2014-06-27 / People

Song harkens to days when trolleys thrived

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

Biddeford resident and University of New England history student Max Metayer plays banjo on the Biddeford 31, a trolley that used to run from Biddeford to Old Orchard Beach. Metayer is composing music for the Seashore Trolley Museum as part of an internship. 
(Ben Meikejohn photo) Biddeford resident and University of New England history student Max Metayer plays banjo on the Biddeford 31, a trolley that used to run from Biddeford to Old Orchard Beach. Metayer is composing music for the Seashore Trolley Museum as part of an internship. (Ben Meikejohn photo) ARUNDEL – Biddeford resident Max Metayer, 21, plucks his banjo on the Biddeford 31, an old trolley which used to run from Biddeford to Old Orchard Beach on the Biddeford and Saco Railroad.

The fare was only five cents in the trolley’s heyday in the 1920s. Now long retired, Biddeford 31 sits in the Highwood Barn as part of the world’s largest trolley exhibit at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Arundel.

For several weeks, Metayer has immersed himself in the collection and absorbed its history to draw inspiration to compose a series of songs in commemoration of the museum’s 75th anniversary.

Metayer, a University of New England history major who also minors in music, is fulfilling an art internship at the museum. He is charged with creating music that promotes the museum’s mission.

Executive Director Sally Bates said she wanted to offer an internship that incorporated creative arts into the museum’s fabric. Bates said organizations too often use internships as a way to get assistance with administrative tasks or to process paperwork.

“We wanted a student in the arts who would be inspired by the collection and its history and then complete an original piece,” Bates said. “And the campus benefits by adding artistic elements.”

Metayer, who has played primarily bass since age 15, said the banjo became the preferred instrument for the project as he explored the collection of trolleys.

“I was trying to write music that is relevant to the trolleys, the 1920s, and the banjo was very popular, a lot of folk and country,” Metayer said. “It seemed like an appropriate choice.”

Bates said the museum would have been interested in any creative artist – including writers or visual artists – but Metayer’s academic interest in both history and music made him a good candidate for the project.

“Max hasn’t been casual about this,” Bates said. “He’s been doing his research.”

In the first two weeks of the internship, Metayer said he found some favorite cars in the collection. In the Passport Collection, which includes trolleys from foreign countries, Metayer said he was drawn to the “Nagasaki” and the “Green Goddess.”

The “Green Goddess” is a double-decker trolley that was used in Glasgow, Scotland. The upper deck was a smoking lounge complete with plush leather decor.

“It was made in 1939, which is kind of interesting,” said Metayer, “because I didn’t think they had the materials to build it because of the war.”

Metayer said he has already completed several songs of varying styles. One is a hobo blues song about the Great Depression:

I rode that train the whole damn way / Now I’m looking for a place to stay / Don’t got a home to go back to anyway / I rode that train the whole damn way.

I had a good job but it’s long gone / Now I’m out here looking hard / But there’s nothing here so I’d best move on / I had a good job but now it’s gone.

Metayer said he spent time studying the 32-bar Broadway song form that was popular in the 1930s and 1940s. He came up with a song that is far “sappier” than he would normally feel comfortable writing – but he wanted to be true to the genre and “those songs had a lot of sap,” he said.

Incorporating local elements into a song, Metayer said he is writing about the Biddeford and Saco Railroad at a time before electricity was used, when trolleys were pulled along the tracks by horses.

Riding with Metayer on a trolley, motorman and storyteller Mike Frost explained the history of the Atlantic Shore Line Railway. The museum runs its demonstration rides upon a portion of what used to be the Atlantic Shore Line.

The railway was once the vital connection in York County that enabled people to connect to other railroad lines. Mill owner Thomas Goodall owned the railway and expanded a line from Cape Porpoise to Sanford as a cheaper way to transport coal from the harbor to his Sanford mills.

“It connected York and Kennebunk to Kittery, Dover, New Hampshire and Massachusetts,” Frost said. “This line allowed you to connec with Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach, where you could get to Portland, Lewiston or Augusta … 110 years ago in York County, you could get around. Today, if you don’t have a car, you just have to walk. If you lived out here, it was pretty isolated before the trolley … it provided a needed service.”

Metayer will perform his songs on Wednesdays and Thursdays in July at the museum to passengers who wait to board the sunset trolley ride. Metayer said he will have a chance to explain some of the history of the museum’s trolleys and the meaning of each song he composes.

“I’m trying to make (the songs) to stress that this is relevant, that transport from 50 to 100 years ago is relevant to today and why they should care about it,” Metayer said.

Bates said the museum, located at 195 Log Cabin Road, will host a 75th anniversary celebration Saturday, July 5. On Friday, Aug. 22, the museum will host a speakeasy; cars that operated during Prohibition will be used as cocktail lounges, and music from 1920 to 1933 will be featured.

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