2017-10-06 / Ticket

All aboard!

At Boothbay Railway Village
Times Record Staff

JOHN ORNE stands in the cab of the No. 6 locomotive at Boothbay Railway Village. Below, a narrow gauge train at the village. 
JOHN SWINCONECK / THE TIMES RECORD JOHN ORNE stands in the cab of the No. 6 locomotive at Boothbay Railway Village. Below, a narrow gauge train at the village. JOHN SWINCONECK / THE TIMES RECORD BOOTHBAY

On most days, John Orne works for the Boothbay Region Water District as the chief treatment plant operator. But on Fridays and Saturdays, he dons a pair of denim overalls and a blue and white striped engineer’s cap, and can be found in the cab of a 1934 steam locomotive chugging along the tracks at Boothbay Railway Village.

Orne and his wife, Cathy, are Edgecomb residents who volunteer at the museum, where they work one of the locomotives that pulls visitors in passenger cars every hour.

“With all these changes going on in the country — new and better doesn’t always work,” said Cathy Orne, explaining the attraction to steam locomotives. “The old stuff works. You’ve got to preserve it, because the kids growing up won’t know what a steam locomotive is. … You’ve got to preserve the past. …”

A NARROW GAUGE TRAIN rounds the bend at the Boothbary Railway Village in the left photo. To the right, a young visitor covers his ears in anticipation of the steam whistle blowing on the train. 
JOHN SWINCONECK / THE TIMES RECORD A NARROW GAUGE TRAIN rounds the bend at the Boothbary Railway Village in the left photo. To the right, a young visitor covers his ears in anticipation of the steam whistle blowing on the train. JOHN SWINCONECK / THE TIMES RECORD 54 years of history

The museum was founded in 1965 by George McEvoy — an educator in his early 20s who was fascinated by transportation and possessed an extensive railroad collection.

In the early 1960s, when McEvoy was still just a collector, Maine Central Railroad had decided to sell its Freeport Station in downtown Freeport. McEvoy, thinking an authentic station would be a fantastic place to house his collection, bought it for a bid of only a few hundred dollars. He moved Freeport Station in pieces to a 30-acre hayfield in Boothbay to house his memorabilia.

“It was just going to be a private building for my little collection,” McEvoy said. However, “people in town said, ‘You can make something out of this.’”

So, McEvoy decided he would.

“I was gullible,” he said, laughing.

The then-Boothbay Railway Museum opened in 1965.

McEvoy had planned on teaching school in the winter and running the museum in the summer, “for something to do,” but soon moved on from teaching to involve himself further with the museum and other ventures.

Initially, McEvoy wanted to keep things small.

“It was going to be one building, that was it,” McEvoy said.

However, more buildings and more exhibits were added over the years, as other collectors began donating to the museum, creating an entire village.

Looking back, McEvoy, who now lives in Boothbay Harbor, said he is “elated” as to what Boothbay Railway Village has become.

“I never dreamed in a thousand years we’d end up like this,” McEvoy said.

Boothbay Railway Village now draws thousands of visitors — many during the tourist season — drawn by the allure of how an American village would appear between 1850 and 1960. Integral to that part of American history is transportation, and Railroad Village Executive Director Margaret Hoffman described a romantic, nostalgic association with trains.

Running the trains

“It’s very visceral,” Hoffman said. “When you’re on a train, you can hear the

“It’s very visceral,” Hoffman said. “When you’re on a train, you can hear the clicking and the clacking and the motion back and forth. Cars are now engineered, specifically, so that you do not know that you’re moving. That’s not the case with these old-fashioned railroads.”

There’s a lot that goes into getting the locomotive started, let alone driving it. For example, it’s a three-hour process to get the steam locomotive prepped. The boiler needs to be warmed, generating steam, increasing pressure and getting ready for its hourly run around the village.

“You don’t just turn a key,” said John

Orne, between runs of a

1934 German-built locomotive No. 6. There’s a lot of physical work that goes with operating a train — shoveling of coal, filling the water tank — in addition to minding the boiler’s temperature and other mechanical aspects.

“You feel like one, with the motion of the train. I feel exhilarated,” Cathy Orne said.

“When I started doing this, I thought I’d be meeting new people and sharing stories,” John Orne said. “But then it was the kids — I watch the children come in wide-eyed. They really make it worth my while of getting greasy and hot and sweaty.”

“There’s something about kids and trains that has always been magical,” Hoffman said. “It’s universal, it’s boys and girls. It does not matter what world you come from, you’re still fascinated by trains.”

That’s something McEvoy experienced when he ran the locomotive.

“I ran the train for 20 years. You’d go up the hill, look back (into the passenger coaches) and you’d see 50 people smile at you,” McEvoy said.

Beyond trains

A visit to the museum can be a very hands-on experience. A staff member taking admission can often be heard to encourage young children to climb onto — and into — certain displays, such as a caboose or nonoperative locomotives, all the while admonishing them to “keep an eye on their parents.”

Celebrating railroads, however, is just part of the museum’s mission.

“Because this was the brainchild of one person, there’s some freedom in that,” Hoffman said, referring to McEvoy and describing the eclectic exhibits at the museum. “He wasn’t so behooved to the constructs of what a museum should be, because it was stuff that he loved.”

The village includes exhibits that are, in a word, unique. For example, the village hosts the Stevenson Outboard Collection, a huge collection of outboard motors donated by Larry Stevenson — which isn’t as an unusual as it might appear.

“Outboard motors where incredibly important to huge industries in Maine,” Hoffman said. “They were incredibly important in the timber industry. Instead of guys with poles and paddles, they were on boats with outboard motors. It transformed the lobster industry, because, prior to the outboard you had to have an inboard, and outboards were really inexpensive. You could get started in the lobstering industry for next to nothing once you could buy an outboard motor. … It was really important to Maine.”

It was also important to Stevenson, who researched and arranged to purchase his motor collection at a time when his wife, Jane, was battling a cancer that would end up being fatal. During a period of remission, Larry and Jane Stevenson traveled 6,200 miles across through 20 states together in a rented truck to gather nearly 300 motors.

After Jane’s death in 2013, Larry donated dozens of engines to the village. Today, he often volunteers as a lecturer and trainer of docents for the museum.

Antique car lovers can check out more than 60 vehicles built between 1902-62 at another permanent exhibit that includes Model Ts, roadsters, Packards and Thunderbirds.

In addition to transportation exhibits, the village has a fire station filled with old apparatus, a one-room schoolhouse and a toy shop filled with diversions from a bygone era. A pair of goats — named Coal and Tender — live in a pen at the village and can be fed for a quarter.

“We have an entire building filled with salt and pepper shakers,” Hoffman said. “Those could just be silly, but if you look at them closely … you will see themes from American society.”

The collection — many pieces of which were purchased by tourists — reflects changes in American societal values between the 1850s to the 1950s.

“In those salt and pepper shakers, you see the beginning of the middle class traveling,” Hoffman said. “Travel was a privilege for the very elite and wealthy up until the turn of the 20th century.”

“Another theme reflects how we thought about race in a very stereotypical view,” Hoffman added. “There’s lessons to be learned from that. How we culturally evolved is a really interesting story to talk about.”

There are plans to bring some of these exhibits into the modern era, with supplemental displays and videos looped on flatscreen TVs — with more planned on the way.

“Some of these exhibits have not changed in 30 years, so we’re really working on not losing the quaintness of the exhibits while also bringing them into the present day … and provide more of an educational experience and value,” Hoffman said.

Out of the way is a steam shop, a workshop where restoration take place.

The village builds and restores high-pressure boilers for historic equipment. The Railway Village has done work for Edaville Family Amusement Park in Massachusetts, North Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire, the Mount Washington Cog Railway steam engines, the Wiscasset Waterville & Farmington, as well as the Monson 3, a locomotive used by the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad in Portland, among other work.

“We only take jobs from other history museums or historical railroad equipment. It has to be old for us to work on it,” Hoffman said.

The boiler shop functions as an additional source of revenue. As a nonprofit, the railway village faces the same funding challenges as many museums.

“History museums will always have a struggle,” Hoffman said. “We hope people remember that this is something of value. … Without arts and culture, our lives are pretty empty. It’s one of the reasons life is worth living. If we forget who we are or where we come from, how do we know what we want to be as a society?”

As if punctuating Hoffman’s remarks, the steam whistle blew on locomotive #6. In a few minutes, the Ornes would be taking families for another loop around the village.

“If you haven’t been here, it’s a really fun place to come,” Hoffman said. “People who enjoy it the most come as a multi-generational family. If you have the opportunity to bring your kids and your parents, you’re going to have a really amazing moment.”

Visit railwayvillage.org for more information, including hours, admissions and other special events.

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