The Ghost Locomotives of the Great Maine Wilderness
They haven't gone anywhere in a long time.
Deep in the heart of Maine’s Allagash region sit two ghost locomotives silently rusting in the wilderness. Only a few intrepid canoes, hikers and snowmobilers can see the hulking machines, miles from any road or railhead.
The last of the great independent loggers, a Quebecois called King Ed Lacroix, put the ghost locomotives there.
Lacroix built a 13-mile railroad in the middle of the Allagash — some would call it nowhere — to haul pulpwood to Maine paper mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket.
One of the ghost locomotives
When the locomotives cooled down for the last time in 1933, they were simply left in the woods. “ Allagash canoodlers stop and stare in disbelief at the ninety-ton locomotive, still standing there, way to hell and gone off in the woods, and wonder what kind of men brought it there, and why,” wrote Robert Pike in Tall Trees, Tough Men .
King Ed Lacroix
Edouard Lacroix would go wherever he thought he could make a buck cutting down trees.
At one time he employed more than 3,000 workers — clerks, scalers and lumbermen — mostly French-Canadian. And unlike some other logging barons he had a reputation for honesty, fairness and hard work. He paid his men decent wages and gave them modern equipment, comfortable living quarters and hearty meals.
King Ed often worked for the Great Northern Paper Co., which owned the world’s largest paper mill in East Millinocket, Maine . The mill produced a stupendous amount of newsprint, 300 tons a day, enough for nearly every newspaper in the United States. (It’s now shut down .)
In 1925, Lacroix made a deal with the Great Northern Paper Co. to deliver 125,000 cords of pulp per year from the Allagash to feed the giant Millinocket mills. Lacroix didn’t quail at the prospect of moving mountains of pulpwood from a wilderness miles from civilization.
The Allagash posed a further complication: It was in the watershed of the Saint John River in New Brunswick. The mills sat on the banks of the Penobscot.
The East Millinocket mill
To solve the problem, the logging industry dammed the Eagle and Chamberlain lakes so they drained into the Penobscot and not the Saint John. But the dam between the two lakes blocked logs floating to the Penobscot.
For a while, oxen hauled lumber from Eagle Lake to Chamberlain Lake. Then in 1902 the logging companies built a tramway to carry logs. The lumbermen supposedly kept their boardinghouses heated all winter by burning the ox yokes.
Remnants of the tramway still survive in Maine’s Tramway Historic District, part of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway .
The Tramway consisted of an elevated track along which log-filled cars moved. A steam-driven cable took them from Eagle Lake to Chamberlain Lake 3000 feet on the upper track. Then it returned the cars on the lower track. Click here and scroll down for a diagram of how it worked.
The tramway functioned well from 1902 to 1907, when the Lombard Steam Log Hauler made it obsolete.
Tramway remnants near the ghost locomotives
When King Ed LaCroix got the contract from the Great Northern in 1926, he decided to build a 13-mile long logging railroad from the eastern end of the old Tramway to Umbazooksus Lake, which connects to the Penobscot River.
He assembled his men and supplies in Lac-Frontiere, Quebec, and in Greenville Maine. On giant sleds he moved 60 railcars, a 1500-foot steel trestle and a 72-ton and a 90-ton steam locomotive. They traveled over icy logging roads and frozen lakes to Eagle Lake. He built three 225-foot-long conveyors that picked the pulpwood out of the lake and onto the cars. Each conveyor could move a cord of wood from the water to the railcar in 90 seconds. A 32-foot-long railcar could be filled with pulpwood in 18 minutes.
To power the locomotives, barrels of oil were floated by scow across Umbazooksus Lake.
King Lacroix never got to run the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad . The Great Northern Co. bought him out in 1927. The railroad worked well, hauling 6,500 cords of pulpwood a week. (To see a video of a ride on the Eagle Lake & West Branch RR in 1966, click here .)
By 1933 the Great Depression had depressed demand for newsprint, so the Great Northern abandoned the Allagash, the railroad, the rolling stock and the ghost locomotives.
By the time demand for paper picked up, it was more efficient to use trucks to haul logs.
The ghost locomotives sat in a train shed for years. Then the Maine Forest Service mistakenly burned it down. The state, along with volunteers, shored up the ground underneath the ghost locomotives and painted them to prevent further rusting.
Today, the Allagash wilderness is remote and scenic with a 92-mile waterway protected by the State of Maine. National Geographic calls canoeing down the Allagash one of the 50 best adventure trips in the United States.
King Ed Lacroix was elected to Canada’s legislative assembly, leaving politics in 1945. His grandsons, Robert and Marcel Dutil , are successful Canadian businessmen.
During his heyday as a logging baron, one of King Ed’s employees – a log scaler — wrote a poem about him.
The Man of the Hour These lines are composed by a scaler, it seems, Who is scaling the pulp wood at Thoroughfare Stream, Where the young and the old and the low and the high Are singing the praises of Edouard Lacroix. He sure is some hustler to corral all these means In order to purchase such costly machines; His mountains of pulp are a wonderful sight, And tractors are humming by day and by night.
Edward Hammond Clarke and the Chance for Girls
Massachusetts pardons roger williams, but he doesn’t return.
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Abandoned Ghost Trains of Maine – What to Know
People that like trains, abandoned places, or Maine history will appreciate the abandoned ghost trains of Maine. They’re deep in the north woods and are not exactly easy to get to, but the ride itself is part of the journey.
This article describes my trip there and will (hopefully) encourage you to visit this unique destination as well. Be forewarned, however. Getting there isn’t easy. In fact, it can be downright confusing. But with a little planning, and the printable directions I’ve included here, you can get there – and back again – safely.
A Brief History of the Locomotives
Maine is about 90% forested , the most of any state. That includes the roughly 12 million acres of working forestland that make up the north woods of Maine. Maine’s history with working these forests goes back since its early settlement.
There were two railroads working in the Maine lumber industry from 1927-1933 in the area from around these trains, The Eagle Lake and West Branch. We may be accustomed to thinking of trains being built to carry goods and people across long tracts of open land, but in this case their lines were carved through the forest to haul logs out of the woods.
On average, it’s reported that the 12 cars these trains hauled carried more than 6,500 cords of wood across their tracks.
The trains were purchased used by Edouard LaCroix and brought wood for paper-making, mainly for Great Northern Paper. When they were moved to the north woods they were converted from running on coal to running on oil, a wise move to reduce the chances of accidental forest fires.
Operations ended in 1933, and by that time the trains were too old and obsolete to justify bringing them out of the woods for resale. The easiest thing to do was leave them where they stood, parked inside a shed. That shed burned down in 1966 and the trains began to rust. To prevent their complete destruction by the elements, the trains were painted in 1969.
Though it is now just a collection of rusty parts strewn through a remote forest, the Eagle Lake Tramway is one of the most fascinating examples of Maine ingenuity. Devised more than a century ago to transport logs from one lake to another, this steam-powered mechanical system is remarkable testimony to old-fashioned know-how and a willingness to take on any problem. https://www.maine.gov/dacf/parks/discover_history_explore_nature/history/allagash/tram.shtml
One of Maine’s Abandoned Places
There aren’t many places where you can be miles away from civilization and come upon abandoned steam locomotives, but deep in the North Woods of Maine, near Eagle Lake, you can find them… if you know how to get there.
How to Get to the Abandoned Trains from Greenville/Kokadjo
Getting there is half the fun, but if you have never ventured deep into Maine’s woods before, you’ll quickly realize this is not a typical road trip. The roads are entirely unpaved, there are no gas stations, no convenience stores, no homes, and very few road signs. You can drive for hours and not see another vehicle!
You can approach the trains from a few directions in the state. We made our trip from Kokadjo, a very small spot north of Greenville where the pavement ends and the dirt roads begin.
I created a PDF document that contains the directions that you can download and print below.
Download Directions to Abandoned Trains of Maine
Use these directions at your own risk. Make sure you have made reasonable preparations for the trip. It is miles upon miles from emergency services.
Note that most of the driving will be on gravel logging roads. You cannot, and should not, expect a smooth drive. In addition to washouts, ruts, and confusing roads with few to no signs, broken shale on the roads cuts holes in tires all the time. Also watch out for moose, deer, and large logging trucks going at high speed. Lastly, there is no cellphone reception.
Drive north from Greenville to Kokadjo on Lily Bay Road, and then…
- Upon the pavement ending, you will see a sign that says Weyerhaeuser. Veer LEFT onto Silas Hill Road.
- Stay STRAIGHT on main road, not toward Spencer Pond / Spencer Bay Road.
- You’ll come to a sign that says Medawisa Lodge and Cabins/Smithtown Road. Do not take that right. Instead, stay LEFT/on the main road.
- Continue straight until you come to an NLC sign and a fork in the road. Stay STRAIGHT here, do not go to the left of the fork.
- Continue driving until you come to tall yellow pillars. Drive through the pillars. Just one more gateway bringing you deeper and deeper into the North Woods of Maine!
- About a mile later, you’ll see an NLC sign – stay STRAIGHT here.
- A little under a mile after that, stay RIGHT at the fork.
- Drive straight until you come to one-lane bridge; go over the bridge.
- Continue going forward PAST the sign to Big Spencer Mountain Trail.
- Drive straight, PAST a sign for Ragged Riders / Ragged Lake Campground on your left.
- Continue on, going over another one-lane bridge.
- You’ll see a Stop Ahead sign. Continue forward to the sign, which is where the road comes to an end.
- Take a RIGHT at the Stop sign – you are now on the infamous Golden Road. There will be no sign that you’re on the Golden Road – just trust us.
- Soon you should see pavement. You’ll drive past Chesuncook Lake (on left), and will see a “beach” of driftwood.
- Road becomes a combination of pavement and dirt. Keep going!
- Drive PAST the Allagash Gateway Camps sign.
- Continue forward, and soon you’ll see power lines!
- WORTH STOPPING FOR: Near the power lines, you will see an area where you can park and walk a little trail down to the water and see the Ripogenus Gorge. It’s beautiful and a great place to stretch your legs and take some pictures.
- Once you’re back in the car, continue going until the road divides. This is almost immediately after the gorge. Here, take the LEFT onto Telos Road.
- Continue driving for a bit. You’ll pass a gravel pit and then see Soubunge Mountain on your left.
- Soon, you will reach the TELOS CHECKPOINT. You must stop here and register your personal information and pay ($10 per person). At this point, you’re about half way through your trip. From here, the locomotives are a mere 30 miles away!
- After departing the checkpoint, continue driving straight and eventually you’ll reach the Chamberlain parking lot, where the road comes to a T. Take a LEFT here onto Umbazookus Road.
- Follow this road for about eight miles. You’ll come to an intersection of Guy Allen Road and Grande Marche Road (aka “Trans Canada”). Bear RIGHT here.
- After about another eight miles, you’ll come to a 3-way intersection. Stay RIGHT here, onto Edmond Roy Road (toward Loon Lodge).
- Continue on, going over a small wooden bridge.
- At next intersection, you’ll see signs for Loon Lodge directing you left. Stay STRAIGHT here.
- Continue driving, go PAST Chamberlain Lake Road on your right.
- Soon, you’ll drive past a bunch of logging camps.
- Continue forward, and you’ll come to a wooden bridge. Go over bridge and now you’re only about a mile from your destination!
- Soon, you will see a dirt/gravel road on your right and signs for Tramway Road. Take that RIGHT.
- Follow road for about a mile until you see a sign on your left directing you to turn RIGHT to the Tramway.
- You’ll know you’ve arrived when you come to a parking lot complete with an outhouse! Park here, look for entrance to walking trail.
There are quite a few interesting spots along the walking trail, which is relatively flat and well maintained. It took us 20-30 minutes to walk from the parking area to the locomotives. The two locomotives sit in a clearing.
After you’ve spent some time staring at them in awe and taking photos, be sure to go a little farther toward the water just so you can enjoy the beautiful setting before starting back on your journey home.
Words of Warning
There are some words of caution before you make your spooky trip to the ghost trains in Maine.
- First – If you use our directions, you use them at your own risk. Make sure you are prepared. This is not a typical drive.
- Second – You’ll be driving on miles upon miles of dirt logging roads. The broken shale on the roads has been known to slash through tires. Getting a flat tire is not uncommon.
- Third – You will be going into remote wilderness where few people travel. Moose and deer walk these roads, so watch out.
- Fourth – There are hardly any road signs to direct you, so don’t expect to see many. There is no cellphone reception, either.
What to Bring with You
There are some things you’ll want to bring along – for safety’s sake. Following are my recommendations:
- Maine DeLorme Atlas – It won’t be of the best help once you’re in the North Woods, but it won’t hurt, either. All of the pages are topographical maps which can help you orient if you’re lost.
- Amazingly detailed and beautifully crafted, large-format paper maps for all 50 states
- Topographic maps with elevation contours, major highways and roads, dirt roads, trails and land use data
- Compass – This can be used with the topographical maps in the atlas above – should the unexpected happen.
- Handheld GPS – A GPS will help you know where you are. It can track your trip. Our downloadable directions also include coordinates.
- First Aid Kit – This can’t be understated.
- Extra Gas – There are no gas stations nearby. If you go off course, having extra gas on hand will bring peace of mind.
- Tire Repair Kit – I once went on a trip to the North Woods where a friend got a flat and had to replace the tire, got another flat and used my repair kit, then got a third flat and had to use duct tape and glue to fill the hole (it worked!).
- Small Air Compressor – A flat tire won’t fill itself.
- Jumper Cables – You don’t want to find out your battery died three hours away from civilization.
- Emergency Survival Food – This stuff lasts forever, so you can pack it and forget it. Make sure you have a hiking stove to go with it.
- Water – Bring enough drinking water for everyone in your party and/or a means to purify water. Bring extra water if you plan to cook some of that emergency survival food.
Abandoned Ghost Trains Summary
Beyond that, download our directions, watch the video, allow yourself plenty of time for the trip, and tell someone where you’re going!
Have you been to the ghost trains or other abandoned places? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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Association of American Railroads
All aboard the ghost train.
Among the countless ghostly legends and spooky stories that captivate our imaginations, there’s a particularly chilling tale that has been rolling through the tracks of history for generations: the Ghost Train.
The legend of the Ghost Train has its roots in the early days of steam locomotives and railway systems, a time when the sights and sounds of these powerful machines were still novel and frightening to the general public. Although Ghost Trains have been sighted throughout the world, the United States has its fair share of legends. Here are just three:
1. The Lincoln Funeral Train
Location : Various Locations across the United States
One of the most famous Ghost Trains in American history is the Lincoln Funeral Train. After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, a funeral train carried his body on a 1,654-mile journey from Washington, D.C., to its final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. This train, covered in black cloth and adorned with mourning crepe, became a symbol of national mourning and unity during a dark period in American history.
The legend of the Lincoln Funeral Ghost Train arises from the belief that, on the anniversary of Lincoln’s death or other significant dates, a spectral train reenacts the funeral procession. Witnesses have claimed to see the eerie train moving silently along the tracks, drawn by a locomotive draped in black and lit only by dim lanterns. It is said to be accompanied by phantom mourners and the sound of tolling bells.
As the story of the Lincoln Funeral Ghost Train spreads through history, it reminds us of the enduring significance of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy and the mournful echoes of the past that continue to resonate through time. This elusive train, with its solemn presence and eternal journey, remains a symbol of remembrance and reverence for one of America’s greatest leaders.
2. The Phantom Express of Marshall Pass
Location : Colorado
In the rugged and remote terrain of the Rocky Mountains, there’s a haunting legend of a shadowy locomotive known as the “Phantom Express.” This Ghost Train is believed to have traversed the treacherous Marshall Pass, which was part of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. In the late 19th century, the pass was known for its dangerous conditions. Witnesses have described seeing an old-fashioned, smoke-belching locomotive thundering down the new desolate route, emitting an unsettling, otherworldly glow.
3. The Haunting Tale of the Silverpilen
Location : Stockholm, Wisconsin
While technically a Swedish legend, the Silverpilen Train has been embraced in Stockholm, WI, where the local Swedish heritage has deep roots. The Silverpilen, or “Silver Arrow,” is said to be a mystical, silver-colored passenger train that appears at midnight, stopping at an abandoned station in the area. Passengers who board this train are believed to disappear…never to return…
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Abandoned Steam Locomotives
There is a new road, parking area and trail to reach the trains as of summer 2019 get everything you need to know in the adventure guide to maine’s abandoned ghost trains here.
How to find the Abandoned Locomotives of the Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad in the Northern Maine Woods – The best directions you will find on the internet to get to the abandoned trains.
More than a pair of abandoned locomotives in the Maine woods – What to expect when you visit the abandoned trains, with a video walk-through of the site.
The Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad – Maine’s website about the abandoned locomotives and their history.
Watch this video walk-through of the abandoned rail cars that were hauled by the locomotives:
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