AVR – The Potatoland Interurban

AVR-53-PresqueIsle photo AVR-53-PresqueIsle_zps1b0a2faf.jpg

I had a lot of positive response to my write-up on the Sacramento Northern as the subject for an achievable layout (thank you!), so I thought I’d offer another interurban theme – this time, from the opposite corner of the United States.

The Aroostook Valley Railroad was a small interurban system in Northeast Maine. It ran northwest from Presque Isle to Washburn and then north to Carson, where a junction carried the line north to Sweden and east to Caribou. More history on the AVR can be found on the Presque Isle Historical Society website and on the Maine Memory Network website.

The AVR offered passenger service, with a mix of combines from Brill and Wason providing six round-trips per day (four between Presque Isle and Caribou, and two between Presque Isle and Sweden). But what makes the AVR interesting from a modelling perspective is that it was the only interurban in Maine to run freight trains. A since train per day – powered by either a 40-Ton GE Steeple Cab or a 60-Ton Baldwin Westinghouse box cab – served potato warehouses and other online customers. Outbound loads included potatoes (lots of potatoes), lumber, starch and hay. Inbound loads included fertilizer, grain, flour, coal and other general supplies for life in the area.

Freight traffic would allow the AVR to survive beyond the Interurban Era. The AVR ran freight under wire until 1945, when the railroad acquired a pair of GE 44-Tonners finished in an attractive blue and yellow scheme. Passenger service ended the following year, but freight service continued into the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of information about customers in the modern era.

Parts of the line are now a recreation trail.

(The AVR is surprisingly well-documented online. There are photos of vintage equipment at Dave’s Electric Railroads site – starting here. For photos of the AVR in more recent times, the NERail online archive is a good place to start. And, the AVR has proven popular with modellers. Bob Henry has an extensive website on the AVR and how he’s modelling it. Geof Smith blogs about his AVR layout in N Scale. And those with the Model Railroader collection on DVD should check out the July 1966 issue for a Railroad You Can Model feature by Peter Cook, complete with a suggested plan for a 10×16 foot layout in HO scale.)

While the AVR is a small railroad – at 32 miles, it could be modelled in its entirety – I feel the most interesting portion of the line is in Presque Isle itself. This was the last area to remain in business, interchanging with the Bangor and Aroostook and the Canadian Pacific, and serving customers of the Skyway Industrial Park – a former airbase that was converted to civilian use after the Second World War.

I have not drawn up a complete layout plan for Presque Isle, but have drawn four key areas – the Yard, the Industrial Park, the Junction and the Interchange. Unfortunately, I don’t have accurate track maps from which to work – I interpreted the track arrangements from rough drawings and photographs in Aroostook Valley Railroad – History of the Potatoland Interurban in Northern Maine by Charles Heseltine and Edwin Robertson – so my drawings, while close, may contain inaccuracies and are not to scale.
AVR-Book photo AVR-Book_zps4e3308db.jpeg
(Click on the cover to check availability of this book on ABE Books)

Let’s start at the main yard:
AVR - Presque Isle Yard photo AVR-Yard_zps1148b794.jpg

At the bottom of the map, the Bangor and Aroostook line meets the AVR at the passenger station in Presque Isle – it then continues east (to the right) to the modern era interchange yard.

The AVR curves way from the BAR, across a bridge spanning the Presque Isle Stream, and then into the yard. This portion of the line was removed after passenger service ended.

I’m not confident of the run-around track in the yard, but one is needed on a model to work the spurs, which face opposite directions. The narrow building to the left of the siding is a combination freight house and dispatcher’s office, while a two-stall carbarn sits to the right of the main. I’m not certain about the online customers – but potato houses would be a good guess since many of the photos of this area taken when the AVR still operated under wire show crews switching refrigerator cars.

The mainline continues to the Skyway Industrial Park:
AVR-Skyway Industrial Park photo AVR-IndPk_zps3095310b.jpg

The industrial park was a former airbase, converted to civilian use after the Second World War. It became the main source of freight traffic for the line, although I’m not sure what customers were located there. A few spurs should do the trick to serve them – think of this area as multi-track team track, with assigned spots for each customer, and there will be plenty of switching to keep one busy.

The main line continues past the industrial park to Presque Isle Junction:
AVR - Presque Isle Junction photo AVR-Junction_zpsf484e6d5.jpg

Here, I’ve moved a short passing siding from further up the line, so that those interested in the more modern era have an opportunity to model a shelter (disused, of course) to help convey the line’s heritage. The main continues to Washburn – site of the original BAR interchange – and then beyond to Caribou and Sweden. In later years, this was cut back and became a long tail track that was used for equipment storage.

A line branches off to the lower right to the modern era interchange yard:
AVR - Interchange in Presque Isle photo AVR-Interchange_zps005bad19.jpg

Here, the AVR ducks under the BAR to a simple yard where it interchanges traffic with the BAR and CP Rail. A line drops down from the BAR mainline to reach the yard. (Note that the BAR continues west (to the left) to the station area.) The CP connection is at the east end of the yard. The connecting tracks for the interchange partners would be a great place to display foreign road power.

Since the AVR was built to interurban standards, a layout could take advantage of this by incorporating short passing sidings and relatively sharp curves and switches. The interchange would be a place to include broader curves and larger switches, though, as befitting the full-size railroads that connected with the Potatoland Interurban.

I hope readers enjoyed this somewhat sketchy tour of a favourite prototype of mine. If anybody reading this has additional information or clarifications, please share via the “comments” feature. Thanks in advance!

8 thoughts on “AVR – The Potatoland Interurban

    • A further update – I received my copy of the August 2013 Model Railroader, and Geof has done a fine job of capturing the AVR on a shelf layout. Well done!

  1. I have a track plan from model railroader from the 60’s if you are interested. It seems interesting and seemed to answer some of your questions. Congrats on your article as well…..very interesting

    • Hi Andrew:
      Thanks for getting in touch. I actually have a copy of the article from the 1960s, as part of the MR on DVD collection.
      The recent articles on the AVR in MR are not mine. But if you’re referring to this post, then thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
      Cheers!

  2. During the early 50’s the airfield was the Presque Isle Air Force Base with F-89 fighters. I was assigned as fighter pilot, then the Base Engineering officer. The base received fuel by rail. The tank cars came via the Maine Central, across intro Canada on the Canadian Pacific, then the AVR picked them up in Canada, and brought them to the base. The two 40 ton engines had a rough time pushing the loaded fuel tank cars up the slight grade into the base. The Air Force had to plow their rail line to make the delivery in the winter. The site of the trackage is still visible since my last visit to PQI in 2013, for fly fishing.

    • Hi Bob:
      Thank you – although I’m not actually modelling the AVR, so you may be waiting a long time! (grin). There are others doing the AVR, though, so someone will do it (if they haven’t already)…
      As the URL and title of this blog suggest, on this site I’m offering up design ideas for people looking for achievable prototypes to model. My own layout – Port Rowan in S scale – is an example of what can be done with a layout that won’t hijack the hobbyist’s life or bank account.
      Cheers!

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