Step lively, please. That's surely what was going through Joseph Coburn Smith's mind when he snapped this dramatic photograph of two college students, just right of center, stepping in front of a steam locomotive as it passed through the original Colby College campus on the banks of the Kennebec River back in the 1930s. With Colby's thirty-acre campus squeezed tight between the river and the railroad's repair yards, undergrads had for years played a game of cat-and-mouse with trains from the Maine Central Railroad, such as the "Roger's Ranger" shown here, some of which seemed to stretch forever as they hauled potatoes from The County to Portland and points beyond. "Only the agility of youth can explain why lives were not lost" during such crossings, wrote graduate John J. Pullen. The book and briefcase in the hands of the fellow just right of center indicates that he and his smartly dressed female companion, her overcoat draped over her arm during a February thaw, were perhaps on their way from class in Memorial Hall, at right. (Pullen also notes that coeds were known to race a train in order to get to romantic reunions on the other side of the tracks.)
Despite the perilous scene shown here, the Maine Central maintained a clean record at Colby, as engineers such as the one at far left had grown accustomed to such displays of youthful bravado, just as students themselves had become used to being "lulled to slumber by the monotonous thundering rumble" of the iron giants. But the danger was precisely what photographer Smith, the college's first director of public relations, was out to capture in this photograph. It would be used as graphic evidence of the problems facing Colby's cramped campus — the smoke and soot from the locomotive nearly obscures the buildings beyond — and to encourage contributors recovering from the Depression to fund a sprawling new campus atop Mayflower Hill. Miller Library, the first building erected on the new campus and the place where this historic image now resides, opened in 1946, followed by some sixty-one other structures — and, happily, no railroad tracks — on the 600-acre site.