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The New England Two-Footer Railroads

The U.S. history of the two-footer railroads can be traced to George Mansfield of Massachusetts. On a visit to Wales in the early 1870s he observed a narrow gauge railroad in use. The tracks being a mere two feet apart meant the smaller train engines and carriages were less expensive to construct. Also the rails, ties, bed construction and bridge trestle costs were less expensive. Another plus of the smaller size was it allowed for easier operation through the rough terrain.

The U.S. standard gauge rail width was and is 4 feet 8 ½ inches. The locomotive driver wheels on the standard gauge engine are 4 to 5 feet in diameter, whereas, the driver wheels on a narrow gauge are about 3 feet. On a standard gauge engine the boiler sets nested between the driver wheels, but on the narrow gauge engine the boiler must sit above the driver wheels because of the 24 inch space between the rail heads. A coal fired engine had a straight smoke stack, while a wood fired engine had a funnel shaped stack with screens to act as a spark suppressor.

Mansfield built the Bellerica and Bedford Railroad in 1875, the first two-footer in America. Next Franklin County, Maine followed suit taking advantage of the economies from the diminutive trains and they proliferated throughout Maine. These 2-foot gauge steam powered trains operated from 1879 to just prior to the Second World War.

The current number of operating lilliputian narrow gauge trains in New England Connecticut (1); Maine (4); Massachusetts (1) and New Hampshire (3). The number of defunct narrow gauge railroads in the New England States Maine (10) and Massachusetts (2). The information on the number of New England 2ft gauge railroads was extracted from Wikipedia, "2ft gauge railroads in the United States".

As a side note, the Maine Wiscasset and Quebec Railroad began operation in 1895 to Weeks Mills. In 1901 the railroad was reorganized as the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway (WW&F) when the company wasn't allows to cross the Belfast 'and Moosehead Lake Railroad near Burnham Junction. The rail company was reorganized again when it was not allowed a connection with the Sandy River Railroad at Farmington. The original Wiscasset and Quebec Railroad never reached Quebec.

In the 1920s financial problems prompted the sale of this narrow gauge railroad 'to Frank Winter. He also purchased two cargo schooners, Hesper and Luther Little. He had lumber interests in Palermo and figured to transport coal from Boston to Wiscasset and return with lumber to Boston. In June 1933 a locomotive derailment caused operations to cease. Frank Winter died in 1936, the railroad was scrapped and the schooners were abandoned beside the railroad wharf in Wiscasset.