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A busy day at Rigby Yard, 1981

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Saturday, October 29, 2016

Stories of Dave Fink in the days when he ran the former Boston & Maine and Maine Central for majority owner Tim Mellon could fill a book, and probably should. Let’s just say the man was direct, in your face, and unafraid of a fight—you punch him, expect to be flattened in the counterattack. A bit like Donald Trump, maybe, and Dave made a lot of enemies. I’ve always thought you had to have a certain amount of those characteristics to survive in running a big New England railroad. New England is a beautiful region, but was hostile territory for railroad owners a generation ago.

All this being said, I’m always on the prowl for new Dave Fink stories, and I thank his son David for supplying a couple of fresh tales. David is president of Pan Am Railways, the successor to B&M and MC, and he spoke a month ago to a meeting of the North East Association of Rail Shippers.

Let’s go back to 1981. Dave Fink and Mellon have just bought Maine Central, to which they will soon add the B&M (and later the Delaware & Hudson, rather briefly). Young David is a college student (Northeastern University) with an interest in railroading. So the elder Fink and Mellon ask David to join them in Mellon’s 1977 VW Rabbit for a tour of the MC facilities in Portland. They arrive at Rigby Yard’s engine terminal. I’ll let David continue the story:

“I can vividly remember getting out of the car. My father walks over to the engine house, and the first thing he sees is a gentleman tuning up his motorcycle. It did not have a Maine Central pine-tree logo on it, so we immediately figured it was not a company motorcycle, it was his personal motorcycle. So my father goes over there and asks him questions, befriends him. He didn’t know who my father and Tim were.

“Person number two was sound asleep with a newspaper over his head, just sleeping. It was a locomotive maintainer.

“The third guy we thought was working on a Maine Central project. I remember it was a steel Farm Boss 041 chain saw. We had the same model so Dave [dad] goes over and asks him how it was going. Maybe it was brush cutting for signal maintaining. ‘No, no, it’s Friday, I’m getting my chain saw ready for the weekend. I’ve gotta get my firewood in for the winter.’”

You can infer from this that big changes lay ahead for Rigby’s engine terminal. I believe it soon ceased to exist.

David Fink also spoke about the old Maine Central headquarters building in Portland:

“ . . . beautiful building, but very impractical—no air conditioning and high maintenance costs. My father was never able to see all the people who worked for the railroad. When we came up here there were maybe a thousand people who worked on that railroad. So he called the Portland Fire Department and said we’re going to have a fire drill, unload the building so we can do a head count so we know who we have . . . There were a couple of rumored clerks still on the payroll in their late 80s. He wanted to be sure they were still coming into the office.

“Those are the stories that are kind of urban lore. And they are true.”

My thanks to Chalmers (Chop) Hardenbergh, the tireless editor of Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports newsletter, for writing up David Fink’s talk.—Fred W. Frailey

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