This year it will be one hundred years since the builders of the Sandy River Railroad laid out their preliminary grade from Farmington to Phillips, Maine, and the first two foot track was spiked down on what was to be the longest and best of the Maine Two-Foot Railroads. The railroad has been gone for almost 44 years but many easily accessible structures and artifacts remain in Franklin County for the railfan enthusiast.
The purpose of this article is to point out some of these remains which do not require extensive hiking or dirt road/right-of-way travel, but may be viewed by staying on the paved roads. Anyone wishing to ride the old right of-way may do so at their own peril. I have always found the fall the best time for right-of-way tracing as the pathways are easier to spot after the leaves have turned. Indeed, to spend a weekend in Franklin County during the foliage season is to enjoy one of the nicest displays of autumn color in northern New England.
One cautionary note: Since some of the cars are located in private backyards, the ardent railfan would be best advised to seek permission before entering the property to view the car (or structure). I have always found that everyone I spoke with was only to pleased to allow me to inspect the car on the spot. Failure to be courteous will have the inevitable result of denying access to these artifacts to others seeking permission to see them.
Now on to the tour:
This is still the active end of the Maine Central Branch from Rumford, and although there have been attempts to abandon it in the last few years, it is still in active service by the railroad. The standard gauge station and freight house are still standing, and the narrow gauge right-of-way is visible at the upper end of the yard. The freight house at the turn of the century had the standard gauge track running inside it, as evidenced by the boarded-up large door in the south end of the structure. The station serves as a laundry.
The station is no longer standing, and according to one source was removed in the forties when the tooth pick mill expanded its operation into the railroad area. Another source has stated to this author that it was moved to a summer campsite. In any case, its current whereabouts, should it still exist, is unknown. The corn cannery and the former milk co-op building are still there as well as the large warehouse on the southern end of the yard. The rising grade toward the southern end of the yard has been leveled, but the abutment remains for the road overpass. As of this writing, the last two box cars which remained in the Starbird Mill Yard have been pushed over a bank. The deck of one has been salvaged and moved to Sandy River Park in Phillips.
The grade from Strong to Phillips can be easily made out after the leaves fall. At Phillips the station stands, used by the American Legion. The 10 stall roundhouse has been leveled, but the machine shop building remains. The freight house is in use as a private garage, and a few coal shed buildings (on private property) stand next to the grade near the covered bridge location, the abutments of which can easily be seen.
Across the Sandy River is Sandy River Park, which under the auspices of the Phillips Historical Society and the hard work of Mr. Wesley Spears, has running track on the old right-of-way out to the Old Stone Fort location. A two-foot gasoline engine powered locomotive in the design of Sandy River Portland No. 4 hauls Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Coach 18 up the track and back. Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Coach 17, Flanger 503 and some box cars are also stored there. Caboose 556 is housed in Phillips and is used in the annual Phillips Festival every August.
The Phillips Historical Society, located in the rear of the Phillips Library Building, maintains a collection of SR&RL artifacts. These include tools, pictures, and other historical information. The Society building is open for viewing during the Festival weekend.
The old station is now a private home, and for an excellant photo; see Two Feet Between the Rails by Jones, pg. 382.
The three major buildings are still in place. They are the station, engine house and car shed. So, too, are the major mills which supplied wood products for the railroad throughout its existence. The engine house has been mentioned over the last few years as slated for demolition, but as of this writing it is still standing.
Almost nothing remains from the railroad. Some fuel storage tanks stand where the yard was. The Marbles station is in excellent condition and is used as a private dwelling.
For the more adventurous, there are also a few buildings standing out in the woods. At Redington, the station is kept up, and at Reeds, the old section house is in evidence though in poor condition. Sanders station has been renovated, moved and is in periodic use.
North and east of Rangeley is owned by the government and has been used for military operations during the years. It is best advised to keep out of this area. At Bigelow, the former station is now functioning as a camp. For a picture see Two Feet Between the Rails by Jones, pg. 390.
| WHERE LITTLE RAILROADS RAN
Once where little railroads ran,
Where people hurried round the yards,
The steam, the turning, and the grind,
Faster and faster ran the freight,
But only silences travel the right-of-way,
Come, hear the ghostly whistle in the trees,