached Monson on 4 September, and opened for business on 22 October. Initial equipment consisted of two wood-burning locomotives from Hinkley Locomotive Works and two box cars, fourteen flat cars, and a combination from Laconia Car Company. The main line was promptly extended down a five percent grade to the Monson Slate Company approximately one mile beyond the Monson village depot. A car shed for the combination and a two-stall engine house were built near the depot with a passing siding and a turntable. The turntables were a bit small for the locomotives, although they proved useful when a wedge snowplow arrived a few years later. Monson train crews found it much more convenient to run the locomotive in reverse for six miles than to wrestle it around on the turntables.
Early Common Carrier Operations
Four daily round trips were scheduled to meet each of the standard-gauge trains.
The Monson train crew consisted of an engineer, a conductor, and a fireman who doubled as brakeman. The train crew shoveled snow by hand for the first winter, and then fabricated a butterfly pilot plow in 1884. Athens was dropped from the railroad name on 18 February 1885, and the Monson Railroad requested legislative authorization to extend the main line sixteen miles south from Monson Junction for connection with the standard-gauge Sebasticook and Moosehead Railroad (later the Maine Central Railroad Harmony branch.) Legislative approval was granted, but funding was never available for the extension envisioning conversion to standard gauge railroad all the way to Monson. The railroad acquired a wedge snowplow in 1888 to improve reliability of winter service. Both locomotives were converted to burn coal about 1900. A coal transfer shed was built at Monson Junction, and the woodshed at Monson was henceforth used for storage of coal. Portland Slate Company built a new mill on the Monson Main line in 1904, and six new flat cars were built by Laconia Car Company in 1905 to handle loadings from the new shipper. The additional traffic encouraged the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad to build a new freight transfer siding at Monson Junction in 1904.
Monson Slate Company Ownership
Monson Slate Company had been purchasing Monson Railroad stock for several years, and gained control of the railroad in 1908. Conductor Harold Morrill, who had started working for the railroad as fireman in 1884, was promoted to superintendent; but he continued to act as conductor through 1938. Track was extended with 2 miles of 35-pound rail to Eighteen Quarry and Forest Quarry on Monson Pond in the summer and autumn 1909. The Monson combination car carried 11,466 paying passengers in 1912, but superintendent Morrill observed that an automobile garaged in Monson was offering public conveyance and taking approximately 25 paying fares per week from the railroad. Both of the old Hinkley locomotives had serious boiler leaks, cracked cylinders, and/or broken frames since 1905; but they soldiered along until a new Vulcan locomotive arrived on 20 February 1913. Hinkley #2 never ran again, and #1 ran only on the rare occasions Vulcan #3 needed repairs. In 1916, the railroad purchased two used flat cars from Boyd Lumber Company, and built two new spurs on the main line for loading lumber and wood. The railroad also purchased a couple of hand car trailers which could carry broken slate scraps from the quarries for use as ballast along the line. Within a few years, the Monson railroad became the only railroad in Maine with completely rock-ballasted main line.
Arrival of the United States Railroad Administration in 1917 began a series of pointed reminders that Monson Railroad's oil headlights and link-and-pin couplers no longer met federal safety standards. The railroad kept the link-and-pin couplers for another quarter century of operations; but the oil headlights were removed when damaged by derailments. The locomotives thereafter ran without any headlights. Monson briefly considered a Davenport Locomotive Works 2-6-2 (similar to those being built for United States Army trench railways) before purchasing another Vulcan in 1918. Hinkley locomotive #1 was retired when the second Vulcan locomotive was delivered. Elimination of need for a source of spare Hinkley parts encouraged the innovative shop crew to strip old Hinkley #2 of all exterior fittings and attach a snowplow blade. Although the new snowplow was less likely to ride up on snow drifts, it was more likely to derail; so the old wedge plow remained in service.
Map of Monson Railroad
1928 freight tariff (including transfer charges)
rough quarried slate at $15 per carload
slate roofing at $19.50 per carload
other slate products at $24 per carload
coal or polishing sand at $16.88 per carload
cement, hay, potatoes, or petroleum products at $24 per carload
pulpwood at $1.26 to $1.60 per cord
birch at $2.20 per cord
lumber at $1.76 to $2 per 1000 board feet
explosives at 25 cents per hundred pounds
LCL at ten cents per hundred pounds
Decline of Service
The Monson engine house burned on 3 November 1919. Vulcan locomotives 3 and 4 were damaged, and old Hinkley #1 was considered a total loss. A highway truck handled mail and express shipments for 10 days until engine number 4 was repaired. Engine number 3 returned to service on 20 November, and the engine house was rebuilt in June 1920. Under pressure from the Interstate Commerce Commission, Franklin firebox doors were installed on the locomotives, and an automobile headlight was connected to a six volt storage battery to serve as a headlight. Train service was reduced from four to two round trips per day effective 10 October 1921. The Monson Pond quarry extension was abandoned in 1922. The track crew was laid off in 1933, and the train crew became responsible for right-of-way maintenance and freight transfer at Monson Junction. Locomotive #3 was the only operable engine after 1936. Passengers, mail, and express were carried in a Slate Company highway truck when the locomotive required repairs. Passenger service was discontinued on 1 November 1938.
Monson became the last of Maine's two-foot gauge railroads in commercial operation when the Bridgton and Saco River Railroad was dismantled in 1941. Infrequent flat car loads of crated slate products moved to Monson Junction until 12 July 1943. On that date Monson Slate Company received permission to use a highway truck for common carrier service. The railroad was dismantled during the winter of 1943-44 and the engine house became a garage for the truck.
Linwood Moody found Monson locomotives #3 and #4 in a Rochester, New York, used equipment yard in 1946. The two steam engines were shipped to the Edaville Railroad for restoration, and are still in operation at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum in Portland, Maine.
Monson Railroad #3 on loan at Phillips in 2007
Monson Railroad #4 seen at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum in 2006
Hinkley Locomotive Works
Named H.A.Whiting. Scrapped 1919
Hinkley Locomotive Works
Named G.S.Cushing. Retired 1913, converted to a snowplow in 1918
Vulcan Iron Works
Now based at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, currently on loan to the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad
Vulcan Iron Works
Now running at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum
Laconia Car Company
Laconia Car Company
Laconia Car Company
Laconia Car Company
Combination car later renumbered #3
Flat cars #3-4 rebuilt into box cars about 1884.
Flat cars #5-8 rebuilt into box cars in 1891. Box car #7 had small windows on one end of the car and one side of the car for use as a work/tool car.
Flat car #9 rebuilt as a snow spreader in 1888.
Flat cars #23-24 purchased from Boyd Harvey Lumber Company in 1916.
^ a b Moody(1959)p.34
^ a b c d e f Whitney(1989)p.12
Jones, Robert C. (1998). Two Feet to the Quarries: The Monson Railroad. Evergreen Press. ISBN 0-9667264-0-5.
Barney, Peter S. (1986). The Kennebec Central and Monson Railroads. A&M Publishing.
Moody, Linwood W. (1959). The Maine Two-Footers. Howell-North.
Whitney, Roger A. (1989). The Monson Railroad. Robertson Books.
Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum
Categories: Defunct Maine railroads | Two foot gauge railways | Slate industry | Narrow gauge railroads in the United States
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