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A kiosk built by Eagle Scout Will Kiley commemorates the sunken rail car

A kiosk built by Eagle Scout Will Kiley commemorates the sunken rail car Photo: Kevin McKeon

Legend of Lost Rail Car Proved True

By Bud Johnston and Kevin McKeon, Directors, Mousam Way Land Trust

Many tales have been told about a railroad locomotive that ran off the tracks at the Deering Pond area in Springvale. Some say that a locomotive train ran off the tracks at full speed along the foot of the pond, flying into the pond and landing in quicksand never to be seen again. So, we all were told to stay away from the edges of the pond and to “never, ever, go swimming in Deering Pond!” Another tale has a rail car loaded with railroad construction materials being left at the end of the construction point on the rails for use the next day. Upon returning, the car had disappeared, another supply car was delivered, and that, too, sank into the muck directly on top of the other car.

Even the history books do not agree on the details. Edwin Emery, in his History of Sanford, reports, “In the spring of 1871, a platform car just unloaded and standing on the rails at the foot of Deering Pond, a mile west of Springvale, but detached from the engine and other cars, was discovered to be sinking. The rails bent downward, and all went down together. The car could not be found the next day, nor was it ever seen afterward.”

The Lebanon Historical Society’s The Railroad, Lebanon, Maine says, “On May 2, 1871, there were two engines, 30 flat cars and 130 men working on the Rochester extension. About ten days later, two miles beyond Springvale, where the track crossed a bog near Deering Pond, the ground sank, and a loaded gravel car went with it. The car could not be found the next day, nor was it ever seen afterwards.”

Both sources continue with, “The depression was soon filled with stone and gravel…” and rail work resumed.

For over 50 years, Dr. Bud Johnston of the Mousam Way Land Trust has spent hours investigating Deering Pond and its environs, often pondering these tales. These thoughts were rekindled when Dave Parent informed Bud of a metal detector the Sanford Water District has that could possibly locate this mysterious rail car.

An early September day in 2018 found the two men probing the area. During his teaching as Professor of Environmental Sciences at the local Nasson College, Bud used Deering Pond and the surrounding Russel Environmental Study Tract – now the Halls Environmental Reserve – as his outdoor laboratory. Bud knew where the soft, deep peat bog would have first impacted the rail construction crew, and Dave’s probe verified the spot. Signals, the size of which David had never before encountered, were observed!

The detector revealed three elongated masses of metal parallel to one another and spaced roughly four feet apart. Initially, this arrangement was interpreted as the car in the center and two piles of steel rails on either side. However, historical research indicated that it was likely the frame of a car with a wooden floor.

After being submerged in about 12 feet deep in acidic peat for almost a century and a half, the frame and wheels probably are a mass of rust while the wood is most likely well-preserved. A kiosk built by Will Kiley as an Eagle Boy Scout Project now marks the spot and tells the story of the ill-fated car.

1. Adapted from the originally published article in the Boston & Maine Railroad Historical Society newsletter, Jan-Feb-2019: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53a3b0e7e4b0356e962ad8f4/t/5cb7a5fb9140b7a6ff888f3f/1555539453033/2019.1-2.pdf

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