Author Topic: Supposed success of the FS&K connection  (Read 1893 times)

Jason M Lamontagne

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #15 on: March 16, 2017, 10:27:56 PM »
Hmm, I don't disagree with John Scott, in particular.  I would argue that the narrow gauge has never been about achieving maximum efficiency of the railway system; moreover it was about grabbing the most basic efficiency of the railway (low friction of iron wheel on iron rail, along with the load distribution characteristics as described above) as part of an optimized system of transportation that is economically viable.  In other words, an economically optimized system does not necessarily require maximum efficiency from all or any of its constituent parts.

To Wayne's point- I have to differ that our Railway's purpose was, from day one, to offer the Sheepscot Valley's residents with transportation.  From year 13, sure, I agree.  The W&Q, and WW&F were decidedly about Wiscasset, and its revival as a sea port.  They didn't care where they got their traffic, but they knew it wasn't the Sheepscot Valley.  By the time the railroad was built, I believe Quebec was a bit of a rouse, but the connection at Farmington, to grab the traffic, and success, of the Sandy River system, was decidedly a driving force behind the construction of our railroad.

Year 13 brought the Peck/ Sewall era; they decidedly focused on the people of the Sheepscot Valley. 

This is an extremely important distinction in discussing and teaching the history of the WW&F.  Of all the Maine two-footers (and let's include the B&B), the Wiscasset line was the only one built outside of the "Mansfield Sysrem," which viewed a two foot railroad as servicing a particilar, concise geographic area.  The Wiscasset line was the only one who envisioned strength in a two foot gauge network. 

Thus the purpose of this thread.  I wanted to explore the idea of that network, for the purpose of understanding the full scope of what the WW&F was trying to do, before they settled down to the Sheepscot Valley. 

See ya
Jason

John Scott

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #16 on: March 17, 2017, 02:13:39 AM »
I am sure that we would all agree that it would have been a wonderful thing for the WW&F had it been provided with the extended catchment area that the construction of the FS&K would have afforded. Unfortunately, though, the more “advanced” technology of the rubber tire on a water-proofed road surface would still have won in the end.

I say unfortunately because I am an admirer of elegant simplicity – and I know that I am far from being the only one, here. It would be interesting to analyse the relative benefits of the simple system of the two foot gauge railway as against the automotive mode in terms of energy consumption and environmental impact. I suspect that most of us would consider that we have a good idea of the answer, already! Overriding all such logical analysis is the ultimate truth that humans will pay whatever they need to pay for convenience.

Re-building a mostly forgotten railway in a remote region is not exactly convenient. The people of the WW&F who are doing just that are to be honoured for their ability to understand the past, to see into the future and to correctly discern ultimate value.

Philip Marshall

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #17 on: March 17, 2017, 06:07:15 AM »
I'm really enjoying this discussion.

Jason makes a very important point about the W&Q/WW&F being a Wiscasset-oriented project, and how this differed from the other Two-Footers. Wiscasset's heyday as a seaport was in the late 1700s/early 1800s when it was briefly the busiest US port north of Boston (or so it's claimed), and this accounts for the large number of stately old colonial and Federal-period homes in the town. However, by the time the W&Q was chartered in 1854 the port of Wiscasset was already in serious decline, and by 1894 it had been reduced to a backwater, a shadow of its former glory. The idea of building a railroad network into the hinterlands as an economic development project for a declining port, and not for the benefit of hinterland towns it would run through, may account for some of the WW&F's eccentricities like placing stations so far away from the communities they supposedly served (Sheepscot station, for example).

In contrast, when Phillips, Bridgton, and Monson built their railroads, it was to serve local residents and local industries (lumber, slate, etc.) and to promote tourism. The Sandy River RR wasn't built for Farmington's benefit, but for Phillips! In the case of the Monson RR, Jones notes in Two Feet to the Quarries that the town of Monson was so desperate for a railroad connection that they started grading and laying track to Monson Junction a few months before the standard gauge Bangor & Piscataquis line to Greenville was even completed. That's more or less the opposite of what happened with Wiscasset and the W&Q.

Wayne Laepple

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #18 on: March 17, 2017, 02:24:22 PM »
A pretty good parallel to the W&Q/WW&F/FS&K "empire" can be seen in the South African Railways two-foot gauge line from Port Elizabeth to Avontour. The line survived intact until the mid-1980's, hauling produce from the agricultural highlands to the seaport, as well as raw materials for a large cement plant on a branch line off the main route. In the end, however, even with diesel locomotives and high-capacity covered hoppers, the competition from trucks was too much to bear. In the case of our Maine empire, the slow re-growth of the forests would have doomed it by about 1950, if not before. See the extensive coverage on this site:

https://sites.google.com/site/soulorailway/home/system-3-1


Jason M Lamontagne

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #19 on: March 17, 2017, 04:38:34 PM »
That's a great reference, Wayne, thanks.

For the sake of advancing this discussion, let's remove any romantic notion of the "empire" being strong enough to perform wonders and outlive the advance of cars, trucks, etc.  Let's take for granted that such a large system still wouldn't have survived the sweeping technological and economic changes of the 20th century.  If any form of it survived, it wouldn't be recognizable anyway.

However, would there have been subtle, tangible changes in the longevity of the system?  The Bridgton and Monson lines lasted much later; would the empire have been sufficiently more successful to weather the Great Depression and survive into the 1940's?  If so, might the preserved equipment at Edaville taken on a different look, as a greater pool of derelict equipment been available in Maine in its formative years of the 1940's?

Perhaps Wiscasset's fortunes may have been somewhat altered, with a greater commercial maritime trade?

I think the answer would lie in a detailed analysis of how traffic moved from Maine to market (and vice versa) in that era.  As mentioned, a 120 mile line haul to Wiscasset really isn't much different than a 40 mile line haul to Farmington.  It's not about distance, it's about where that traffic was going and how many modes of transport were required. 

My feeling is the success, or failure, of the empire, in the context of American transportation in the early 20th century, would depend on the Wiscasset connection reducing the number of transfers required for freight generated and shipped to the area of Maine served.  That boils down to a simple formula:  how much freight traffic to and from Franklin County, Maine rode on a ship for part of its journey.  For traffic that did- Wiscasset saved a transfer.  For traffic that didn't, Wiscasset offered nothing.   

Anyway, the perspective I'm trying to develop is just how differently the Wiscasset line was envisioned, as compared to the other two-foot lines.  It's heritage was truly unique, even if not successful. 

Jason

Wayne Laepple

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #20 on: March 17, 2017, 06:08:25 PM »
Even with outbound ladings transferring directly from freight car to ship at Wiscasset, the labor involved in doing so would be a killer. When men were paid $2 a day, that was one thing, but when they were paid $1 an hour, that was quite another. Just think bout the labor to unload a boxcar full of 2X4's by hand and load them into the hold of a ship. Even if the lumber was shipped on flatcars, there would be a lot of manual labor involved. Or how about a boxcar loaded with barrels of apples or sacks of potatoes? And think how many cars it would take to fill the hold of even a small coastal freighter. Lots of work for the yard crew, in addition to the fellows unloading the cars.

A similar case study could be made using the East Broad Top RR down here in Pennsylvania. It was 33 miles long and was essentially a conveyor to move raw coal from mines at one end to a processing plant at the other. After the coal was cleaned and sized, almost all of it was loaded into standard gauge hopper cars and shipped away on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Even with its biggest 2-8-2's, an EBT coal train was limited to about 22 cars, or roughly 880 tons per train. That's less than a dozen or so standard gauge carloads by the time the rock and dirt is processed out of the coal -- not much for all that work. At its peak, the company had as many as 3,000 miners working to produce 2,600 tons of raw coal per day -- three loaded trains every day to fill 35 standard gauge 70-ton hoppers. That's a lot of overhead.

Pete Leach

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #21 on: March 17, 2017, 06:26:40 PM »
Jason, I am really enjoying the conversation!  I started to put together a set of slides on the history of the WW&F to present to my local model railroad club down here in Texas.  I found the railroad as built to be a bit of a puzzle.  In my humble view, building a railroad of any gauge from Wiscasset up the Sheepscot Valley could not be sustainable without a connection to something much bigger, such as what the FS&K offered.  Carrying passengers, mail, and milk provided a steady flow of some cash, but not enough to make it profitable in the long term.  The "bulk" commodities (lumber and coal) the valley provided were too few and unreliable.  Certainly the loss of the coal contract with the woolen mill in North Vasselboro didn't help that situation.

The comments regarding the down turn of the seaport of Wiscasset are true.  It appears that the seaport was relegated to the less glamorous but still important role as a port for Coasters.  However, Wiscasset is barely mentioned in John Leavitt's book: "Wake of the Coasters."  There were many seaports up and down the Maine coast that competed with Wiscasset.  (NOTE: if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.)

I do believe the expansion to Farmington could have extended the life up to the start of WWII.  Anything after that would be improbable, not matter what the gauge.

I have found the people involved with this railroad the most fascinating.  I see you've mentioned Fred Fogg on another thread.  He is one of the many people that helped the WW&F survive as long as it did!  BTW, my presentation centered on the people as much as the places and equipment.  I also included the tremendous work done by the museum to preserve the spirit of the railroad.  
Pete Leach
Tomball, TX

Jason M Lamontagne

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #22 on: March 17, 2017, 06:38:37 PM »
Wayne, all,

The labor involved in transfer hurt, tremendously, for sure.  However, this discussion is predicated on the fact that said transfer was happening in Farmington anyway.  Thus, the transfer expense existed anyway and the question becomes whether there was an economical advantage in moving that transfer from Farmington to Wiscasset.  

I believe the answer lay in whether the product actually transferred in Farmington was also transferred from standard gauge to ship at some other location.  This would entail the cost of two transfers, while moving via narrow gauge to Wiscasset would reduce this to one transfer.

Pete, thanks for checking in!  I believe many here would appreciate seeing your presentation, even if electronically if it ends up as a Power Point.  It's nice to see such broad interest in the Wiscasset Line, past and present.  

See ya
Jason

Wayne Laepple

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #23 on: March 18, 2017, 01:35:35 PM »
The main advantage, if it can be called that, for products from up country being delivered to the wharf at Wiscasset, would have been the single-line haul. That would mean that the railroad would have received all the revenue derived from its movement of the freight to Wiscasset, with the ship owners then charging for the sea voyage. In a freight movement to Farmington, the railroad would have had to share the revenue with the standard gauge carrier. Not only that, railroad rates were structured on a combination of factors including the distance hauled, and obviously Wiscasset is a longer haul than Farmington.

That is, unless the WW&F, FS&K and SR&RL each had to get a piece of the action....

Mike Fox

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #24 on: March 18, 2017, 11:00:51 PM »
Ed L and I were discussing this topic this afternoon and came to this conclusion. If the connection had been made while Wiscasset was a ship building port, Franklin County lumber could have been used to construct the ships and boats, and that would have been very beneficial to the railroad.
Mike
Doing way too much to list...

James Patten

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #25 on: March 18, 2017, 11:16:57 PM »
Ship building on Maine rivers continued well into the 20th century, however right around the teens or twenties the business dropped off suddenly.  I know shipbuilding on the Damariscotta River (the next one east of the Sheepscot) continued up to 1920, but I don't know when the last ship was built on the Sheepscot.

Jason M Lamontagne

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #26 on: March 18, 2017, 11:18:29 PM »
That's true.  The 1890's were a bit late for that but maybe the timber feed from the north would have prolonged it.

Did you know that at one time Wiscasset had 3 ropewalks?  3!  Bath only ever had 1!!!  One of Wiscasset's 3 also served as a bowling alley (now that's clever).

See ya
Jason

John McNamara

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #27 on: March 19, 2017, 01:12:35 AM »
Tonight's nugget of knowledge from Wikipedia: "The name Reeperbahn means ropewalk, which is a place where ropes are made (Low German Reep = rope, the standard German word is Seil; Bahn= track)." Reeperbahn is now Hamburg's red light district. I know this because I passed through that area on the way to Miniatur Wunderland.
-John M

John Stone

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Re: Supposed success of the FS&K connection
« Reply #28 on: March 20, 2017, 09:24:16 PM »
I'm really enjoying reading this exchange. As Jason has stated, if traffic had to be transferred ultimately to ships, the FS&K would have saved a transfer as opposed to SR&RL-MEC at Farmington and MEC to ship at Portland (I assume). As the WW&F developed a rather successful coal transfer port at Wiscasset, I wonder if coal could not have constituted a significant back haul, perhaps even tapping into the Waterville market for this commodity. If they had managed to form a mutimodal transport partnership with schooner owners out of Wiscasset, a nice circuit of lumber to Philadelphia/Baltimore/Norfolk and a hold full of coal return would seem plausible.

I'm not really familiar with the area the FS&K would traverse between Waterville and Farmington. Were there any resources to exploit there? Much potential for development? I know that Mr. Atwood had developed an elevator factory and a pulp mill in Farmington Falls which might have developed into significant customers (maybe?).

Turning towards other traffic sources: More convenient access to Franklin County from Waterville and the coast may have helped develop the Rangely Lakes resort area and may have presented a quicker, more efficient route for mail and express to Franklin County from the Eastern/Southern parts of Maine. Sheepscot Valley traffic may have been less vulnerable to siphoning off to parallel MEC stations, had there been access to interchange at Waterville for traffic to/from the North.

I'm sure, in the long run, it couldn't have survived good roads and reliable trucks. Unless SR&RL had expanded further North into fresh stands of timber, I wonder if the forests up there would not have been exhausted much earlier with an additional transportation avenue.

Anyway, it'd be cool beyond words!

other John (I went to Miniatur Wunderland too! Es war wunderbar!)