Next stop: Pleasure Island
IF YOU GO
The chug-chug-chug, toot-toot, woo-woo song of the faithful Old Smokey rail system, which once filled the air and completed the warm, family-fun atmosphere at the former Pleasure Island in Wakefield, Mass., will be played again on July 10-11 in Alna, Maine.
Like a favorite “golden-oldie” hit from the past, Old Smokey’s tune will likely send waves of nostalgia through the souls of anyone who can make it to this two-day event, called Pleasure Island Remembrance Days, at the WW&F Railway Museum in Alna, which is between Bath and Augusta.
WW&F stands for Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railroad, which was one of five narrow-gauge railroads in Maine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As did most railroad systems, it fell victim to the advent of the automobile, and many of its cars were abandoned and later junked.
But some, including Old Smokey, were rescued by collectors, historians, or people with big hearts and wallets to match.
According to Ray DiPirro, a Nashua resident who is vice president of the nonprofit Friends of Pleasure Island, Ellis Atwood, a cranberry grower from South Carver, Mass., saw potential for Old Smokey and several other WW&F cars. Atwood bought them, and put them to work on his cranberry plantation.
Eventually, Atwood’s mini-rail system became known as the Edaville Railroad, another name that evokes memories for longtime Merrimack Valley residents on both sides of the state border.
DiPirro said when Pleasure Island opened in 1959, its founders were loaned part of Edaville’s rolling stock. They dubbed it “Old Smokey Line,” and the name stuck.
The engine’s original designation was No. 5, DiPirro said, but when WW&F bought it in 1999, the museum changed it to No. 10. For the special weekend, however, it will be renumbered No. 5 and lettered “Pleasure Island & Western Railroad.”
DiPirro said Friends of Pleasure Island will offer memberships and sell T-shirts and other paraphernalia relating to Pleasure Island and Old Smokey.
Pleasure Island itself thrived from 1959-69, DiPirro said, and became a must-visit spot for Massachusetts and New England tourists.
Kids drove around a track in mini-carts that were small, gas-powered replicas of 1912 and 1913-vintage autos, families and young couples took the scary rail and stagecoach trips through a series of dark tunnels, and everyone flocked to the Show Bowl, where celebrities of both local and Hollywood fame performed.
The resort was also part of the coming-of-age process for hundreds of youngsters in the area, DiPirro said.
“It was a first job for pretty much every kid in the area . . . they worked their way through high school or college there,” he said.
“The kids who were animated, outgoing types, played characters like clowns and pirates; it’s where a lot of teachers had their summer jobs for years, too.”