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Just as many Mainers have gotten used to train service between Portland and Boston and are making the Downeaster Train a part of their daily commute, the folks in the Middle East and the traders among the commodities crowd now give more Mainers a good reason to take the train. That reason would be money. As the price of petrol soars, the line at the Downeaster ticket office grows.
What do soaring gas prices mean to the people who live in Maine but commute to Boston everyday for their jobs? It means their trip by car becomes more expensive by the day - with no relief in sight. That makes the trip by train more and more attractive to the commuting crowd and those about to become train commuters.
Years ago, we had lots of passenger trains criss-crossing and running up and down all-over Maine. People from inland towns could take trains to a coastal community and from there they could board a steam packet for Boston or further Downeast. Once in Boston, they could get a train to almost anywhere in the country.
Then a man named Ford, in Highland Park Michigan, came up with a way to make automobiles - once a luxury - within reach of the average person.
Almost overnight the automobile went from being a luxury to being a necessity.
I barely remember the railroad days but my friend Tewkey Merrill remembers them well and still misses them. He can't stop talking about them. He's often told me the story of the last trip he took by train from Bangor's stately railroad station to Boston's bustling North Station.
According to one of his many versions of the tale he walked into the Bangor station and simply asked the clerk for a “round-trip” train ticket. . Soon a conductor came along and yelled, "The bag can’t be in the aisle, you've got to stow it above," and then he headed toward the back of the train.
Tewkey said he didn't say anything, he just sat there.
A few minutes later the same fast-walking, fast-talking conductor was back and again he yelled, "The bag can’t stay in the aisle it's got to be stowed above," and he headed to the front of the train.
Again, Tewkey just sat there.
Fifteen minutes later the conductor is back. He picks up the bag and says, “I'm not going to say it again,” and goes to the door and heaves the bag out into the pucker-brush. The bag hit the ground, broke open and spread clothes all along the side of the tracks. "It was a mess,"said Tewkey.
The conductor was soon back again and he said to Tewkey, "There, what do you think of that?"
Tewkey looked up and said, "Wouldn't think much of it if it were my bag."
A few hours later Tewkey went into the sleeper car and climbed into the compartment he'd rented. He was soon fast asleep.
In the middle of the night he heard a loud knocking from the compartment beneath him and then a woman's high-pitched voice called out, "Sir, are you awake?"
"I am now," said a groggy Tewkey, "What do you want?"
"Well, it's awfully cold down here," said the woman, "and I was wondering if you'd go get me a blanket?"
"I've got a better idea," said Tewkey. "Why not pretend we're married?"
"That sounds very interesting," the woman said, coquettishly, "and what would we do then?"
"Get up and get your own #@%& blanket!" said Tewkey.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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