Peak foliage was in the forecast, as well as clear and unseasonably warm weather, so the arrival of a Code Orange-painted Ford Raptor meant it was time for a special road trip deep into the Maine North Woods to see the “Ghost Trains” at Eagle Lake.
In 1927, famous Canadian and Maine woodsman Edward Lacroix’s crews hauled two former steam locomotives from Quebec into Maine with Lombard woods-haulers, building the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad to move logs from Eagle Lake down to Umbazookas Lake to flow down the West Branch of the Penobscot River to the paper mill at Millinocket — once the largest paper mill in the world. Just as the 13-mile railway replaced the former Tramway system employed, currently being restored by the Bureau of Parks & Lands and the Allagash Alliance volunteers, the railway was abandoned in 1933 and the trains and dozens of haul-cars were left in the Maine woods — too expensive to remove.
This is an important historical attraction that requires more than a casual car ride into the Maine North Woods, as we soon discovered. Leaving Millinocket fully fueled, we joined the infamous Golden Road at Ambejejus Lake (nice woods museum here, on an island) and proceeded north over 70-plus miles of dirt road to our destination.
At Big Eddy, just before Ripogenus Dam, a must-see too, you turn onto Telos Road and soon enter the gated (and fee-based) Maine North Woods road system. Recently graded and in great shape, we pushed past slower traffic to 1) avoid the excessive dust, 2) exploit the Raptor’s expanded ride and handling dynamics and 3) try to beat the “crowd” to the tiny parking lot at the end of a modest access road at Eagle Lake. With a 25-vehicle Jeep caravan stopped to reconnoiter at the bridge, we were very thankful to be in front of that dust cloud!
Just before Telos Gate, where friendly Tina Pelletier helped guide our trip, our only moose sighting of the trip occurred. A large cow and calf stood in the road and asked to see our permits. They sauntered off after realizing that our new Raptor was more than they could handle.
With the return of a V-8-powered Raptor in the wings, Ford still made significant improvements to the current model. Only available as a four-door CrewCab now, $65,840 base price, buyers get a new 12-inch digital instrument panel, upgraded 12-inch Sync-4 screen (that retains conventional audio system knobs), additional trim and content in the cabin, including heated and cooled Recaro seating, plus the folding shift-lever for the 10-speed automatic and flat console work station from the regular F-150.
Mechanically, Ford massaged the Raptor’s long-travel suspension for greater comfort in all driving modes with larger gas shocks, a five-link rear suspension replacing the former leaf springs, plus 1 more inch of ground clearance — up to 13 inches now — on optional 37-inch BF Goodrich all-terrain tires.
We were prepared with a floor jack, tire pump and other hardware for the often grueling conditions of the rural, shale roads up north, but the Raptor performed flawlessly. A Subaru Ascent did not, nor did a Chevy Tahoe, as both were roadside with flat tires, the Tahoe’s an apparent high-speed blowout as the fender and rear fascia were destroyed — deep in the woods. Those all-season tires that the automakers love are basically junk in the deep woods.
The Raptor cruised smoothly from Chamberlain Lake up the Trans-Canada road to our destination. The door seals protected us from the constant plume of dust, while the cabin is spacious and comfortable for a party of four and our gear. The 36-gallon gas tank provides another margin of confidence, yet with our steady pace of 40-plus mph, we got over 20 mpg in the 450-hp, 6,200-pound Ford, handily beating the EPA estimates.
Other changes include a workbench tailgate with lowering and raising assist, an optional work generator and electrical outlet in the bed, as well as new Trail 1-single pedal cruise control for off-road. Ford has increased the size of the twin-turbo V-6’s exhaust pipes and created tunable options, too, while adding a heat extractor vent on the hood.
High marks here for the cabin comfort and utility, the excellent headlamps, which eased our journey home through “moose alley,” plus the overall ride and drive performance of the Raptor both on the superslab and deep in the Maine woods.
The foliage was excellent, and the train site is well-worth the visit. The Raptor made the trip fun, relaxing and memorable. If you go, go with extra tires and a 4X4 pickup. Leave the car at home.