Witness to the last passenger train
The Citizen marked 50 years since the demise of regularly scheduled passenger train service to Bethel under “Our Back Pages” last week. A couple years ago The Citizen also noted the end of the Railway Post Office mail delivery to Bethel via train around 1958. That change in Post Office operations accelerated the end of passenger train here as well as around the entire country through the 1960s.
Although I was only six at the time they ended, we could see the passenger trains come and go from our home on Clark Street in Bethel and my father, Howard Cole, an avid train enthusiast since he was a boy, would explain it all to me. I gained additional interest through the acquaintance of professional trainmen from the Bethel area all of whom are now gone but not forgotten: Walter Jodrey, road master; Ed Quinn, conductor; Elden Hathaway, section foreman; Eddie Gordon, track inspector; and Bethel's last station agent, Larry Chenier.
A few years later the Bethel station would close in 1968 but not before Larry would allow teenagers such as Steve Hastings, also of Bethel, and me to experience day-to-day station operations including: Western Union telegraphy; the creation, typing and delivery of train orders to moving "through" freight trains from the station platform; occasional rides in the local freight or work train engines around the Bethel yard; greeting the Railway Express Agency van (precursor to UPS), shipments and other railroad activity all of which are long gone except the tracks and ten lonely night trains per week.
One last item of note: the Grand Trunk Railroad ran a passenger summer special every Saturday through the 1960s with a scheduled round-trip from Montreal to Portland and back presumably to help Canadian tourists find Old Orchard Beach (there was no Old Port in 1967). My father and I rode the train from the original station across from the Big Apple store on Railroad Street in Bethel one Saturday in 1968 to Portland and back. It was certainly an interesting day for a 14-year-old boy. I'm not sure when the summer specials ended but that was close to the end of regularly scheduled train service to Bethel; at least eight years after the daily train ended in 1960.