On July 11, haulers from Daryl D. Gushee Inc. trucked two rail cars owned by the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad from the Bridgton Chamber of Commerce to Gray Plaza.

Employees of the New Gloucester-based machinery mover unloaded the train cars, both some 13 decades old, onto two 40-foot narrow gauge rail beds next to the future location of the railroad’s new museum beside the shopping plaza on Route 100.

According to Donnell Carroll, the executive director of the railroad, the cars, which have been located on the front lawn of the Bridgton chamber headquarters since 2009, will remain in place until the new museum is built.

In moving the cars to Gray Plaza, Carroll said, the railroad had borrowed a page out of the book of Bill Shelley, the founder of Return of the Rails, a group that had hoped to lure the narrow gauge to Bridgton.

Shelley, a retired homebuilder from Georgia, had leased the two cars, which were constructed by the Bridgton & Saco River Railroad in the 1880s, from the railroad for more than four years. Housing the cars at the chamber, Shelley figured, could help create support for the railroad to build a new museum in Bridgton.

Shelley’s dream was not to be. On Friday, he photographed the Gushee team unloading the cars onto the Gray Plaza rail bed.

“It was a little depressing to watch them go, having put forth the effort that a group of us put forward only to be outdone by people who think they’re the movers and shakers of Bridgton,” Shelley said. “These movers and shakers up here said, ‘Oh you don’t want a dirty railroad up here.’ ”

According to Carroll, railroad officials felt that Shelley’s idea was a great way to exhibit a “preview of coming attractions.”

“I applaud him for that effort,” Carroll said. “It was brilliant. And I thought, ‘Oh we could do the same thing.’ ”

But to Shelley, the honor of such tactical emulation cannot compensate for the real prize: A Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad museum in Bridgton. Building a museum in Gray makes no sense to Shelley.

“It didn’t sit well with me, because to me they’re trying to put something together that has no historical significance,” he said.

In Shelley’s view, a Bridgton museum would have been a fitting tribute to the Bridgton & Saco River Railroad, which operated from 1883-1941 from Portland to St. Johnsbury, Vt. According to Shelley, the railroad was “the very fabric of the town for 60 years.” Much of the remaining equipment from the railroad sits at the narrow gauge’s museum in Portland today.

In his zeal to attract the railroad, Shelley also invested a fair sum in his advocacy efforts.

“Over the course of everything that I did forming the nonprofit corporation, everything I did, I spent in excess of five figures, much to my wife’s chagrin,” he said.

Carroll agrees that the railroad was not welcomed to Bridgton.

“I know going back and reading the history that members from our board at the time did go out to Bridgton and have a public meeting with the citizens and the town fathers to discuss the proposal and from what I read, that meeting didn’t go good,” Carroll said. “Maine Narrow Gauge was not well received, and there was not a groundswell of support from the community.”

Despite his failure, Shelley said he can sleep well at night knowing he tried.

“I can put my head on the pillow at night and said I made an honest effort to help the town of Bridgton grow and become better than what it is today,” he said. “People chase these trains from all over the world. This isn’t just a local fascination with these little trains. This is worldwide.”

Onlookers watch employees of Daryl D. Gushee Inc., a New Gloucester-based machinery mover, load a roughly 130-year-old rail car onto a 40-foot narrow gauge rail bed in Gray Plaza last Friday.Employees of a heavy machinery moving company prepare to unload a rail car at Gray Plaza last Friday morning. Bill Shelley, left, the founder of Return of the Rails, a group pushing for a new Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad museum in Bridgton, watches as the two rail cars he leased for more than four years land in Gray Plaza. 

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