New book shows history of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Brownville Junction

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BROWNVILLE JUNCTION — Much of the community’s railroad history, including previously missing components, has now been captured in “More than a Train Yard and a Whistle Stop: The Canadian Railway’s Brownville Division 1886 to 1963.”

The book by former resident Ken Hatchette, who now lives in Dartmouth, Mass., is full of photographs and features cover art from a mural painted by resident Suzette East which was a contest-winning submission. Book proceeds will help fund a heat pump for the Brownville-Brownville Junction Historical Society’s Parish House Museum.

“We have been gifted with this historical book about the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) coming to Brownville Junction back in the 1880s,” historical society President Susan Worcester said. “It includes a lot of photographs, it’s 154 photos and the book itself is 159 pages.”

Worcester mentioned that Hatchette grew up in Brownville Junction, where his father was a railroad superintendent, before moving to St. John, New Brunswick upon his father’s transfer in 1963.

Society Vice President George Dean said a few years ago Hatchette got back in touch with childhood friends and this led to Hatchette coming to town for a visit.

“George and I are good friends and have been since we were teenagers,” Hatchette wrote in an email. “We were exchanging emails and discussing the Canadian Pacific Railway’s train yard and the buildings that were located in Brownville Junction. We used to spend a great deal of time exploring the train yard and observing what all of the workers did at that facility. Additionally, most all of the families that lived in Brownville Junction had at least one member and other families had more. The entire town existed for the sole purpose of housing railroad employees and their families, by default we grew up as railroad people. The influence was enormous and influential. It was in our DNA.

“George and I began by listing each of the buildings separately and describing them in detail probably in a subtle game of one-ups-man-ship, testing one old memory against the other. At the time I thought I had won one of these contests. Now that I think about it, this game of ours was a ruse and a trap. A red herring that had the odor of a finely tuned processing facility. I was hooked, line and sinker and was being reeled in the direction of a short handled net in the hands of an expert.

“In the middle of this contest, George suddenly asks, ‘Oh by the way, did you know that I am the vice president of the Brownville-Brownville Junction Historical Society and the Parish House Museum?’ ‘No,’ I replied. He then asked me, ‘Since you won the best memory contest and we have a good start on a list of all of the old CPR buildings, would you like to continue the list as a project for the society?’

“Not ever considering myself a historian, a historical researcher or a writer I responded that I was reluctant to do such a thing but would consider giving it a go. Just a list, a short description and a short paragraph describing its reason and purpose was the agreement. This little history project was approved by (Worcester) as a project for the benefit of the society and museum.

“As I researched historical accounts of the town for related facts there appeared to be large voids in its story. Who was Henderson? Where did he come from? How did he get here? How did he accomplish all of which was credited to him in a 3-month period of time. How did the village of Brownville Junction and all of its buildings and the train yard suddenly appear out of the wilderness in less than a year?

“These questions regarding the existing history of the town were numerous and the details that documented the evolution of the village of Henderson, Brownville Junction and the railroad were nonexistent. However, research located facts and data that were scattered around in numerous articles, periodicals, news reports, personal histories and observations along with facts listed in the many state of Maine department journals.

“It is at this juncture where all of this disjointed data suddenly appeared as a basis for a story that would provide a near factual accounting of the history of the town as it evolved from its humble beginnings. The sole reason and purpose for the town as perceived by CPR management was to provide a place in the middle of the Great North Woods of Maine where the railroad employees and their families could live. Essentially a simple town for a simple purpose. However, what evolved was much more than what was originally perceived.

“The text of the book describes buildings, infrastructure, equipment, and issues that are highly technical, heavily industrial and foreign to most people that are younger than myself. Most have simply not had the opportunity to be exposed to the heavy industrial environment that was commonplace 60 years ago. In order to present a visual perspective to the subject matter described in the book care was taken to provide photos, illustrations and artwork that best represents the subjects described in the text being presented.

“The visuals presented in the book have many origins. Some are photos from the historical society’s collection, the CPR archives, private collectors, museums, friends, and others are from various periodicals and the library of congress. Some artwork and illustrations are from commercial sources such as catalogs and mechanical equipment sales literature.”

“I think most of the photos are original and not published anywhere else and most of the information has not been published anywhere else,” Dean said. “People are excited to see what they don’t know.”

Hatchette said much of “More than a Train Yard and a Whistle Stop: The Canadian Railway’s Brownville Division 1886 to 1963” is based on on memory and personal experience working for the CPR. “Additionally, my entire family including both parents, grandparents, uncles, great uncles and siblings all worked for the CPR,” he wrote. “The entire town was employed by the CPR including close friends and their entire families.”

He said additional sources include information and archived records of the local historical society, similar groups in Monson and Greenville, the New Brunswick Museum, friends who are authors of railroad history, railroad periodicals, online Canadian history sources, several books on the CPR history and biographies.

“The international team of dedicated friends from Canada and the U.S. are the experts that helped with answering my never ending questions regarding details of everything that is railroad,” Hatchette wrote. “These friends also performed research at libraries, museums and registry of deeds at remote locations without complaint and who exhibited the patience of saints. I list and credit these friends in the acknowledgements section of the book.

“The time period required to research and write the manuscript consumed about 1,200 hours which occurred over an 8-month timeframe. Writing and research occurred concurrently. The story essentially developed and evolved this way which was a surprise to me.

“This book did not follow the typical pattern that is specified in texts that describe how to write a book. There was no outline, recipe or direction. The book’s text was written and describes the history of the town as it evolved from the land clearing in 1886 through to 1963. Researching to determine the actual beginning of the village was the most difficult issue to resolve. After determining the date of birth the life cycle followed a time line that currently exists.”

“The book is intended to provide a record of the historical components currently missing from the grand history of the town,” Hatchette wrote. “It includes discussions and descriptions of the buildings, utilities, infrastructure, equipment and rolling stock that were the physical attributes of the CPR and major landmarks within the village of Brownville Junction. Additionally the book addresses the human side of this transportation behemoth that consists of highly skilled and experienced managers, tradesmen, laborers, and contractors that were employed to keep the CPR running on schedule. This book also identifies and describes the human and technical attributes that existed primarily for the operations of the CPR including its maintenance facilities. After all, the village and its current history as written would not exist if it were not for the arrival of the CPR.”

Worcester said the Parish House Museum has no heat or insulation, and this can prevent the facility from being open on a consistent schedule for visitors in the spring and into the fall. “Ken wanted us to have a heat pump,” Worcester said as the author has decided that all proceeds from his book will be donated to the historical society for this purpose.

“This decision for me was a no brainer,” Hatchette wrote. “The project was originally tasked as an accounting consisting of a listing all of the CPR assets in the town of Brownville Junction and providing a reason and purpose description for their existence. Researching for the buildings led to facts, clues and other thoughts that led to listing employee job descriptions, train types and other issues such as the physical descriptions of the train yard.

“In the engineering world we call this project creep. Once into a project other opportunities presented themselves that need addressing. Such is the life of a historian apparently. So the original task orientated history assignment suddenly grew into a project as new facts and mysteries that needed solving arose.

“In the background I would hear Susan and George discussing the need for a heat pump to extend their season for museum availability. The thought occurred to me that if this little assignment grew much larger that it might grow into a book. Because this was a project that began as a list and morphed into a book that it might have value. I thought that perhaps that it could be used as a fundraiser for the heat pump. So I proposed this as a project. I would continue writing about the railroad and its impact on the town and how the whole idea of a town was born. There was no existing history that addressed the subjects that I was writing about so the project grew until a logical conclusion was reached. As a group the officers of the historical society thought that this may be a great fundraiser and a product, a book about the town’s history would be produced.”

Worcester said a recent gift from the Brownville Junction High School Alumni Association will also help support a museum heat pump. “We are close enough so that we might be getting quotes,” she said.

“The book is at the publisher right now,” Worcester said, and the hope is “More than a Train Yard and a Whistle Stop: The Canadian Railway’s Brownville Division 1886 to 1963” will be delivered by the middle of the month.

“This was a gift from Ken to the historical society,” she said. “We currently have 83 paid orders for books”

Orders can be placed through Worcester at 965-8070 and more information can be found on the Brownville-Brownville Junction Historical Society Facebook page.

“Another thing that has helped us recover some history is our Facebook page,” Dean said. He said page users’ “memories would be jogged by something we said and that reminds them of something else that is new information.”

“I think that is why a book like this is so important to people like that,” Dean said “We are preserving history that otherwise might have been lost.” He said Hatchette and the historical society are continuing the work started by others, such as the recollections and information gathered by long-time area historian and author Bill Sawtell.

“We are very excited to have this published for the town,” Worcester said.

“I enjoyed writing the book,” Hatchette wrote. “It was done in my spare time and the project needed doing so why not complete the manuscript, have it copyrighted, generate some interest by having a contest for a cover design and have the thing printed. Susan requested quotes from printers, one was selected and an investment by the society will result in a finished product suitable for sale.”

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
NEW RAILROAD BOOK TO BENEFIT MUSEUM HEAT PUMP — A large part of Brownville Junction’s history is being preserved in the new book “More than a Train Yard and a Whistle Stop: The Canadian Railway’s Brownville Division 1886 to 1963” by former resident Ken Hatchette. Hatchette is donating all proceeds to the Brownville-Brownville Junction Historical Society and society officials plan to have the funds be used to purchase a heat pump for their Parish House Museum on Church Street.

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