Originally published:
Keeping Current
Bangor Hydro Employee Newsletter
Volume 9, Issue 4
May 2011

Earlier this summer, my family and I ventured to the North Maine Woods to visit my sister, Stella
“Dallas” Soucy, and her significant other, Rob “The Dude” Flewelling, at Chamberlain Lake. As
the new caretakers of Nugent’s Camps, my slightly younger sibling has been very vocal about
her good fortune, and although I’m pleased for her, I kinda wish she’d stop prattling on about
picturesque wilderness vistas, impossibly large brook trout, and encounters with sociable
moose. I mean, I’d like to go on a perpetual camping trip too, but some of us have real jobs.

Anyhow, for those who say, “Getting there is half the adventure”, never had to get there by way of
The Golden Road. Viewed from afar, it’s a pleasant and amenable thoroughfare as it meanders
through endless forest, crossing brook and stream, and caressing hill and mountain. However,
when seen through a mud and bug spattered windshield, it’s a wicked stretch of tote road
riddled with potholes and washboards. Unlike the notorious Stud Mill Road, which doesn’t try to
conceal its malevolent nature under thin layers of fractured asphalt at the outset, this supposed
Golden road holds no precious metal whatsoever.  

In spite of bruised butts and bladders, my family and I arrived at the Telos Bridge with little
daylight to spare. The strait between Chamberlain Lake and Round Pond was inviting. Ringlets
appeared as fish disturbed the calm surface in search of mayflies. I was pleased with the
amenities found at the nearby landing. The concrete ramp and floating docks made it easy to
launch the boat. However, we had to work fast, lest ravenous mosquitoes bled us anemic.

Before long, we entered the Arm of Chamberlain where the lake revealed was quite immense.
Long and narrow, it disappeared in the distance. Scented with cedar and spruce, the air was
fragrant and heavy. Except for an occasional campsite, the shoreline was shrouded in dense
forest. I wondered how many woodland creatures stared as we motored past.  

Near and far, fish jumped all about, but with the boat loaded to the gunnels and the sun low on
the horizon, I fought the urge to retrieve a rod and reel. Instead, I gave the throttle handle a twist
and steered a straight course. After some time, Nugent’s Camps finally came into view. Several
rustic, yet immaculate cabins dotted a grassy bank along a ledgy shore. It didn’t take long
before a voice called out, “Oh no, it’s them!” While my wife and son waved, I readied myself for a
weekend of merciless ridicule. As painful childhood memories resurfaced, I cursed my mother
for not stopping at one child.  

Over the next few days my family and I spent appreciable time fishing and exploring the big lake.
Not having trekked much beyond Telos Lake during summer months, I had not seen the
artifacts from lumbering past, when not blanketed by snow. Sure, I’ve snowmobiled past the
steam engine and locomotives that lie abandoned on the wilderness fringe between
Chamberlain and Eagle Lakes, but seeing these rusting monuments on bare ground for the
first time gave me a renewed admiration for their builders.

Even today, woodcutting is a laborious and dangerous occupation not suited for most, but long
ago, widow-makers, frostbite, isolation, springpoles, drowning, lacerations, and exhaustion
were typical workday hazards for lumberjacks. Hurrying before the onset of spring melt, fresh
logs were grappled and skidded by horse and oxen teams over frozen earth to the nearest
stream and river. When ice laden flows transformed into churning rapids, log drivers with
peavey and cleated boots helped gravity deliver its bounty to waiting mills.    

As time passed, the last vestiges of untouched forest could only be found beyond the farthest
reaches of the Penobscot River basin. However, instead of using the Allagash River to float
logs north to the Saint John River and Canadian mills, ingenious engineers devised means to
convey valuable timber in a southerly direction by changing the natural flow of Chamberlain and
Telos Lakes.

                                                    Telos Dam & Cut

In 1838, a cribwork dam was constructed on Chamberlain Lake’s original outlet to block
passage to Eagle Lake. As the water rose, a seasonal outlet at the far end of Telos began to
flow more vigorous. There, another dam was built during the autumn of 1841, and throughout
the following winter, trees were uprooted from a gulley between Telos and Webster Lakes.
When spring arrived and the gates were raised, an immense inundation descended more than
fifty feet in half a mile, scouring everything in its path. In no time, a new Webster Stream tributary
was born that could transport timber down the East Branch of the Penobscot River, all the way
to Bangor mills.  

Nowadays, such a dredging method would be inexcusable given more enlightened
environmental attitudes, but it must have been quite a sight when the dam was opened wide.
Even today, Class III rapids churn through the Telos Cut with such ferocity that only the most
fanatical explorer will forgo a portage. On a past fishing excursion, I still recall dozens upon
dozens of unopened beer cans floating past my view. Recovering as many as quickly possible,
my friend and I motored upstream and discovered a party of canoeists stranded on a gravel bar.
Fortunately, they survived a poorly executed plan to navigate spring rapids in overloaded craft.
For our assistance, we were rewarded with a twelve-pack and many thanks. However, I still
lament for the souls of lost beer cans that could not be saved. Hopefully, some deserving
fisherman found their aluminum bodies washed up on a faraway sandbar, their effervescent
nectar still intact.            

                                                  Eagle Lake Tramway

In 1901, an elaborate tramway system was built as a replacement for a series of inefficient lock
dams between Eagle and Chamberlain Lakes. Much of the construction materials were boated
across Moosehead Lake during the summer and fall, and the rest was skidded across the
frozen lake and landscape by horse teams. At the halfway point near the West Branch, a 6,000
foot cable was cut in half to lessen the burden on the final leg. Operational from 1903 until
1908, a powerful steam engine located at Chamberlain turned a huge steel sprocket, which
wound the thick cable, pulling a series of train axels that carried logs along a set a narrow
gauge rails. When marketable timber had been exhausted, the works was shutdown in 1909.

The tramway is my favorite contrivance and must have been something to see when it was in
operation. Alas, the machinery now lies in a wilderness cemetery. The wooden cribwork that
once held the rails, cable, and trucks has long rotted away. Spruce and fir crowd together
between the rusted tracks. Other than browsing moose traipsing along an adjacent
snowmobile trail, there are few visitors here during summer months, and though many a sled
go by in the winter, much of what remains can only be viewed when not covered by snow.   

                                       Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad

During the winter of 1926, construction began on a thirteen mile railway to move timber from the
Allagash region to the headwaters of the Penobscot River’s West Branch. A Lombard log hauler
was used to deliver materials, including two disassembled oil-fired locomotives. Beginning at
Eagle Lake, near the defunct tramway, a 1,500 foot trestle was built across Allagash Stream.
From there, a railway was laid along the western shore of Chamberlain Lake to the headwaters
of Umbazooksus Lake. Fully operational in 1927, two trains ran simultaneously during twelve
hour days. While one was loading at Eagle Lake, the other was unloading at Umbazooksus.
With a passing track located midway, the locomotives ran without interruption. In 1930, the
engines were backed into their repair sheds, their boilers shutdown forever.

For many decades, the railway languished. With the sheds deteriorating under and around
them, the locomotives eventually fell on their sides. The bridge, albeit twisted and mangled, can
still be seen where Allagash Stream flows into Chamberlain.  Mercifully in 1995, with asbestos
boiler jackets removed, the locomotives were uprighted in reverent pose.

So, if you have an occasion to trek to the North Maine Woods, the remnants of these
engineering marvels can be viewed. If you happen to sleepover at one of the cabins at Nugent’s
Camps, pay little heed to my sister. She has a tendency to embellish her fishing exploits, and
her remembrances can be vague and inexact, so any supposed deeds committed by me,
probably, aren’t nearly as bad as told.  Additionally, her adult recollections can be a bit coarse
and offensive to some, and if that isn’t bad enough, she’s been known to cheat at UNO. By the
way, if Stella is wearing her favorite tee-shirt, the one emblazoned with the expression, “Mom’s
Favorite”, a handsome reward can be had for its disappearance.  

                                                             The End


Maine - A History
1919 Centennial Edition
by Louis Clinton Hatch Ph.D., Maine Historical Society, & American Historical Society

State of Maine
Department of Conservation
Dams, Trams, & Rails
Maine Travels by John R. Cobb
Eagle Lake Tramway
Steam Engine
Tramway Trail
Train Track
Allagash Train Trestle
Aquatic Moose
Chamberlain Sunset
Spooked Moose
Rusting Relics
Cold Boilers