Quite a Track Record

From our Archives: March 1958

Train Station
From “The Real Peculiar Railroad” by Charles Morrow Wilson, in our March 1958 issue.
1958 Cover Bath Illustration
Cover by Warren Spaulding

Any railroad is interesting, but like fine brandies and beautiful women, some are more fascinating than others. Bangor & Aroostook Railroad’s amazing reputation caused railroad men to label it RPR, meaning Real Peculiar Railroad. In this case, peculiar does not mean crazy or tetched. It means independent, out of the ordinary, different, and well, peculiar. The Real Peculiar Railroad lives on freight traffic, yet it doesn’t have a traffic department. It was the first United States railroad to change all that to the sales department.

Every other railroad in North America has a man as its dining car superintendent. On the BAR, she is a woman. Mrs. Doris G. Rosen persists in keeping diner fares below the average of landside restaurants and in serving full-size breakfasts free to Pullman passengers. And speaking of Pullmans: while other New England railroads were dropping sleeping-car service, BAR was buying new sleeping cars.

When the Interstate Commerce Commission grants permission for a rate increase, most railroads grab the increase like a hungry hen grabs a fat bug. BAR has taken only a nibble, declining the total allowed raise on the grounds that it would have been uneconomic for Maine’s potato industry!

Declared bankrupt in 2003, the 108-year-old BAR had struggled since 1969, when the potato crop it transferred to the Penn Central railroad froze in a PC yard, causing potato farmers to abandon rail. Much of BAR’s property was acquired by the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, which likewise went under after the 2013 rail explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. Sadly, the modern-day demise of such storied lines is none too peculiar.