The Eagle Lake & West Branch Locomotives are two abandoned trains located in the Maine North Woods. They were originally used to carry pulpwood along the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad which operated from 1927 to 1933. During its operations, the trains allowed the Great Northern Paper Company to produce almost one-fifth of the country’s yearly paper production by transferring 6,500 cords of pulpwood per week. The railroad garnered the nickname the “Pulpwood Express.” The trains and paper operations were abandoned in 1933 when the Great Depression hit and decimated the industry.
Today, the trains are often referred to as the Maine Ghost Trains.
The Pulpwood Industry
Throughout the 20th century, the spruce forests of the Maine North Woods served as a supply of pulpwood. To get to the next river or lake, trees were bucked into 4-foot lengths and hauled onto sleds drawn by draft animals or log transporters. When the snow and ice thawed, log drives floated the pulpwood logs to a paper mill downstream. Pulpwood collected in the upper Allagash River drainage was bound for the Great Northern Paper Company paper mill on the West Branch Penobscot River near Millinocket. The challenge was getting the pulpwood out of the north-flowing Allagash River into the east-flowing Penobscot River.
Umbazooksus and Eagle Lake Railroad
Heavy railway equipment was transported from Lac-Frontière, Quebec to Churchill Depot during the winter of 1926–1927 using log haulers. The equipment was then transported over frozen Churchill Lake and Eagle Lake. Two steam locomotives, two switchers powered by Plymouth gasoline engines, miles of steel rail, and sixty pulpwood-carrying railroad wagons were all supplied by the log carriers. Each train car measured 32 feet in length and had high, slatted sides that could accommodate 12 cords of pulpwood. To carry pulpwood logs from Eagle Lake to a height of 25 feet over a distance of 225 feet, three diesel-powered conveyors were constructed. A railroad car may be filled on each conveyor in 18 minutes. At the northern end of Umbazooksus Lake, Lacroix finished building the Umbazooksus and Eagle Lake Railroad to a pulpwood-unloading trestle. The railroad built by Lacroix crossed Chamberlain Lake’s northern end on a 1,500-foot-long trestle.
On June 1st, 1927, Great Northern Paper Company purchased Lacroix’s railroad and changed its name to Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad.
Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad Operations
Materials needed to run the train came in the other direction. Deliveries from the national railway system were brought to Greenville, Maine. The supplies were then transported over 45 miles by road and then were put on a side-wheel steam named the A.B. Smith which would take supplies across Chesuncook Lake. The Chesuncook and Chamberlain Lake Railroad was built by the Great Northern Paper Company to connect the pulpwood unloading pier at the northern end of Umbazooksus Lake with the steamboat landing at the northern end of Chesuncook Lake. Drums of petroleum products to fuel the pulpwood conveyors, switchers, and steam locomotives became a significant freight commodity over Chesuncook Lake after both steam locomotives were modified to burn oil.
During routine operations, two trains would transport ten to twelve loaded pulpwood cars from Eagle Lake to Umbazooksus Lake in the south and empty pulpwood cars from Eagle Lake to the north in a round journey that would take about three hours. The halfway siding is where the two trains would pass. The Plymouth switchers shunted cars at Eagle Lake for loading and Umbazooksus Lake for discharging. To speed up unloading, the 600-foot-long pulpwood-unloading pier’s inland rail was six inches higher than the lakeside rail. Each pulpwood car had a floor that sloped 12 inches to the unloading side, and the top of the slatted side had a hinge that opened when the latches were removed, allowing the pulpwood to slide out and into Umbazooksus Lake. To keep the water deep enough to float the pulpwood logs being dumped, the Plymouth switcher periodically dragged a rake next to the pier. This prevented the bark on the pulpwood logs from peeling off. Regular operations allowed Great Northern Paper Company to produce almost one-fifth of the country’s yearly paper production by transferring 6,500 cords of pulpwood per week. The railroad garnered the nickname the “Pulpwood Express.”
Industry Declined During The Great Depression
After many years of being a highly profitable operation, the Great Depression hit. This led to the demand for paper lessening significantly. Eventually, the railroad operations stopped in 1933 after it had transported about a million cords of pulpwood over just about 6 years. While the steam locomotives waited in the engine house for better economic conditions, the Plymouth switchers were moved for work elsewhere. When commerce picked up after World War II, Great Northern determined that trucks were more economical than repairing the train. Employees of the Maine Forest Service drove a car along the two miles of rail between Eagle Lake and Chamberlain Lake as the trestle progressively fell into Chamberlain Lake.
Abandoned Ghost Trains
The old engine house eventually was destroyed, but the two locomotives that were abandoned in 1933 can still be seen today on old tracks.
The southern locomotive was built by Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1897. It’s a 4-6-0 locomotive known for having four leading wheels on two axles in a leading bogie, six powered and coupled driving wheels on three axles, and no trailing wheels. Before being used for Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad Operations, it was used on the New York Central Railroad, Chicago Junction Railway, and the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad.
The northern locomotive was built by Brooks Locomotive Works in 1901. It’s a 2-8-0 locomotive known for having two leading wheels on one axle, eight powered and coupled driving wheels, and no trailing wheels. Before being used in Maine, the locomotive was used at the New York Central Railroad and the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway.
On May 7, 1979, the locomotives were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Tramway Historic District. This is a major honor and it ensures that the locomotives will be cared for and open to the public for generations to come.
Open To Explorers
Today, the trains can be found in the town of Eagle Lake Township in the North Maine Woods. They are located in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway which is a state park administered by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Recreation. To reach the trains, it will take a lot of time and some good vehicles. The trains are located along a super remote trail that is about two and a half hour’s drive from the nearest city. You will find no shops, gas stations, or homes anywhere nearby. That said, if you are up for the adventure, you will be rewarded!
Visitors can park along Tramway Road at the trailhead to the locomotives. From the trailhead, the locomotives are just about 0.90 miles away. The trail is rated as easy. A 4-wheel drive car is strongly recommended for any visitors. Be sure to bring emergency equipment and supplies too.
- Year Established: 1927
- Year Abandoned: 1933
- Original Function: Locomotives operating along the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad to transport pulpwood
- National Register of Historic Places #79000164
Eagle Lake & West Branch Locomotives Location
- Address: Tramway Road
- Town: East Lake Township
- State: Maine
- GPS: 46.322432, -69.374890
- Parking Notes: Parking is available at the trailhead along Tramway Road. The Eagle Lake Locomotives and Tramway Trail is rated as easy. That said, getting to the trailhead takes a lot of effort. The area is extremely remote and is hours from any true civilization. Be sure to have a 4-wheel drive car, a map, and plenty of emergency supplies.
- Parking Directions: HERE
- Location Directions: HERE