ALNA, Maine — Chugging steam locomotives, with wooden passenger cars in tow, made their way down the two-foot wide tracks, through a winter scene of snow-laden evergreens on Saturday. At the far end of the line, majestic, sleigh-hitched horses waited. The beasts stamped their feet in the fresh powder, eager to get going.
Smiling passengers, bundled against the cold, then switched from steam to horsepower for the final half-mile leg of their journey. There, a warming bonfire, coffee and hot cocoa awaited them at a nearby farm.
The scene looked like an antique Currier and Ives lithograph come to life.
The weekend horse and train affair was the first of three “Steam and Sleighs” events scheduled for this month at the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum and SeaLyon Farm.
Fireman Dan Malkowski shovels coal into the firebox aboard the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway’s Steam Locomotive No. 9 in Alna on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. The engine was built in 1891 at the Portland Company in Portland; Locomotive engineer Wes Carpenter keeps his hand on the throttle and his eyes on the curve ahead while chugging along the tracks. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN
The next two are to take place on Saturdays, Feb. 12 and 19.
At the events, passengers can board the trains waiting at Sheepscot Station on the Cross Road in Alna starting at 10 a.m. Then, a 20-minute steam-powered ride over a stream, through Alna Center Station, will get them to Top of Mountain Station, about three miles away.
From there, sleighs and wagons will take passengers through a stand of trees and across a field to SeaLyon Farm. At the farm, they’ll find homemade sweets and local-raised hot dogs and hamburgers from Grandpa’s Specialty Smoked Meats in Pittsfield.
When passengers are warmed and fed, they’ll make the journey in reverse order, sleigh to train.
The Railway Museum operates narrow gauge trains on a historic line that used to run from Wiscasset to Albion and Winslow.
Clockwise from left: A child waves to fireman Dan Malkowski as their steam trains pass one another on the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum line on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022; Bryce Weeks peers through the steam while helping operate a locomotive; A steam locomotive eases up to the water tower. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN
In the late 19th century, Maine was criss-crossed by five separate narrow gauge railroads. The last one ceased operations in the 1940s.
The original Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway never reached as far as either Waterville or Farmington. Founded in 1895, it wasn’t much of a money-making operation. When a locomotive derailed in June 1933, rather than paying to get it back on the tracks, the railway owners decided to leave it there and close down for good.
The current Railway Museum operation started taking shape in the 1980s and has seen slow, steady growth since then. It now even runs one of the original line’s locomotives, which was built in Portland in 1891.
Two other historic railways also run narrow gauge, half-sized locomotives in Maine. The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and Museum operates trains in Portland and the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad runs out of Phillips.
SeaLyon Farm is a 21-acre organic operation specializing in lavender, vegetables and berries. The farm also partners with the Railway Museum in the fall and summer, running pumpkin and lavender-picking excursions.
Passengers wishing to attend the “Steam and Sleighs” events are urged to dress warmly. The train cars are unheated. The entire excursion lasts about two hours and advance tickets are required.