Back in 1960, the peak of 50,000 railroad cars on the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad happened for shipping potatoes to the market.
To get to produce centers in the cities where the Maine spuds in all sizes of bag weights, in fewer varieties than today needed to show up. Shipped by rail. A Maine potato house crew on this end putting up the orders to ship to market. By hand carrying or with a dolly truck piled up going back and forth into a railroad car. Parked at the potato house railroad siding, slowly row on top of row filling up the train car. Stacked, racked, packed. Sheltered from the northeast blowing winter winds with a shroud, canvas canopy to seal out the weather elements between country potato house and the parked lone railroad car.
Then a methanol heater stove lit, the doors and top hatch sealed tightly, locked securely. As one by one the railroad cars get rounded up,collected. Backed into by the powerful front end of a freight not passenger train. Hooked up safely with life support lines attached. Arranged in a single file line to follow the diesel engine to the produce market. Hopefully.
Sometimes the insulated freight car of golden Maine potatoes riding in ten, twenty, fifty or hundred pound bags or sacks did not make it to the destination on the paperwork.
Rut rho, one potato, two potato and hey? Now where did that third potato load of railroad BAR car of spuds disappear to? It was right (pointing to the USA map red thumb pin) here a day ago. Hmmmm, now isn’t that curious? “Wouldn’t that cramp your grandmother” as close to a swear, curse as my Mom would have sputtered over the MIA load.
Eventually the missing on radar car lost and found on a side spur in Texas. A very hot, dry climate area like say near Brownsville, Texas. Before opening the door, put your coat, glove over your mouth and approach cautiously. Breathe through your open mouth. Or apply Vicks vapor rub to your upper lip to quell the stench. The blast putrid smell of rotten potatoes that will never end up on the family supper table are ruined. Hits you when its “open sesame” time to unlock the once precious cargo.
FACT: Trailer trucks could provide overnight, just in time perishable loads for the inventory deliveries. Trains could not.
And in the early 1960’s the Interstate systems, toll highways were coming on line like wildfire. To connect the consuming markets with the far away breadbasket growing areas of the nation. Use of trains waned. Although efficient, practical just could not stand up to the service provided by the eighteen wheeler. (Air horn toot toot sound) That’s a big ten four good buddy. Got your ears on? (Radio static, then silence sound). I knew a lawyer for the BAR railroad who called truckers gypsies, bandits. Overnight, service providing road warriors, freight jockeys, yes they are.
My Dad and Mom, their four boys raised Maine farm potatoes.
Bought other Maine farmer’s spud field loads too. Were shippers, a broker for the golden nuggets dug from the ground in Aroostook County. And in 1963 bought a White cab over trailer truck, a 1957 Trailmobile box to hook to, head down the US highway. Through the Haynesville Woods. Hauling loads of spuds to Boston, Hartford, New York City produce markets mostly. Providing David nimble, efficient door to door, overnight service that slower, longer Goliath trains could not.
As a little kid, it was fun like my three older brothers to take a trip to the big city markets. Riding shot gun on a trailer truck trip in my parents trucking company called “Prem Pak”. Which stood for Premium Packaging. Leaving at night, in one of the ten trailer trucks launched from the barn turned terminal on the Maine family farm. To arrive at market in the early mornings. Catching a few hours sleep, cat napping before heading a large dark skinned hand rap the driver’s door to wake everyone up. Sit up straight. To guide the load of potatoes, back up the reefer into the narrow slot at the designated loading dock numbered door.
To help unload spuds, to crank your head around as the pallet of potatoes is piled, stack and hand jacked.
To creak, easy does it to keep it balanced and from avalanching, tipping over, spilling. Slowly pulled, pushed and maneuvered to the designated drop point. Seeing other loads of fruit and produce and even flowers at the beehive of activity, industry doing the same. But with Florida grapefruits not just potatoes. Loads of grapes and bananas from who knows where. Watch out for the black widows, tarantulas, spiders you hope someone gassed for before shipment of those items.
The smells, noises, habits of the many languaged people of the city and hurry scurry. Horns blaring, many dialects all foreign to a little kid from Maine. Words, expressions, syllables going in and out of the ears on the sides of my head. As brown eyes watched, did not talk and saw a completely different landscape than small town Houlton Maine, Aroostook County. Deep in the not so safe market area of a huge city. Hang on to your chain drive wallet Mister Trucker Man. Stay on your toes minding your P’s and Q’s.
Then high tailing it home to my own bed, not a truck sleeper with the girlie magazines hiding under the mattress. A pine tree air freshener swinging over the fan that defrosted the inside of the large flat windshield with air activated large wipers. As the eight track with Buck Owens and the Buckaroos wails. Patsy Cline is singing about walking after midnight or being crazy for loving you. As we head out into the night, climbing the hills and dales back to Northern Maine to do it again.