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Trainspotting

04/07/05 12:00AM By Joe Citro
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(HOST) If you ever had the desire to wander around the Maine wilderness, a surprise might be waiting. Commentator Joe Citro is here today to explain.


(CITRO) Ever think about how big Maine is? By far, it's the largest New England state. But to say it covers 33,215 square miles doesn't effectively convey its vastness.

You don't begin to appreciate Maine's immensity until you head north, into the wilderness by the Canadian border. Roads are few, trees are many and swarms of insects compete for every last drop of your blood. No villages are near enough to be called "near", and cell phones are useless as tin cans with broken strings. It's land like our ancestors found when they first arrived.

Now, imagine yourself making your way among the trees, bathed in surreal green sunlight, while stories of Bigfoot and Windigo race through your imagination. Suddenly, you see something that looks like a structure. You cautiously approach, wondering who would build a big metallic shelter out here in the middle of nowhere. Is it a hermit's condo? A crashed space ship?

And then you realize. You know it's utterly impossible, but there they are: two huge steam locomotives out in the middle of nowhere. There are no tracks, no roads, no spaces wide enough between the trees. Just the engines, swaddled in vegetation, plunked down in the middle of the most inaccessible country in all New England.

How in the world did they get here? Have you stumbled upon proof of teleportation? Well, as is so often the case, the explanation is far less interesting than the puzzle. So I suggest you stop listening right now if you don't want to know the secret of this magic trick.

Years ago, in the heyday of the logging business, two locomotives were dragged in on sleds. It was a monumental effort, but necessary for the labor it saved. The two trains served a short-line railroad running the ten miles from Eagle Lake to Umbazooksus. Their cargo was pulp hauled from the deep woods to the water, where it was floated off to the Bangor paper mills.

Over time things changed. The loggers pulled out. The tracks were recycled. The trains, however, were too old and too heavy to salvage. It was cheaper to abandon them. So they remain to this day, immobile at the spot where their last trip ended.

Fifty years ago, the locomotives were protected by a shed, but it, along with the rest of the logging settlement, burned long ago. In time, the unrelenting Maine forest crept in, reclaimed everything. Today there is no evidence of human habitation at all, except for the two out-of-place locomotives rusting at - and until - the end of the world.

This is Joe Citro.

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter. He lives in Burlington.
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