When Strangers Aren’t So Strange
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  • Post published:13/05/2021
  • Post last modified:13/05/2021

Tim Cahill (founding member of Outside Magazine) once said, “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Recently, as I boarded a Twin Cities Cessna 402 on a return trip from my home town to Portland, Maine, that quote popped into mind. Although I had only been in Portland for four days, I had a notepad full of names, phone numbers and emails of people I met. They ranged from a shop keeper to a retired engineer, journalist, peace activist, waitress and tattoo aficionado to name just a few.

Doug and Gilbert at the Portland Railway Museum

Not only did I make new friends, but some of the “connections” were pure serendipity. For example, the first morning I started walking around the city ended up at the lower part of the waterfront where I decided to visit the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum.

In the late 1800s, the state had a unique system of five railroads that ran on 24-inch rails. (In comparison, standard-gauge railroads are 4 ft. 8 ½/ in.) The narrow gauge trains carried both freight and passengers, were cheaper than standard gauge to maintain and were easy to manoeuvre.

Although these two-footers no longer operate after falling on hard times in the 40s, some of them have been preserved. Volunteer “conductors” and “engineers” give 20-minute rides several times a day so I hopped aboard.

This is where I met Doug Irish, a retiree who prides himself on the fact that in ten years of doing his “job,” he’s never had a complaint. He especially enjoys kids and seniors. He said, “I remember one little guy, maybe six years old, telling me he liked trains since he was a kid.” Chuckling, he added that seniors are full of stories, “and they let me tell mine.”

RR museum Portland

As soon as Doug heard that my last name was Phinney, he started telling me about his grandmother, Mary Gorham Phinney, a 6th generation who came on the Mayflower. Her great grandfather was a soldier in King Philip’s war and was given a tract of land that later became Gorham, Maine. “Bless Grammy Mary because without her we wouldn’t have anything to brag about!”

At this point conductor Gil Brundage joined the conversation. Turns out he had two relatives in the Halifax explosion. (I live about three hours from Halifax. Don’t you love these connections?) After chatting about that for a bit, Gil turned back to the topic of trains and encouraged me to take a close look at the “Rangeley” inside the museum—the only two-foot narrow gauge parlour car built in the US. It’s a stunning specimen.

View from inside passenger car

I had a great chin-wag with these chaps and when it was time to part, Gil said, “Tell everyone to come on down! Get to know us, and get hooked on narrow gauge railroads. Then enjoy an evening in the old port—or just kick around town.”

There you have it — a direct invitation.

Now—how often have you travelled somewhere perhaps hundreds or thousands of miles from home and met someone that had a connection to you or where you live? Let’s swap stories! And remind me to tell you of the time I met someone at the airport in Jordan who knew a close friend from my home town here in Canada.

PS. This story about Portland is only a small slice of a fabulous weekend there. If there’s any chance you can visit this wee city, contact me and I’ll recommend a bunch of must-see places and must-do activities.


Photo Credits

“Doug Irish and Gil Brundage” © Sandra Phinney

” Inside the train museum” © Sandra Phinney

“View riding the train” © Sandra Phinney

Recent Sandra Phinney Articles:

  • Puckering up for Valentines
  • Gifts From Hanoi
  • Labrador: “Big Land” and Great Food
  • Seaweed Secrets
  • The taste of respect

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