Joe Feero has taken more trips to the Common Ground Country Fair than even some truly die-hard Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) members, but he hasn’t gone to it. There’s a riddle in here. Read on to find out the answer.

JOURNEYMAN: Feero hasn’t actually attended the fair. He’s too busy serving as conductor for the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad, the train that runs from Thorndike and Unity to the fairgrounds every September, shuttling people to the fair from satellite parking lots. “I’m the eyes and ears” of the train, he said. How did he get that job? Or rather, jobs: “I am the executive director and a conductor and the track guy and an equipment guy.” All of these are volunteer jobs; Feero works full time in a social services agency. Volunteering for the Common Ground Country Fair train is what happens when you have an interest in history, a love for trains and grew up with a grandfather from Brooks who was a “track guy” for that very railroad.

END OF THE LINE: The train runs all day for the three-day fair. “We haul around 4,000 people to the fair,” Feero said. He and the other train crew, from engineers to ticket takers (volunteers, all) like to joke that they are the only commuter railroad in Waldo County, and for three days in September, that’s true. The volunteers are part of the Brooks Preservation Society, the nonprofit that oversees the old Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the line, which runs through Waldo County and was originally planned as a route from Belfast all the way to Montreal (it petered out after 30 miles). The fair gig helps out MOFGA by eliminating at least some traffic from the home stretch to the fair, and it raises funds for the preservation effort to maintain the tracks (leased from Maine’s Department of Transportation) and locomotives going.

THE FAST TRACK: An adult combination ticket for the train and fair admission is $23. The beauty in that is skipping the last painful few miles to the fair via the roads, and that the train ticket gets you unlimited rides that day. Buy a scythe and want to stash it in the car and then go back? Not a problem. The train runs about every 30 minutes from Thorndike and about every 50 minutes from Unity. Feero may not be getting off the train at the fair, but he sees the point of riding it. “The benefit is, obviously it is a fairly short walk from the station to the fair. (It’s right there) And it is nice to wave to the traffic as you go through it.”

MOVING ON UP: Like a commuter train, the fair trains do not guarantee a seat for all. “It can be crowded. But it’s a short ride.” The group is adding more coaches to provide more seating. “Every year that we have done the train we have tried to make it better.” There’s a warm atmosphere on the train, he said, a mix of people with and without children and a lot of repeat customers. “I have seen quite a few of these kids kind of grow up in the in the nine years I have been doing it.”

HITCHIKERS: Oddest customers he’s seen over the years? “Occasionally some livestock.” Come again? Well, people do buy things at the fair, and for some that might be an axe, for others some apples and for still others, animals. “We have had chickens and rabbits.”

TEMPTATIONS: So he’s never been to the Common Ground fair. Does he know what he’s missing? The train station at the fairgrounds is in the woods right behind the fairgrounds. This means Feero can kind of sort of see what’s going on through the trees. Mostly he gets a vivid hit of the fair’s olfactory pleasures. “We just smell the food.” Nobody offers to bring him anything? “I try to bribe people and tell them I won’t let them back on unless they bring me something, but it never works.”

OUTSIDE SUPPORTER: Just because Feero doesn’t get to go into the fair doesn’t mean he doesn’t support its values. “I think organic farming and sustainable living is important. I’ve always been a supporter of both as important to a healthy environment. Local food production helps make communities stronger. It is better for us, the environment and our children.”

PRIVATE CAR: Like many of the train enthusiasts who work for the nonprofit, Feero owns a little piece of the rail magic. Specifically for him, that’s a 1914 caboose built by the Portland Terminal Company. It came to him with as a real fixer upper, including with a leaking roof. “I just wanted to see it saved.” What does his grandfather, still alive and in his 80s think about his caboose? “He thinks I’m foolish. Everybody who has been around railroads knows when you get old equipment, it is a lot of work.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

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