The re-birth of WW&F Locomotive #9. It's been 82 years since this little gal last had a fire in her belly. And on the day the fire was last dropped, the odds of her having any sort of future beyond the scrap yard were about like the odds of hitting the lottery. The saga of this engine's return to running on home rails is the sort of stuff you just can't make up.
She was "born" in 1891, a product of the Portland Company, on the shores of Maine's Casco Bay. An 18-ton Forney Tank Locomotive, she had builder's plate #622 and was only the second 2-foot gauge engine to be built in Portland. She went to work for the Sandy River Railroad as their #5, where she served until 1908. It was then that the Sandy River merged with two other lines to form the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad, which became the largest of Maine's 2-foot railroads. She then served the SR&RL as #6 for 16 years. By 1924, she became surplus power as the SR&RL had acquired larger and more capable locomotives. She was sold to the Kennebec Central, where she had a short career hauling coal between Randolph and Togus as their #4. That railroad ceased operations in 1928 and this little gal was parked...for 5 years! Eventually, the assets of the Kennebec Central were acquired by the Wiscasset Waterville & Farmington in 1933. The WW&F was searching for some available power after an engine house fire had destroyed their two largest locomotives. Renumbered for a 4th and final time as WW&F #9, this locomotive operated for only a few months, before a major derailment of her sister #8 put the final nail in the coffin of that railroad. After a 40+ year career, it seemed as if the scrappers would finally catch up with her. She sat for 4 years in Wiscasset, more or less abandoned, and was picked over pretty thoroughly. All the appliances and "jewelry" were pilfered during the depression years.
Then, in 1937, a group of rail enthusiasts put together a plan to save the engine. They acquired it from the owners and trucked it to Frank Ramsdell's farm in Thompson, CT, where the intent was to build some sort of railroad attraction. Unfortunately, that plan never came to fruition, and the engine sat in a barn for the next 50 years. When Frank Ramsdell died, his daughter Alice continued to care for the engine, protecting it like a mother hen. In the 1980s, WW&F Museum Founder Harry Percival became aware of the existence of the engine and developed a relationship with the Ramsdell family. When Alice passed on in 1994, her heirs worked out arrangements with the new museum to move the engine back to Maine. Over the ensuing years, a plan was worked out to restore the engine to operational condition, but it would be 20 more years before that day would come.
Years of fund-raising and painstaking work were required to make the plan a reality. Number 9's worn-out, lap-seam boiler had to be replaced. Her frame, damaged in several accidents over the years, had been badly repaired and would not be safe to use. Even her basic structural design, which literally had the draw-bar attached to the firebox, had to be modified, in order make her safe. Although the boiler and frame are new, and all of her piping, appliances and instruments had to be replaced or fabricated from scratch, there are many aspects of her that are indeed original. The cylinders, running gear, tank, cab, dome covers and stack are all original. The wooden cab was lovingly restored to preserve as much of the "patina" as possible.....right down to the groove worn in the cab wall by a swinging kerosene lantern, all of those decades ago.
Yes, she has a lot of new or transplanted parts...but the soul of the machine is most definitely there. One of the museum's engineers recently commented that when he was a much younger man, he visited this engine on the Ramsdell's farm. Never in his wildest dreams did he figure he'd ever be at her throttle with the engine under steam. That gentleman was kind enough to park her in the December sun, so I could get a sweet-light portrait of Number 9 re-born.