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Maine's Trolley Stop

July 12, 1987|DICK SKUSE | Skuse is a Newark, Calif., free-lance writer.

KENNEBUNKPORT, Me. — Lyman Hurter, 71, and Jim Davis, 57, were at the controls of old 5821, a 1925 Boston trolley, as it clanged and wobbled down the tracks.

Hurter was the motorman, Davis the conductor, and the scene was the Seashore Trolley Museum on the outskirts of this coastal Maine town.

The museum is one of the principal tourist attractions here, along with the town itself, the Maine Coast and the outdoors.

As museums go, it wouldn't rank among the slickest and best presented, and as tour guides, Hurter and Davis might not give the most professional presentations. But the two men and the other volunteers at the more than 40-year-old attraction present a quality that one often finds missing among tour guides--sincerity.

If ever I have heard tour guides who really believe in what they are saying, it is Hurter and Davis. These two gentlemen, with their genuine enthusiasm, make a visit to the Trolley Museum most enjoyable.

They also believe in what they are helping to preserve. One can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices.

Trolleys of the '20s

There are three parts to the museum and its 160 pieces of equipment--trolleys, plus a few trolley buses. (A trolley is any electrically operated vehicle that gets power from overhead wires.)

There's the 1 1/2-mile trip down the tracks, using mostly trolleys of the 1920s from Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Dallas and Connecticut.

"The air brakes are a bit tricky," Hurter said. "We have to take quite a bit of time to learn how to use them so we come to a smooth stop and not put everybody on the floor. We've got it down pat now."

The exhibit barn includes 17 trolleys in three rows, highlighted by a 1911 trolley from Montreal. "It's the 'mother' car," Davis said, "the first car the museum ever obtained." Included in the exhibit area are a car from Manchester, N.H., complete with an observation car; a 1907 Chicago vehicle being restored by a teacher who visits the museum every summer, and a car from Sydney, Australia, with accordion doors and smoking and nonsmoking compartments.

You'll see a trolley from Ottawa, a snow sweeper with brooms that took the snow off between the rails (when the snow brooms were in operation the car looked like a rolling blizzard); a 1914 two-axle, six-passenger trolley from Rome; a 1941 Glasgow, Scotland, double-decker that could maneuver a 90-degree turn at full speed and not tip over.

Then there are a railway post office trolley from New Bedford, Mass.; a Boston trolley used to transport prisoners from courthouse to jail and back (no windows, so the prisoners couldn't see where they had gone), and an old San Francisco cable car.

Large Collection

"We have trolleys here from the United States, Australia, Japan, Germany, Australia, England and other nations," Hurter said. "I believe we are the largest exclusive trolley collection in the United States, maybe the world. The Illinois Railway Museum of Union, Ill., is larger, but they also include electric cars and steam cars."

The tour guides patiently walk up and down past the cars, pausing to give a bit of history about them.

The yard is a melange of hundreds of old trolleys in various shades of restoration, some good, some rather dilapidated. Interesting to see, though one shouldn't try to walk among them. The 17 cars in the exhibit barn are really enough to see up close. The railway station is used as a waiting room and souvenir shop.

The nonprofit New England Electric Railway Society operates the museum (open from late spring to the end of October). Its history dates to 1941 and several Harvard University students.

More Trolleys Offered

They took the last ride of the Biddeford and Saco Railroad (two small towns near the Maine coast) and ended up buying the car for $150, then being told they had to get it out of town the next day.

That became a real problem until they found a farm to take the trolley. But they had to lay some trolley tracks on the farm.

More trolleys were offered to the fledgling museum, but the donors had to pay their own expenses to get the trolleys to Kennebunkport. Over the years, additional rights of way were bought, things went well and the Seashore Trolley Museum became a reality. About 35,000 to 40,000 visit the museum annually.

The entrance to the museum is rather primitive; the sign at the entrance to the exhibit barn is definitely handmade; the windshield wipers on the Boston train we took on the 1 1/2-mile trip had to be moved by hand during a rainy period; the motormen and conductors wear railroad caps and outfits, and look as if they belong in the long-gone era of the trolley. All part of the homespun atmosphere here.

Adult admission is $3.50, seniors $3, children 6-16, $2, and under 5 free. Family price is $11.

Information: Seashore Trolley Museum, Kennebunkport, Me. 04046. Also, Maine Publicity Bureau, 94 Winthrop St., Hallowell, Me. 04347.

If you would like to join the New England Electric Railway Historical Society's 1,100 members around the world, dues are $15 annually; trolley museum address above.

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Kennebunkport is three miles from the museum, and it is a popular summer resort area. Particularly recommended are the Maine Stay Inn and Cottages, Box 500-A, 04046, phone (207) 967-2117; Captain Lord Mansion, Box 800, 04046, (207) 967-3141, and Old Fort Inn, Box M-21, 04046, (207) 967-5363. Rates anywhere from $60 to $120 a night double. Maine Stay Inn was our choice, a delightful two-story inn plus cottages. Friendly atmosphere.

We did not find any restaurants in Kennebunkport particularly noteworthy.

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