My friend (and fellow two-foot enthusiast) Terry Smith alerted me to a story in the Bangor (ME) Daily News that the boiler certificate has expired on Monson Railroad 0-4-4T Number 4, and that the locomotive took its last runs Saturday on the Maine Narrow Gauge RR Co and Museum in Portland.
While this may seem like a non-sequitor for my blog on modelling the (standard gauge) CNR branch to Port Rowan, the two are actually closely related. Regular readers know that I used to model the Maine two-footers in On2, but it goes beyond my interest in the Lilliput lines of the Pine Tree State.
Because of my interest, several years ago I ended up volunteering for the museum. It was a long haul from my house – 12 hours by highway, plus an international border crossing – so I didn’t get to visit the museum nearly as often as I would’ve liked. But when I did manage the trek I would help out as a fireman’s apprentice:
(In the cab – sort of – and learning about steam first-hand. The two-foot locomotives were so small that this is the normal position for working the throttle – at least in nice weather)
A great bunch of people make up the steam team at the museum and they were very welcoming of this odd fellow from Canada who wanted to learn how to operate a real locomotive. Monson 4 was a great locomotive to learn on, too, because it is equipped with all of the essentials – injectors, water gauges, lubricators, and so on – but none of the extras like low water alarms or other ancillary systems. I learned to shovel coal and build a proper fire – but the firebox was small enough that the task was not too daunting for a newbie. I learned about watching three things at once – the fire, the water level and the steam pressure – plus keeping an eye on the track ahead.
From a model railway perspective, I learned enough about a real steam locomotive to understand the sounds that are generated by a Tsunami decoder. I know what they are, and when to use the equipment that generates the sounds. This goes beyond knowing when to use the bell and whistle, to include things like when to run injectors, how often to stop for water and how long it takes to fill a tank.
(Filling the tank. My friend Pierre Oliver and I built the water crane for the museum – that was a fun project that earned me a spot on the steam team)
My experience with Monson 4 changed my hobby – for the better. I realized there can be a lot more to running a steam locomotive on a layout than setting the direction switch and speed. Having experienced steam first-hand, I programmed my Tsunami decoders to turn off all the automatic sounds for which that was an option. On my layout, engineers are responsible for making sure the correct signals are given (and for using other appliances correctly, such as the injectors). It adds to the fun – and helps a relatively simple layout to still offer a demanding, yet entertaining, operating experience.
I also learned many things about railroading beyond the locomotive, and the experienced fuelled my desire to know more and then figure out ways to apply this knowledge to my layout and my operating sessions.
I haven’t been to Portland for a few years but I’m grateful for the experience. I encourage others trying to model the steam era to jump at the opportunity to get up close and personal with the cab of a real steam locomotive – either by joining a steam team, taking an “engineer for a day” course, or by taking cab rides. (The same goes for more modern era layouts and diesel locomotives too, of course.) Just be sure to go into the experience with open eyes and ears – and don’t forget to ask questions.
I’m pleased that while this is the final run in Portland for Monson 4, it’s definitely not the end of the line for this locomotive. The steam team is currently getting Bridgton and Saco River 2-4-4T Number 7 ready for service and the museum is planning a move away from the Portland waterfront. But I suspect at sometime in the future the steam team will retube the boiler on Monson 4 and this Forney, built in 1918, will again pull trainloads of tourists and enthusiasts – even as it continues to help tell the story of the Maine two-footers.
(Thanks for the heads-up, Terry!)