ECR Trek to the Trains: February 2000

DAY 2:

The next morning we packed up the camp and headed for a bit of off roading until we reached the spot where we knew we would have to walk into Eagle Lake. Rovers can handle a lot off road, but the open areas near Eagle Lake had over 3 feet of snow. It doesn't matter how you build up your Rover, once they sink in 3 feet of snow you are probably walking home. We attacked the snow for as far as we could with the Rovers and then it was time to hike.

Starting off early in the morning gave us the time we needed to hike in and out of Eagle Lake. According to the GPS the Rovers were left stuck about 4.5 miles from the location of were we thought the trains were from our research. That means it was snowshoe time. The only problem was that the mornings cool temps were giving way to unseasonably warmer weather that the weather radio did not warn us about.

At about 10 am when the sun broke through the clouds, the snow compacted and got very heavy with each step of the snowshoe, but the lure of the trains was more then the pain of the hike. We all pressed on down the long stretch to Eagle Lake.

The snow was over well 3 feet deep in most areas, and around fallen trees the snow does not compact as it does in open areas so you have to watch your step or you sink, even with snowshoes. Actually in conditions such as these you can't walk in anything but snowshoes. Jason and the rest of us found a number of spots on the trail that sucked us in. In this image Jason is still standing on the tree in this loose powder spot, if he stood on the ground he'd go up to his chest. The benefits of walking poles in these conditions are great, they can really save fatigue and help get you out of holes. For the roughly 4.5 miles into the lake we averaged about 1.5 miles per hour slogging through the now wet and heavy snow.

The first sign that we were on the right track, no pun intended, was this pine forest. If you look closely you can see a split down the middle, such as where railroad tracks would have once been. As you get closer to the lake you can begin to see the open space through the trees that is the lake. As we knew the train's final resting place is said to be next to the lake we picked up the pace a bit in hopes of soon reaching our goal.

Another sign that we were on the right track, and getting close to the lake, was this old steam boiler. It lies along side the old track, and perhaps it was used as a switcher or some other type of power for the logging operations.

Probably one of the more haunting feelings you will ever have is driving and hiking this deep into the woods of Maine and finding your goal of antique steam locomotives left in the woods over 70 years ago. Looking like it is still ready to go, one of the engines still points directly down were the old railway was, and with the front cover off the boiler, the ominous black eye of this engine watches as we walk towards it.

A small clearing is around the two engines and they still sit side by side in what used to be the repair shed, just as they did when their boilers were shut of over 70 years ago. It appears that the repair shed has burned down around the engines as fire damage can be seen on both locomotives. After the long hike we take a break near the trains and Geoff can't resist getting behind the controls and playing "engineer" with his head out the window of engine one. Our thoughts turn to restorations and dreams of making the engines live again, but after a few minutes talk we realize why the engine were left here in 1930 and we sit back to just enjoy them before we have to start back out before darkness arrives.

We then posed for a group photo with the two old ladies of the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad.
From left to right ( Geoff Cox, Mike Smith, Ian Cooke and Jason Tyler )

After a quick look at Eagle Lake it was time to get back on the trail for the long hike back to the Rovers and then to head home.

As we headed out along the bank of the frozen lake we came across a spur line from the railroad and found the remains of the timber cars from the operation. Their wooden cars have long since rotted off, but the axles and framework still lie on the tracks.

The hike back was long and took a lot out of us, but finding the trains was well worth the effort.

The trek back to ECR from the trains proved to have its share of surprises as well. We were treated to a wonderful sunset on the drive out, but the unusually warm day had led to portions of the frost being unfrozen in the road. The road would suddenly turn to deep mud under our wheels and create ruts that yielded instant lane changes and fishtails. After battling through the ruts and mud to Greenville, where the tarmac begins again, we found that the entire area was without power and the one gas station in Greenville was closed due to no power at the pumps. Fortunately we had reserves with us in case of the worst on our trek in the woods, so we could press on. A few minutes outside of Greenville the warm night had combined with the cool snow covered ground to produce a dense blanket of fog that limited our speeds to roughly 25 mph for the return trip to ECR, but everyone made it home safe and sound and I think we all dreamt of playing with trains again like when we were kids, the only difference is that the trains we like to think about now are the 2 that sit as hidden 90 ton reminders of an abandon railroad tucked deep in Northern Maine.

See you on the trail,

Mike Smith

East Coast Rover Co.
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