Night Train at Wiscasset Station

Peter Anastas

Showdown at Roundhouse Corral, (Boston Railyard) © 2000 ~ David Tutwiler (b. 1952)

Showdown at Roundhouse Corral, (Boston Railyard) © 2000                              David Tutwiler (b. 1952)


I come from the era of trains.  As a child during the war, I would lie in bed on Perkins Road listening to the shrill whistle of the Boston & Maine’s  Gloucester Branch crossing the trestle over the Annisquam River.  Ever since then I have associated trains with the mystery of travel.  I could never get enough of them, pestering my grandfather Angel Polisson to take my brother and me to the station in Gloucester to see the trains arrive.  I especially loved it when we could watch the passengers getting off and I could only imagine where they had been or where, if the train was about to depart, they might be headed.

As we got older, our mother took us to Boston on the train, when she went shopping at Jordan Marsh’s or Filene’s.  I’ll never forget the time I got separated from her in Filene’s basement.  I went screaming up and down the aisles of bargain clothing piled on tables that women fought over, cursing each other, sometimes tearing the garments to shreds in their furious attempts to possess them.  After that incident, my mother took to pinning a name tag on my brother and me, so that if we got lost or separated from her the clerks would know whom to page.  Luckily, it never came to that, and we quickly learned how to navigate our way around the big department stores, or the Peabody Museum in Salem, where our mother also took us so we could look at the ship models that fascinated us, or the life-like local birds and mammals that the taxidermists had exhibited in large glass cases.

Recently I thought of those cities I came to know in wartime when the gasoline ration prohibited travel by car—Boston, Salem, even New York when we got older—and the trips on trains it took to get to them.  I was on the train to New York again, racing along the Connecticut coast, in and out of harbors and across russet colored fields on the way to see my new grandson in Brooklyn.  The train was packed, the early spring day was bright, and I felt like a child again on an adventure.

It was the way I felt in Europe, where I took the train everywhere, never thinking of schedules or reservations.   If you wanted to go somewhere, you showed up at the station and there was a train waiting or about to arrive.  One night a group of us were sitting over dinner at the Buca Niccolini, on Via Ricasoli in Florence, just behind the Duomo.  It had been a grand meal, well moistened with the local red wine the Florentines call “vino nero.”  We were about to order desert when someone suddenly suggested, “Let’s go to Vienna for desert!”

We jumped up, settled the check and set out for the railroad station, a short walk from the restaurant.   The Brenner Express was about to depart.  We knew we would never get to Austria for desert, but we did arrive in time for one of those marvelous Viennese breakfasts.  We took a spin around the city and got back on the train, arriving in Florence in time for dinner.

Naturally, this was the kind of gambit you engage in when you are young—we were in our early 20s, students: Americans, English and Italian.   I never did it again, but I took the train at every opportunity—to Bologna for lunch (best pasta ever); Pisa for a run up the steps of the Leaning Tower with my high school classmate Bob Stephenson; Viareggio to get my beach fix when I missed Gloucester.

Trains were even more important for me before I lived in Europe.  I went to college in Maine and most of the time I took the train to Brunswick or back home.  I’d hop on a Gloucester train to North Station, where the Flying Yankee left for Portland, Bangor and points north.  There was a club car serving beer all the way to Portland, where it was uncoupled before the train left for Brunswick.   On many a night we could be seen stumbling up to our rooms from the Brunswick railroad station.

At midnight the mail train stopped in Brunswick, allowing those who had girlfriends in Boston to post letters that would be delivered to them that morning.   I can see myself hastily typing a letter, throwing on parka and boots, and trudging through the snow from my room on Federal Street down to the railroad station on Maine Street, often getting there just as the train was about to pull out.  The guys in the mail car knew us.  Obligingly, they would lean out of the doors to accept our letters on the fly.

At four a.m. every morning the Milk Train coming through from Northern Maine to Boston woke up those of us who lived near the railroad bridge on Federal Street.  If I was reading or studying late, I knew that its whistle in the dead of night was the sign for me to go to bed. But the big event of the day was the non-stop rush through Brunswick of the freight train.  Imagine an engine pulling 100 or more cars all the way from Aroostook County tearing through the center of town, the late afternoon traffic sometimes halted for close to 30 minutes.  Our philosophy professor told us that if we still believed in the non-existence of un-thinking matter we should stand next to that freight train as it roared through town each afternoon.

While some students had their own cars, most of us depended on the train for a fast getaway to Portland to see a movie or to eat Chinese food.   Often enough we traveled north to Rockland, and sometimes further Downeast, stopping at Wiscasset on the way to Rockland, Camden or Belfast.   There was something special about Wiscasset, a sense of arriving in a small riverine town with redbrick buildings, the train pausing, it seemed, until the very last passenger appeared out of the dark, the conductor waiting with his lantern and finally shouting, “All aboard, all aboard,” as the train pulled slowly out of the station.  I can still hear the chugging of the steam engine, the way the wheels clicked on the tracks, and the eerie whistle as the train plunged into the darkness.

It is the image of that night train at Wiscasset Station that remains with me above all others, a sense of the isolation of the station itself and the deserted town, the slowly diminishing sound of the whistle and the rhythmic clicking of the wheels on the tracks, the lights from the cars gradually becoming bright points in the darkness and then disappearing altogether as the train itself faded into the night.   It is an image that takes me back to the boy awake in his bed on Perkins Road, listening attentively each time for the train to cross the trestle over the river, imagining what it might be like to travel on it, to arrive in unknown places, connected only by the trains themselves, the infinite network of tracks, as they raced through the vast spaces of the night.


Peter at Museum (1)Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucesteris a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.

Jim Lynch: My Favorite Veteran

Justin Demetri

On a rainy Armistice Day my thoughts and prayers go out to my favorite Vet, James J. Lynch as he recovers from a serious fall…Get well my friend.

To me the most interesting man in the world is not the guy from the Dos Equis commercials; it is a 91-year-old gentleman who lives down the Fort in what many of us still call “Dutchie’s House.” For over 15 years, Jim Lynch has been more than a best friend, he’s my mentor, my Master Yoda, if you will; and along with the late great Joe Garland another set of shoulders that I stand upon. Jim has been so influential to me that it’s hard to pinpoint all that he has done. But anyone who has talked with Jim, either down the Fort playground, at the Sawyer Free Library, or even aboard the schooner ARDELLE, realizes very quickly that he has lived a life straight out of a Hollywood script. In honor of his service, here are just a few of his adventures during World War II.

As a kid Jim spent his summers aboard his family’s fishing schooners where he learned the art of navigation from his grandfather and uncles. By 1939, with German U-Boats starting their patrols, his grandfather was reluctant to have him aboard. When America joined the Allies in 1941, Jim

Jim Lynch

Jim Lynch

signed on to the Merchant Marine, and with his fishing background was made a lieutenant. He was to be a navigator on the perilous Murmansk Runs – large, poorly protected convoys to the Soviet port of Murmansk to keep the USSR in the war. Part of his training was an intensive crash-course in conversational Russian that would serve him far beyond the war years.

In May of 1942, Jim was part of a convoy on its way to Murmansk from Philadelphia. While steaming past Jan Mayen Island in the Arctic Ocean, German bombers came in almost at mast-height and bombed the ships. A direct hit sent Jim into the icy water as the ship went down.  The long day this far North allowed him to find some floating wreckage to climb upon. As he lay floating there with hypothermia beginning to take hold, he was rescued by the Soviet freighter the STARY BOLSHEVIK, heading to Murmansk with a cargo of high-octane gasoline from Texas. They threw a line and Jim had just enough energy to tie a bowline around his waist as they hauled him on deck. He was surprised to find the captain and all of the officers were women. They did not waste time as they set him up on the ship’s boiler to get his core body temperature back, while on the way to Murmansk. When Jim tells this story today he usually ends it with “it made a Christian out of me.”


Jim’s ship was ordered to deliver mobile artillery during the landing at Salerno. The captain of this ship didn’t like Jim, one time saying, “You’re Irish, You’re a fisherman and you’re from the North….You’ll never be any good to me.” He ordered Jim to the battle bridge in the stern. By exiling him aft he saved Jim’s life. German fighter bombers swept in equipped with the latest in Nazi super weapons: Hs model remote guided rockets, the precursor to today’s cruise missiles. One of these flew right into the bridge and killed most of the bridge crew. Now it was up to Jim, highest ranking surviving officer, to run back to the ruined bridge and pull the damaged ship out of the line. I won’t describe what he found once he got there, but I have no idea how he sleeps at night…

The Raid at Bari

Jim barely survived the German raid at Bari, Italy in 1943. The Allies had ships filled with mustard gas containers in the port. The official story is that these banned weapons were being prepared in case the Nazis used chemical weapons in Yugoslavia or Greece. Jim knew what was on the ships–his ship was tied up next to them. When the German bombers flew over the ships and dropped conventional bombs, the mustard gas in the ship holds was released. Jim was once again thrown overboard from an explosion, but this time he was covered in oil, contaminated with mustard gas. Jim was mostly blind for the next three months but fared better than the 2000 military and civilians that were killed from the gas. This little known event was covered up until the late 1950’s.

Jim had many more exploits during the war, which took him to most of the major Allied ports, from Archangel to Asmara. He spent time in the Adriatic ferrying Frogmen and Partisans from Italy to Yugoslavia under German fire. It was there he met members of Italy’s exiled nobility fighting for the Allies and became life-long friends with the Duke of Colonna, the Count of Montezemolo and Venetian banking families. By the end of the war in Europe, Jim was back in the Soviet Union, where he celebrated V-E Day on the Eastern Front with Russian champagne and the thunderous singing of hundreds of Cossacks. The war was over for Europe but not for Jim. Due to the fact that Jim knew where the Germans laid mines in the Black Sea, Stalin “invited” him to stay and help with their removal. Jim didn’t return home until 1947. In the 1990’s Boris Yeltsin invited Jim and the other Murmansk Run survivors to return and they were recognized as Heroes of the Great Patriotic War.

This is only a sample of Jim’s war stories, but one thing they all have in common is his message that all he was trying to do was to stay alive: a fisherman who was just doing his duty for his country. Whoever Jim Lynch was before the war, a stronger but still honest and true version emerged from the USSR in 1947. And for those like me who have the privilege of knowing Jim, we know that his wartime exploits only set the stage for the amazing career and the wonderful family that would soon follow.

Schooner Ardelle

Here’s to you Jim!


Justin Demetri

Justin Demetri

Justin Demetri grew up “Down the Fort” in one of the many families that comprised Gloucester’s Italian fishing fleet. He spent his childhood among the fishermen, the boats and the wharves. At age 12, Justin gave the first cash donation to the newly arrived Schooner Adventure, leading to a friendship with author and historian Joseph E. Garland. This was the spark that would lead to a love of writing and an appreciation for the special place he still calls home. His interests include researching local maritime history and exploring his family’s Sicilian fishing heritage. His works on Italian history, culture and food can be found at Justin holds a degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts/Boston and is the Director of Visitor Services for the Essex Shipbuilding Museum.