Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Saga of Roll 99

In the April 1988 edition of Trains Magazine (The Magazine of Railroading), this excursion, to be run by the 470 Railroad Club, was advertised:

May 28-29, 1988: Excursion on Bangor & Aroostook Railroad from Bangor, Me to Fort Kent, Madawaska, and Van Buren with possible side trip to B&A yard in Canada. First generation diesel power with three ex-DL&W coaches. Fare is $170 which includes rail trip, lodging, two box lunches, and breakfast.

Simple enough, right? Get yourself to Bangor by plane or car and ride the excursion and return home? Well not for us. In the words of Daniel Burnham, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood". Nor, might I add, those of little boys who still like to play with trains. The "us" in question for this trip were myself and friends Rick and Phil Moser from the Chicago area and Dave Ingles from Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Looking at a map of Maine, you'll notice that Madawaska is right at the tip. In fact you can't go any further north and still be in the US. Right across the river is Edmundston, New Brunswick. Also, looking at the map you'll notice that the trip was basically a round trip from Bangor to Van Buren. This meant that if "getting the mileage" was your main goal, riding one way would be sufficient -- either boarding or "escaping" at Van Buren. A few calls to the trip operator ascertained that this would not be possible because of border issues at Van Buren, but boarding or leaving the train in Madawaska was a distinct possibility. Riding one way gave us the flexibility to do "other things" -- the other things involving riding other trains.

Eastbound Atlantic (our train) at Saint John
Eastbound Atlantic at Saint John
How to get to or from Madawaska? Well it turns out that Edmundston had rail service at the time. It was also where the passengers on the trip would be spending the night of May 28. Traveling with the group to the hotel and leaving from there the next morning was one possibility. Getting to Edmundston on our own, riding from Madawaska to Van Buren and return on the 28th and then riding from Madawaska to Bangor on the 29th was the other. Our decision was made for us when we discovered that an overnight stay in Moncton was necessary to get from Edmundston to Montreal, but not when getting from Montreal to Edmundston.
Eastbound Atlantic (our train) after leaving Moncton

Since the train from Moncton to Edmundston only ran on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, that meant we needed to get to Moncton in time to catch the train to Edmundston the evening of the 27th. There were two trains from Montreal to Moncton in 1988. One was the Ocean (still in service today) which ran on the Canadian National route. The other was the Atlantic (annulled in service cuts in the mid-1990s) which ran on the Canadian Pacific.

While awaiting the Atlantic we caught a CN freight at Amherst

Westbound Atlantic in Amherst, Nova Scotia
I flew to Montreal on May 26 (in those days you could do nonstop from Pittsburgh) and met up with Rick, Phil (who had flown in from Chicago) and Dave (who had flown in from Milwaukee via Detroit). The Atlantic left Montreal at 1840 that same day. The route crossed Maine in the middle of the night, bisecting our route on the BAR at Brownsville Junction at 0245 on the 27th (assuming we were on time). By the time I awoke we were safely back in Canada and were probably approaching Fredericton Jct. at 0745. We went through Saint John, New Brunswick at 0900 (Dave's sister and brother-in-law lived there at the time), and we arrived in Moncton at 1100.

In Amherst, Nova Scotia
A CN freight with a strange rear car
The train to Edmundston left at 1815 (arriving at 2255) giving us about nine hours to kill around Moncton. We, what else?, rented a car so that we could do some railfanning in the area. We headed off to Amherst Nova Scotia, taking pictures enroute including the westbound Atlantic. We drove back to Moncton, turned in our car, and had dinner prior to the departure of our train to Edmundston and eventual transfer to our hotel.

A Via Rail Canada RDC set similar to our train to Edmundston (at Marsh Jct)
On Saturday, May 28 we had most of the day to kill before the BAR train reached Madawaska. We, what else?, rented a car and did some railfanning in New Brunswick. Coming into town the previous day we crossed a really high and long trestle east of the city (actually east of Great Falls). We dubbed this the BFB (or Big Bridge). That was one of our destinations for photography. One thing I particularly remember besides the impressiveness of the BFB was a swarm of bees nearby. I have since learned that this is the Salmon River Trestle and it is the second longest bridge of its type in Canada (the first is on the Canadian Pacific at Lethbridge--I've also ridden across it).
On the BFB

Entering the BFB

On the BFB

We then drove back to Edmundston and photographed trains all around the area, crossing back and forth across the border multiple times. We had lunch on the US side of the border. By the time we had crossed the border to catch the BAR train to Van Buren the border control people on both sides just waved us through.

The 470 Excursion Train in Madawaska
In due time the BAR train arrived, and we found seats in one of the coaches for the ride to Van Buren where the train was turned and backed out across the bridge, crossing the border. Although we couldn't get off the train on the Canadian side, we were allowed off on the US side for photo opportunities. After this the train ran back to Madawaska and the passengers were transferred to the hotel we had been staying at in Edmundston. We, having a rental car, made the trip on our own.

The 470 Excursion Train on the Van Buren bridge
We had just crossed back into Canada when Dave announced that he had lost a roll of exposed film. This was the (now) infamous roll 99. We retraced our path back to the train and spent some time looking around the car we had been riding in, without luck. So we went back across the border into Canada in our rental car one last time, turned it in, and had dinner with other friends from the train. (I believe this was the first time I encountered seafood pizza.)

Short consist means more photos!
The next morning we transferred to the train along with the rest of the passengers going back to Bangor. It wasn't long after we sat down that Rick found roll 99 on the floor near his seat. He handed it to Dave who, to this day, still believes that we had hidden it from him overnight. (His words when shown an early draft of this article were "And yes, I still think you guys hid Roll 99 from me!") (We hadn't.)

At Eagle Lake
One of the joys of traveling with the 470 Railroad Club was that the trains were small (three cars in this case) and the passengers were reasonably knowledgable. This means that it was easy for the club to set up a large number of photo runbys on the way down to Bangor giving us ample opportunity to photograph the train.

At Twin Lake
We arrived in Bangor (actually Northern Maine Junction) at 1623 and started for home. Dave was making a presentation to the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts in the Boston area and drove down there. I believe Phil flew home from Bangor, while Rick and I arranged to ride to Portland with another passenger, had a New England shore dinner, and flew to our respective homes the next morning.

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