There’s a lot of rusty metal in the North Maine Woods: bits of horse harness and log sleds, pieces of enamel dishes and feed pails, wagon wheel rims and Lombard boilers. The remains of logging camps and driving dams can be found in so many places. Yet the ultimate in rusty metal is the two 100-ton locomotives standing in isolated silent in the middle of the woods at Tramway between Eagle and Chamberlain Lakes along the Allagash Waterway. There aren’t many places where you can go for a comfortable walk to something so captivating. This adventure is so very worthy of being on any woods lover’s bucket list.
To me, the most enjoyable way to get to Tramway is by water. Either by canoe on Eagle lake or canoe or boat on Chamberlain. Both require good winds and a full day.
The other way to get to Tramway is by walking in. The directions that I list below are as of July 19, 2017. A road crew was in the area preparing the hauling roads for a fall/winter harvest while we were there. The landmarks and pictures I’m including probably looked different the next day.
PLEASE remember that if you do walk in, you are primarily on Pingree Associates lands. They are a landowner who has handed down ownership from David Pingree in the 1850s through to his heirs today. Be respectful, carry in/carry out your trash, park out of the way, remember that you’ll lose if you play chicken with a loaded log truck.
- From 6 Mile Gate outside Ashland, take the LEFT up the Pinkham road.
- Follow the mile markers (up the numbers) to mile 47.
- Take a RIGHT onto the CONNECTOR ROAD
The Connector Road is a wiggly road that gets hairy when you meet log trucks. If you go during the week when I would expect logging traffic, go to the very end of the Pinkham Road. Take a RIGHT up the 522 road. It takes you to a 4 corners where the Connector Road comes in on the right. You would turn LEFT at the 4-corners and pick up with #5. This takes out as many wiggles as you can.
The Telos road (left at the end of the Pinkham road) has been rough the past couple of years. When it’s in better condition, you can also loop to the south, cross Chamberlain Bridge, take the Umbazookus Road to the Grand Marche Road up along the west side of the Allagash, crossing Allagash Stream before reaching the south end of Bill’s Road. I didn’t drive out the south end of the loop road that takes you by the Tramway trail but I believe it should be well passable and upgraded during the coming harvest.
- Follow the Connector through a 4-corners. The Connector is straight in front of you.
- The Connector becomes the Cyr Road at a 90 degree corner and begins running northerly up the east side of Eagle Lake.
- Cross John’s Bridge. You can see north to Thoroughfare Brook and into Churchill Lake and south across Round Pond and into Eagle Lake.
- About 3 miles after John’s Bridge take a LEFT onto BILL’S ROAD. Set your odometer to 0. It’s a major north-south haul road with a big Y at its mouth. You should find a Bill’s Road sign where the arms of the Y come together. You’ll be looking up a long hill.
From this intersection, you are just shy of 10 miles from the trailhead.
On Bill’s road, you’ll go over Snare Brook at 1.5 miles and by a Maine Forest Service sign at Ranger Road at 1.6 miles.
- Continue on to the White Oak/B&L camp at 5 miles. The camp is on your right past the Clarkson Pond road on a long downhill grade. At the bottom of the grade is Russell Stream and then a long uphill grade.
- Right after you cross Russell Stream, take the road on your LEFT at 5.3 miles. There was a freshly planted 4”x4” post when we were there with no sign on it yet. There are several more posts as you go along. Usually mile marker posts are metal but it’s possible these wooden posts will hold mile markers.
- Continue on the branch to 7.8 miles until you reach a significant intersection and go LEFT. Again, another new post this time on your right. We could easily see where traffic had been turning there. With a timber operation active, that will be more difficult to see.
- The road in this section is rougher. At 8.9 miles, you’ll go past a turn around that has been the parking lot. You can go past that to the trail head. While we were there, the road had been ‘cuffed open’ meaning that a grader had scraped off a lot of the vegetation leaving behind a lot of sharp, tire-loving stubs. It was passable and we went with the blessing of the road crew. There’s a new post at the trail head and enough pink flagging to decorate a Christmas tree. There’s a wide spot to park in by the pink flagged post & trail. Coordinates are: N 46.32979 x W-069.39046.
Now the fun begins! From the trailhead to the trains is a hair over 2 miles. Between the trains and tramway is a half mile. All totaled, if you walk to the trains, across to the Tramway, do an average amount of wandering and go back out, you’ll walk a solid 5 miles.
I’ve walked in several times over the years and the trail has become more well established and defined. You’re not going to lose the trail.
That said, it’s still a path through the woods and it’s a wet path. One of my boys was determined to go through every wet, swampy spot that he could.
By the end of it, he was wet and swampy as were Darius (who hit about half of the wet swampy areas) and I (who avoided the wet swampy areas).
There are no steep hills on the trail. It gradually pitches down which means that it does gradually pitch up coming out. It’s not significant. There are roots, rocks and logs to clamber over or across. They’re all slippery. Wear good foot gear.
Take bug dope.
As you travel along the trail, you’ll come across some rusty metal poking out of the ground and what looks to be a sled runner nearby. Coordinates: N46.32747 x W-069.38621.
The trail runs relatively straight along through here. This section is part of the old Russell Stream Tote Road connecting a cluster of Eastern Manufacturing (circa 1902) logging camps to Tramway.
Terence Harper has a tremendous amount of information about Tramway, much of which can be found on a variety of railroad discussion boards. Here’s a link to a terrific article written by Terry about the log haulers used at that operation and throughout the area and how they relate to the Tramway. Go here to read his article: http://www.maineforestandloggingmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/History-of-the-Maine-Forest-Logging-Museum-Lombard.pdf
You’ll enter a blow-down area as you reach Tramway. Adjacent to the blow-downs, you’ll see some big popple trees. During the train era, this area is where the horse barn, boarding house, Maine Forestry District camp, blacksmith shop, superintendent, clerk and Joseph Giguere’s houses were. Prior to that during the Tramway days, the “Marsh Camp” is pictured as below. Coordinates: N46.32350 x W-068.37976.
To the east of the blowdown was a potato field.
You’ll start seeing all sorts of distracting metal ‘things.’ Boilers, track, junction switches, spikes. Remember that you’ve crossed into an area that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Take as many pictures and videos as you want but please don’t take souvenirs. First tracks are at N46.32296 x W-69.37892
You’ll reach a split in the trail at a boiler.
If you hang to the left, you’ll follow 2 sets of tracks to the remains of the 20 pulpwood cars that the engines pulled.
If you bear to the right along the main trail, you pass the nearly non-noticable remains of a couple of houses, the putt-putt house, oil tank storage, a Lombard boiler and the master mechanic’s house.
All the parts and piece you see are interesting, but as the trains emerge from a curtain of fir boughs, it becomes intriguing and slightly mystical.
Now you can begin to understand the sheer magnitude of the lumbering operations in this area. Two separate and very substantial operations occurred here. The first was the Tramway and the second the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad. Coordinates for the Eagle Lake end are N46.32235 x W-69.37505.
The half mile of earth separating Eagle Lake from Chamberlain was a dilemma that the American lumbermen violently wrestled with. The American lumbermen wanted to harvest the prime wood located along the Allagash corridor. But, there was no easy way to float it to the American mills in Bangor and later, Millinocket, Bangor and points in between. The Allagash was the dominion of the Canadian lumbermen who drove wood easily with the flow of the River to mills along the Canadian side of the St. John River. Every so often, the frustrated American lumbermen would turn envious eyes to the rest of the Allagash and stew until a scheme was hatched. The first scheme involved the construction of Chamberlain and Telos Dams, which at least got some of the wood pointed towards their mills.
Next, frustrated lumbermen walked the shores of Eagle trying to eye a good spot to put in a dam that would flow either Martin Stream or the thin half-mile wide rise of land separating Chamberlain Lake from Eagle Lake. Eagle proved an unsuitable place to construct a dam and the size of dam required at Churchill would be improbable to flow out the half mile of high ground. The Lock Dam was constructed instead to raise logs up from Eagle into Chamberlain and this system was used until 1903. Still, it seemed that more wood could be moved if only a grand scheme could be realized.
“While passing through Eagle Lake we visited the tramway, a ‘moving sidewalk,’ constructed through the woods from Eagle to Chamberlain Lakes. The waters in Eagle Lake flow toward the St. John and on through New Brunswick to the sea. The tramway enables the lumbermen on Eagle Lake to float their logs via Chamberlain and the East Branch to the mills on the Penobscot, thereby avoiding a Canadian tax.” G. Stanton Smith, 1905
American lumber barons Herbert W. Marsh and Frederick W. Ayer engaged engineer Fred Dow to develop the idea of a Tramway between Eagle and Chamberlain. Herbert Marsh was an Old Town lumberman and a descendant of John Marsh. Many Mainers may recall “Marsh Island” on which Old Town and parts of Orono, including the University of Maine campus, are situated on. Marsh Island is named after his family. Here’s a link to some early Marsh family history: http://files.usgwarchives.net/me/penobscot/orono/marshisland/sj2p202.txt
Ayer owned the Eastern Manufacturing Company, which had a saw mill, sulphite mill and paper mill in Brewer. The Company also owned Township 9 Range 14 WELS, among other townships, to the north west of Tramway and needed a way to get lumber from there, down the Penobscot and into Bangor/Brewer. Russell Stream, which has its headwaters in T9 R14 and empties into Russell Cove in Eagle Lake, could sustain spring log drives but not season-long drives to the magnitude that Ayers envisioned.
In the fall of 1902, construction began on the tramway. It was operational in 1903. Over the winter of 1902-03, logs were piled along the shores of Eagle Lake. Over the summer, the logs were towed by boom by the H.W. Marsh, a sidewheel steam boat, to a holding area between Hog Island and the loading area.
The loading area would have had a partially submerged sprocket so that logs could be pushed onto a truck with a peavey. The men pushing the logs onto the trucks had to be on their toes as at top speed the trucks were moving around three miles per hour.
The basic idea of the Tramway was to create a sort of conveyor belt for logs. A 6,000 foot, 1-1/2 inch thick cable took the place of a belt. A large sprocket wheel was located at either end of the circuit. The sprocket wheels were driven by a Westinghouse Compound Engine, which was usually used as electric light generating plants. In this instance, it’s 12 inch and 24 inch cylinders made 255 revolutions per minute with a 14 inch stroke to create 100 pounds of steam pressure to move the sprockets. The remains of the power plant and 2 large boilers are located at the Chamberlain end of the Tramway and well worth the walk across to see. Coordinates for Chamberlain end are N46.31583 x W-069.37871.
Spaced along the cable at 10 foot intervals were 600 “trucks” which supported the logs.
Six hundred clamps aided in moving the truck as it went around the sprocket.
These things are fairly easy to picture in your mind as you can see the remaining cable, the trucks, and the power plant at the Tramway today. The challenging part is now imagining a two-level cribbing with a set of narrow 22 inch gauge railroad tracks on each level to support the truck. Fortunately, in recent years, Park staff and volunteers, have rebuilt a small section of the Tramway at the Chamberlain Lake end so that we can see how it worked. Follow this link to a Bangor Daily article & video about the effort: http://bangordailynews.com/2012/09/09/news/aroostook/volunteers-bring-old-allagash-tramway-back-to-life/
On the Chamberlain Lake end, wood came off the trucks as they rotated around the sprocket and were then guided down a set of rollers and into Chamberlain. Remember that the water level was higher so there would not have been quite as much marsh as we see today. On the Chamberlain side, the George A. Dugan steamboat would boom the logs down to Telos to be driven through Telos Dam and into the East Branch of the Penobscot.
There was a lot of speculation that the whole system wouldn’t work. The first major dilemma was moving a single, continuous 6,000 foot circle of 1-1/2 inch cable. H.N. Bartley was hired to move the cable in the winter of 1901. It was the last major portion of the Tramway to be moved. The cable was moved in the winter when horses and sleds could be used, which was the common way and time to move major equipment or large quantities of supplies. The feat proved too much though and by the time the crew reached Smith’s camp along the West Branch, the decision was made to cut the cable into 2 sections. If you keep an eye out as you walk the Tram, you can see the massive splice clamping it back together.
The second problem happened after the whole thing was put together. After firing the boilers and engaging the sprockets, it was found that bolts holding the trucks and clamps on the cable weren’t tight enough causing the whole system to fail. The remedy was simple, but extremely time consuming. Every single 7/8 inch bolt on each clamp and truck, totaling over 4,800 bolts, had to be taken off. Using a hand dye, the threads on the bolts were lengthened so that the nut could be tightened to the proper tension. Workers nightly inspected and tightened these same nuts and bolts as well as others along the system.
The last disappointment with the Tramway was its speed. While the Tramway did function at a steady three miles per hour, it was thought that the system would move much more quickly than it actually did. Regardless, the Tramway was run from 4 am to 8 p.m. daily moving a half a million board feet.
Ayer and Marsh worked the area until the crews were moving wood beyond what was practical and economical with horses. They switched methodology and used Lombards for a time until the wood ran out. Then, the Lombards were parked and the Tramway turned off.
Most of the Lombards were sold off to other operators in the area though a final remaining one was removed from the Russell Pond area in 2016. Much like what you’ll see with the trains, it didn’t make financial sense to dismantle the Tramway and remove it. It was abandoned completely. In the six seasons that it ran, the Tram moved over 100 million board feet into Chamberlain Lake and left a place-name in the middle of nowhere. Follow this link to the Maine Memory Network and more about the Eastern Manufacturing Company, who became Eastern Fine Paper: https://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/2146/page/3548/display?use_mmn=1
The Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad
In 1846, Shepherd Boody testified to the Committee on Interior Waters in regards to the disputes at Telos Cut. Mr. Boody came into the Allagash country in 1839 and was “engaged in exploring and cutting pine.” In his 1839 explorations, Boody was specifically looking to see if the waters of the Allagash could be forced to flow south. As part of his testimony, Boody states that “Logs can be carried from Eagle to Chamberlin lake by locks or hauling by….To get the logs from Eagle to Chamberlain lake, one way is to haul by and take two years [to get the wood to market]. Another is to take up by slip, lock or railroad.”
Eighty years later, a railroad was finally constructed to move logs from Eagle Lake into the headwaters of the Penobscot utilizing the established landing and structures at the discontinued Tramway. The Roaring Twenties brought a mass of industrialization across the entire United States with railroad lines spidering across the country while visionaries were busy plotting where the next line would run. The 1920’s were also a boom time for the Great Northern Paper Company, affectionately called “The Northern” or the “Great Northern,” and they eyed the heavily forested areas around the Allagash and Musquacooks as a supply for their expanding mills. They weren’t interested in tree length pine though. The Northern was interested in spruce and fir trees cut into four foot long sections which they would eventually be ground into a pulp and made into paper. Hence, the term “pulp wood.”
Incorporated in 1899, Great Northern had purchased land around the Musquacooks to the east of the Allagash and wanted to log the area to feed its mills in Millinocket (built in 1900) and East Millinocket (built in 1907). These mills would hold the distinction of being the largest paper mills in the world for a time.
Getting the wood to Millinocket, however, would be costly. The lumber would have to be driven down Musquacook Stream into the Allagash and then landed along the St. John where it would be loaded onto the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad. The Northern’s contractor, Edouard LaCroix, suggested hauling the wood from the Musquacooks by Lombard Log Hauler and dumping it onto Churchill. Musquacook Stream is a slow-moving river and LaCroix thought the drive would go better straight down the Allagash. About this time, LaCroix had a disagreement with the B&A regarding freight rates. As a result, LaCroix proposed to the Great Northern that he move the Musquacook wood over the height of land at the old Tramway site. LaCroix and Northern engineer O.A. Harkness, who was also involved with the Tramway design, developed a plan calling for a railroad through the woods. The railroad, despite its expense, would undercut the B&A’s freight rate by thirty-five cents a cord.
The plan was to construct a thirteen-mile-long “Eagle Lake and West Branch” Railroad (ELWB) which would originate at Eagle Lake, run toward the north end of Chamberlain Lake where it would cross the inlet of Allagash Stream over a 1500-foot-long trestle, then run down the west shore of Chamberlain Lake only a stone’s throw from the shore. Near Ellis Stream it bore southwesterly and terminated at the north end of Umbazookus Lake. Umbazookus flows into the northeast arm of Chesuncook Lake and thence to the West Branch of the Penobscot River. A spur also ran south along the east shore of Umbazookus Lake to a large pier jutting out into Chesuncook Lake just south of the current day Umbazookus Stream bridge. A large dock allowed steamers and scows working on Chesuncook Lake to dock and unload supplies and passengers. Passengers might start their Allagash trip at the dock or stay at a set of sporting camps along Umbazookus.
“I spent three months that winter of the eclipse [1925-26], with a crew of seven men, lived in tents, and it was one of the coldest winters we have had. In the crew were Leonard Cormier, Angus Comeau, Chas. Tyler, Jim McLeary, Fred Tweedie and Wallace Upton. We surveyed a route from Musquacook Lakes to Churchill, surveyed a dam site at Churchill and a route from Churchill to Umbazookskus Lake and then later a rail line to Umbazookskus Cove on Chesuncook Lake. We also got various levels along this route. Later Lloyd Houghton made the final R.R. Survey, Churchill to Umbazookskus, and I surveyed the final road to Chesuncook and I supervised the building of the trestle, crossing the Allagash at the head of Chamberlain.” C.M. Hilton
The ELWB Railroad centered around the two engines at the Eagle Lake end of the Tramway. ELWB Number 1 and its associated tender were constructed at Schenectady Locomotive Works in June of 1897. It was purchased in 1926 and ran from 1927 through 1933. The engine was originally fire by wood or coal to produce steam but due to the considerable threat of forest fire ignitions from cinders, the engine was converted to fire crude oil to produce steam.
ELWB Number 2 was a bit newer locomotive and became the main engine for hauling pulp. It was constructed in 1901 by Brooks Locomotive Works and was also converted from coal to crude oil. It was purchased a year later in 1928 and ran it until 1933.
The oil needed to run the engines was brought from Greenville to Chesuncook Dam where a scow transported the drums to the end of the railroad at Umbazookus. You can see multiple oil drums strewn through the woods at Tramway.
LaCroix began hauling supplies to construct the Railroad in the winter of 1926-27. These supplies were hauled by Lombard Haulers from Lac Frontiere to Churchill Depot, via the LaCroix Road, then across the frozen waters of Churchill and Eagle. Included in the supplies were 2 gas-powered switchers, log loaders, steel rails, the material for the Trestle, 20 train cars and a 100-ton locomotive. Also among the supplies was Eerie Steam Shovel No. 181. The shovel was used to dig gravel for the rail bed, excavate cuts through hillsides in what is called “The Big Cut” heading towards Chamberlain, drive piles for the trestle and dredge accumulating bark from the bottom of Umbazookus Lake. As you explore the Railroad, look for a large metal clam-shell bucket. This bucket was used with the Eerie Steam Shovel. After 1933, LaCroix moved the Steam Shovel to the St. John River where he was installing a bridge at 9-Mile. The shovel is still in the woods along the west side of the St. John River.
On the Eagle Lake end, there was much construction to facilitate the loading of logs. A hub of service buildings were constructed including a horse barn, boarding house, well house, repair shops, engine house, sand drying buildings, chicken coops, water tanks and a saw mill. Emile Labbe, the master mechanic, Duguette and sons, Edwin and Sam Robichaud, Aurel Farlin the blacksmith, Joseph Giguere, the clerk Floran Poulan, the superintendent August Lesser and the Maine Fire District warden Bill Dub all had homes near the tracks as well.
When the system was complete, logs were driven into a boom area which utilized Hog Island as one of its anchor points. From the mass of four-foot wood, men guided sticks on one of two conveyors. The conveyors were 250 feet in length and rose 25 feet. Each conveyor was powered by its own 40 horsepower diesel engine. As you stand with your back towards Eagle Lake on the train tracks, the conveyors would have been to your left.
A large triangle was formed from within the Big Cut into a potato field to the north and south to where the landing and disintegrating cars are now. This way, as an empty train came in, its cars could be unhooked from the engine, backed in under the conveyors, filled and returned to the engine. It took 90 seconds to dump one cord of wood into a car and a total of 18 minutes to fill a single 12 cord car. It was found to take too long to make nice, neat rows with the wood so it was allowed to fall into the cars helter-skelter. 10 minutes of service was required for the steam engine per trip. The engines would haul ten cars per trip.
If both trains were running there was a little bit more lag time when they were being filled. If only one engine was running, then while the train was on its run, the other ten cars would be filled up and waiting for the engine when it got back. Over 6,500 cords of wood would be moved in an average week on the railroad. While wood from around the Allagash drainage was moved over the railway, other wood was also being brought from the Musquacook drainage by Lombard Haulers, dumped into the Allagash and boomed to the railroad.
Unless there was some mechanical problem, both trains ran day and night. The track was curvy and fairly slow so using just one train was ineffective. According to one account Earl Vickery “later frigged in some curves…. It was the kinkiest railroad ever laid out in this country.” A passing track was constructed located roughly half way along the route allowing the empty train to pull over and wait for the loaded train to go by.
The moving of engines and cars was facilitated by a neat little engine called a Plymouth. The Plymouths were constructed in Plymouth, Ohio and were small engines that acted as land-bound tug boats. There was a Plymouth at either end of the Railroad.
The Eagle Lake end also had most of the support buildings. There were some structures at the Umbazookus end, but not nearly as many as the Eagle end.
The Umbazookus end of the Railroad is interesting in its example of ingenuity. Like the Eagle side, there was a large triangle so the engine could back its cars down a long pier that extended into Umbazookus Lake. The tracks were intentionally build 6 inches higher on one side. This way, a crew could walk down the line, knock out the pins that held the side of the car closed causing the side to hinge open from the top, and the wood would fall out of the car on its own accord. The crew would go back through picking out any wood which didn’t roll out and then replace the pins.
In the time that the Railroad ran, Eagle and Chamberlain would not have been tranquil places. With two diesel engines running the conveyors, a Plymouth idling or laboring to push cars, plus a generator to provide lights to the operation, all in a very large opening along the shore, the noise would have ricochet around the lake. The engine coming in would have rattled the houses and provided close to a thunderous roar in addition to the click-clacking of the car wheels. Although being extremely close to the water was good in case of fires, nearly 1/3 of Chamberlain Lake would have been edged by the tracks. Here is another good article about the trains: http://www.exporail.org/can_rail/Canadian%20Rail_no196_1968.pdf
It’s here at the Railroad that we first meet Edouard LaCroix. Edouard LaCroix was better known as “King” LaCroix.
He was born in 1889 in St. Marie, Quebec. He left Quebec at age 14 to find work in a New England textile mill. He then sold textile for a short time and eventually went into the woods camps. He returned to Quebec in 1906, becoming a telegraph operator for the Quebec Central Railroad. By 1911, he opened his own logging firm and gradually succeeded in prospering. A 1914 forest fire, however, destroyed his land, ruined him financially and endangered his wife and child. Later in life, he told a friend and business colleague that he could “remember in 1914 I was totally ruined and my wife was the only one to encourage me.” He reestablished himself and again suffered another downturn of luck in 1918. By 1920, he was again on firm ground and working his way upwards. He was cutting pulpwood in Maine along the Quebec border and began acquiring land in Maine. His first acquisition was the Van Buren Lumber Company holdings on the St. John River which he purchased in 1923. He revamped the Company and turned it into the Madawaska Company. In the same year, he signed his first major contract with the Great Northern Paper Company which included cutting 10,000 cords of wood in Quebec, building a sluice across the border and driving the wood over the border and into the headwaters of the Penobscot River. He then bought out the St. John Lumber Company holdings, which included a mill, the Allagash Improvement Company which worked on the north end of the Allagash Waterway, shore and boom rights. He also purchased land in the Gaspe and Matapedia areas of Quebec in a deal worth over three million dollars. LaCroix established depots at Musquacook, Umsaskis, Clayton Lake, Churchill Dam, Seven Islands, Lac Frontiere, and St. Aurelie to facilitate his cutting operations along the Maine-Quebec border. The depots were usually built along the same general lines. A large boarding house, like you see Churchill Dam and Clayton Lake, was common at each depot as was a small two-story house built with the same design for each one. LaCroix was constantly moving between the depots and would usually employ family members to act as custodian of the dwelling. In addition to other duties at the depot, the custodian was responsible for keeping up a bedroom specifically for LaCroix and feeding him while he was in residence. For more on LaCroix, follow this link: http://www.northmainewoods.org/images/pdf/lacroix.pdf
The contract with Great Northern to construct the railroad was a land mark contract that presented tight deadlines for a massive amount of physical labor and movement of enormous pieces of equipment through relatively inaccessible wilderness. Through the Depression years, Great Northern nearly went bankrupt because LaCroix would not back down from the terms of his contract. At the end of the contract, the Great Northern never again signed a multi-year contract. Pushed by LaCroix’s staunch work ethic, the fiercely loyal French-Canadian loggers whom he employed met the deadlines and completed the work. In addition to moving wood into the Penobscot, LaCroix was also driving wood down the Allagash River to the remodeled St. John Lumber Company mill in Van Buren. With over 3,500 men employed in operations between Musquacook, Churchill, Tramway and Van Buren, LaCroix claimed the right to brag that he could “drive the Allagash both ways.” Along the Allagash, he built a new dam at Churchill in 1925, then moved down to Long Lake Dam in 1926-1927 and extensively remodeled that dam. He moved an iron bridge from the Chaudiere River in Quebec to the St. John River at Nine-Mile so that his workers could enter the state at Lac Frontier and easily make their way to his Clayton Lake depot, Churchill, Musquacook or elsewhere. Outside of Maine, he continued acquiring land in the Gaspe and had 3,000 more lumbermen working in Quebec. In New Brunswick, he operated three large mills, ran a woolen mill to supply winter clothing to his logging camps and managed large contracts in the Campbellton area. He also had a horse farm in Ontario to supply the work horses necessary to his logging operations.
The Depression years through the late 1920s and 1930s took a heavy toll on landowners and logging contractors in the woods of northern Maine. Lumber prices declined as did pay rates for the men from an average of $1.60 a day to just $.90 a day. One report estimated that the number of woodsmen in Maine was around 20,000 in 1929 and only 8,000 in 1931. LaCroix was one of the only major operators in the north woods through the Depression, and, although he too had to scale back operations, he survived the markets with his holdings intact. During the subsequent war years, LaCroix again prospered. His 1945 drive where 150 river drivers brought 35 million feet of logs and 35,000 cords of pulpwood from the upper St. John and Allagash was one of the last big mixed drives to go through the St. John Valley. LaCroix retired in 1946. He sold his Madawaska Company stock to K.C. Irving, Ltd of St. John. His Canadian property and operations was left in control of his sons Henri and Andre and his other Maine timberlands was sold to St. John Sulphite. LaCroix died in St. Georges, Quebec in 1963.
LaCroix was truly a lumberbaron as well as a landowner, and major contractor in Quebec, New Brunswick and northern Maine. He took on epic projects and succeeded. He also inspired the men who worked for him. LaCroix was elected to the Quebec House of Commons. In response, “woodsmen in his Greenville camps presented him with a gold headed cane and lauded: ‘In Quebec, you are a member of the House of Commons. In Maine, you are a King.'”
Work in the woods during this time was grueling hard labor yet many thousands of men worked in the woods usually in the winter returning home to farm in the summer. The area to the west of the Allagash has always been dominated by Canadian contractors and workers. Many of the men who worked for LaCroix were Canadians who sometimes brought their entire family with them into the woods. These families were generally called “Range Road Families.” Quebec opened up its land very systematically with a grid of roads running by numbered ranges. Range Road families were usually poor, hardworking folks getting by with whatever work they could. They didn’t have much so it was easy for them to go to the next logging job where housing was provided or readily available.
One family who followed a similar path as a Range Road family was the Morissette family. Oliver Morissette was from St. George, Quebec and worked for LaCroix. Oliver’s oldest son Mathias began working for LaCroix in 1920 at the age of 27. On various jobs, Mathias slept in a bunkhouse with the other men and ate his meals in the cook room. During the winter, Mathias operated a Lombard Hauler out of Churchill Depot moving up to 30 sleds at a time. He worked six days a week leaving Churchill at two am so he could reach the job site by daylight. Two complete trips would take him until ten pm. He was paid $5.00 a day and, for several years in a row, received a $300 bonus for hauling the most logs for the season.
In 1927, Mathias went to work at the Eagle Lake end of the Railroad. Mathias took his wife, Adrienne, and six children (five boys and one girl ages five to twelve) with him from a one-room log cabin at Churchill to a small house at Eagle. Mathias ran a Plymouth at the Eagle end shifting engines and cars around the yard. Mathias’ oldest son, Pearly who was twelve in 1927, worked as a cook’s helper, or cookee. He worked seven days a week, 15 hours a day, for $1.50 a day. Being a cook’s helper usually meant peeling a lot of potatoes, washing many pots, pans, and plates, lugging beans out to the men who couldn’t make it into the cookroom, and occasionally acting as camp hunter. It was common practice until the 1940s (or later) for wild meat to be in the soup pot at logging camps. At Tramway, being a cook’s helper also meant that you were the one to hold onto the plates and keep the pots from sliding off the counter when the train passed literally just outside the window rattling everything.
There were no eight hour days in a logging camp. The men worked from sunup to sunset if not beyond. Like many men, Mathias began suffering from fatigue related health problems by 1930. He called it quits and went home to Waterville, Maine. Waterville has a surprisingly large French-Canadian population many of whom followed the impoverished Range Roads from Quebec into the hardworking Maine woods until opportunity or health pushed them to the lumber mills along the major rivers and into the American way of life.
Although LaCroix began construction on the Railroad and continued to contract workers to it, the Northern actually bought out the railroad operation in early 1927. The railroad made its first successful trip on June 1, 1927 and ran continuously day and night until 1933. The two well-used engines were, by that time, obsolete. The cost of getting them out of the woods was greater than what they could be sold for so the engines were parked in a large storage shed and left. It was never intended that the engines leave these woods.
Like Oliver Morisette, Joseph Giguere also followed the lure of the woods from Beauce, Quebec. Joe and his family spent 20 years between Tramway and Churchill Dam. He was one of the hardy individuals who had the woods in his blood. After the railroad closed, Joe went to Churchill Dam and ran a Lombard through the winter. In the summer, he guided and worked periodically for the Maine Forestry District. In the fall, he trapped before going back to work on the Lombard. The following are excerpts from his memoires which were apparently written later in life.
“I am born from a family of 12 children in Canada at St. Joseph, Beauce. We were 6 boys and 6 girls. I am the seventh of the family. My father was a farmer. When I was a kid I had always in my mind trapping, fishing and hunting, but my folks thought it was too dangerous. I myself, as I grew older I could realize my dream. I went to school and high school at the Marie in Beauce not too far from Quebec City. And at 18 years old I became a clerk in my uncle’s store. After 2 years working there I get married to Jeanne Dugal from Robertsonville. We had 9 children and 8 are alive. I work for Quebec Central Railways as a brakeman. From my brother-in-law I learn the Madawaska Company was going to build a railroad 13 miles long at Tramway between Chamberlain Lake and Eagle Lake. I thought I am going there to work. I could satisfy my ambition. I had experience of brakeman. They put me on a locomotive that I was running. I stayed on it all summer and it was close for the winter on account of the north weather.
These jobs start in 1927. Then in October I decide to send an order for 6 dozen traps and a 30-30 to try my first move on trapping in the big woods, of Maine….
The trapping was good for the first year and gave me the courage for another year. I went back on the railroad that summer and we finished everything that summer and also the transportation of pulp start from one lake to another. And every Sunday I spend my days in the canoe on the lakes and brooks because I was crazy for fishing as I was for trapping.
…When I was fishing there I took trout. They called it square-tailed trout, and also togue, and in the meantime I study the nature and it keep me to know what I want to know later on. Because I want to go further on trapping. I went on lakes, brooks, and rivers, and I learn how to handle boats and canoes on the water specially when the water was rough.
In the summer I went fishing on the Allagash in the dead water. And there was a little brook running his water toward Allagash. If I want a mess of trout for supper I was sure to go there and take my limit.
I haul 14 cars on tracks for 13 miles. The first year we haul 65,000 cords of wood. We haul about like that for 5 years. We used to start the mechanic job to repair the machines, like steam engine. I was not a mechanic man but we have a real good on in person of my brother-in-law, Emile Labbe. He come around to check our job once in awhile to see if we were doing the right thing. He was also electric man and was able to do lots of everything – the one of the best we could find in that field. He also patent the cars to open all in one side to drop the wood in the lake. It took about 182 cords of wood in 20 minutes. They used to cut logs and pulp in mid-summer and had to be hauled on tractor in winter. Those tractor were always on repair because they had to put too much weight. Finally Emile Labbe, he watches them so close, he said they could be improve. And he did. Instead of having winter lag, he put a winter one and a summer one. So this way they didn’t chew all the ice and they could haul heavier loads. During that time trapping start October 15 and close, for me, January 11 because they want me back on the tractor.
…I was liking the big wild woods. I done it for 4 falls and winter and summers was working for the railroad. So I decide to go down to Quebec to get the visa for the whole family. So in December, 1929, here I was with my family in the big woods.
…The children I had with me at this time was Theresa, John Paul, also Rita and Charlotte, and my wife, Jeanne, and myself, Joseph.
… We had 5 children that year [his wife delivered their fifth child] and for the last one, no doctor around. I delivered the baby and I also delivered 3 other babies. There was no doctor for one hundred miles. I deliver 3 at the Tramway and 1 at Churchill. The last one the doctor come 5 hours after the baby was born and after examining of the mother and baby he said everything was correct. I will say my wife and baby were always in good condition and the rest of the family, too. Lots of fresh air, plenty food and lots of work. All the breads, doughnuts, cakes, pies, and can goods were made at the house.
… When my wife start in pain she call me and I put water on the wood stove to have it boil and be sure of that, and stay with her until the baby was born. After I tie the cord near the baby’s stomach and cut it near the knot I made, and help my wife with the rest. I burn it in the stove and be sure it is all burn. Wash my wife good, fix her bed clean and nice. The she could be comfortable and after that I took care of the baby. As soon as he was born I wrap him in a wool blanket right away until I was ready to take care of him. Myself, when I was alone wash him very well and clean and dress him, and put him in a little bed we fix for him before he is born. Everything always came out OK. Both my wife, and the baby, were always in good shape and I was proud of myself. I also have the rest of my family in good health.
…The gardens, potato fields, strawberry plants, and rhubarb were also in the family’s care. The preserve and ice cream and soft drink were also made at home.
When I am at it I teach to my girls to trap and they were doing good. They were lucky too because they didn’t learn by book. They learn my method and my work. Knapsack on their back, snowshoes on their feet – no weather to stop them. They took mink, muskrats, foxes, weasels, bobcats. They skin them, put them on the stretcher to gave them the right shape.
…I worked on the engines every summer to transport the wood and in the winter from October 15 to January 9 I trapped because after that in the winter I worked on a tractor with lots of sleighs behind loaded with pulpwood which we took to the lake. We haul that wood to a conveyor to the lake.
…I was working on the railroad in the summer and trapping in the fall and from January I was hauling pulpwood with a tractor, a 10-ton Lombard, about 10 miles back from the shore of Churchill Lake. I stayed with the company 6 summers and I trap in the winter. But the company closed after 6 years.
…The company had finish its wood operation and the next day I decide to take my family to 15 miles lower at Churchill Lake. I built a camp and in the same year I also built a boat and bought another motor. I decide to take my guiding license and take care of the one who like to come up fishing.
…In the same time the Fish and Game Department from Augusta, Maine open a few towns to trap beaver. And so the company was gone.”
The Tramway again took on another life after the trains stopped running. The Maine Forestry District had long had Fire Wardens patrolling the Allagash waters and the Tramway made a perfect spot to centralize a district headquarters. The supervisor for the area, or District Warden, lived in a newly constructed house and employed four or five patrolmen to patrol the woods and waters for fire from April through November. Some of these patrolmen had state provided camps at Round Pond by Telos, Umsaskis, Musquacook, and Nine Mile Bridge while others lived in quarters at Tramway. The District Warden also hired men to man the Fire Towers at Soper, Allagash Mountain, Priestly, Norway and others. Most of these men moved their entire family into the woods with them. The State offered to rent the camps to the men and their families over the winter and many of the families stayed in and trapped fur bearers.
In 2004, I had the opportunity to listen to 87 year old Camille Beaulier. Camille had been a road builder for the Civilian Corp in Baxter Park in the 1930’s, a seasonal Fire Warden from 1946 to 1951, a noted Maine Guide and a true example of a northwoods woodsman, trapper, hunter and fisherman. There were, quite literally, thousands of miles of phone line that Maine Forest Service ran through the woods. The woods companies also ran phone lines. You will occasionally still find phone line and small white or black ceramic insulators strung through the woods. As Camille stayed in the woods to run trap lines, he was occasionally asked to work in the winters running phone line. Camille was one of the hardy souls who ran line from Priestly Mountain near Umsaskis to Tramway then from Tramway to Soper and under the Arm of Chamberlain to connect to the phone system coming up from Patten. Tramway was most definitely a center of operations in the woods and a center of the phone system running from Round Pond south to Chamberlain and extending west to Allagash Lake and east to Cliff Lake. It was a phenomenal system with literally thousands of miles of line hand strung through the pucker brush. This system was eventually replaced with a radio repeater system. While the phone system had its problems, particularly with moose getting their antlers wound up into the phone line and subsequently breaking the lines, the radio system didn’t allow backwoods gossip and human contact the way the old phone system did.
In the 1940’s Tramway was a different sort of community than it was when the Lombard operators, cookees, loggers and mechanics were there. Edmond Emery was the District Warden for a number of years and raised four daughters at Tramway. Mr. Emery and his Fire Wardens used a hand cart and a putt-putt to patrol over to Chamberlain, across the trestle and down the west side of Chamberlain. For entertainment, lively baseball games between the Forestry personnel and the local Game Wardens were held.
Go for a short ride on the Putt-Putt to the trestle by following this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-gtPiqlTLc
When the State acquired the Allagash Waterway in 1966, major changes were made in getting rid of old structures for safety reasons as well as to begin the mission of maintaining the Allagash in a “wild” state. Buildings all over the Waterway were razed, including old logging camps and many structures at Churchill Dam. The Maine Forest Service was asked to move its headquarters. The last order given to the Fire Warden as he left Tramway was to “burn everything.” So he did. Unfortunately, “everything” was only supposed to be the Forestry house and associated buildings. He burnt every single building remaining at Tramway including the shed over the trains and other buildings.
It soon came out that the shed was being leased by Irving Pulp and Paper who had acquired much of Edouard LaCroix’s land in Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec, from Seven Islands, who still owned the property. Needless to say, things were not good and the trains were left more exposed than they were. They were picked over for souveniers and, with no protection from the elements, they sank into the mud.
Today’s Tramway is still bits of metal, two rusting engines, and thick woods. To picture a side-wheel paddle boat booming logs across the lakes, logs clipping through the woods on an endless cable or trains rumbling in to be loaded with pulpwood takes a lot of imagination. Yet these monumental works of man, thousands of hours of hard, manual labor, have rotted into the ground and the details of how they worked have been forgotten as the wilderness takes back itself.
My first memories of the trains were of heavily leaning hulks propped up with logs. In 1995, volunteers with the Allagash Alliance hauled in gravel, beams and jacks. The got the engines back up level and on tracks.
Asbestos from the boiler jackets on both engines was removed. The trail between Eagle and Chamberlain has been stabilized and improved by the Maine Conservation Corp. Recent years have seen the restoration of the Tramway on the Chamberlain end.
We’re reminded in these woods that our works are temporary. We learn history when we look at the trains and tramway. We can appreciate the men who worked this land in conditions much different than todays. We can value the quite of the woods by realizing that for a time these waters echoed with the hustle and bustle of a wonderous metal machines.
Today, though, the only hustle and bustle was from the tiny frogs and toads who call Tramway home.