Friday, July 22, 2011

Spending some time with an old friend

To provide a foundation for this post, I should explain that in 1959, my dad bought a brand new Plymouth Belvedere right off the showroom floor.  He had been home from the army since about 1954, and had a good job as a freight clerk for the Baltimore and Ohio.  Since he was as yet unmarried, and still living in his parents' house on Highwood Drive in north Baltimore, he could afford to splurge a little.  I should note that the car was Fire Engine Red, with a white convertible top.

When dad was in the Army, he was stationed in what was then known as West Germany and he reached the rank of Corporal as an MP "protecting the beer halls for democracy" as he used to joke.  It was a small joke he would cast out with a twinge of melancholy, as this was during the Korean War, and many of his friends from high school and the neighborhood were drafted and sent to more dangerous places, some of whom never returned.

While stationed overseas, Dad became fast friends with John Simons, of Cleveland, Ohio.  After his service in the Army, John went on to attend seminary and become ordained as an Episcopal priest.  While he became an upright man of the cloth, he was also a gregarious man of great humor.   Long story short, after Dad left the service, he remained in touch with the Rt. Rev.  It wasn't long after the big Plymouth was in the driveway on Highwood that Dad got the call from his old friend to invite him to his parish in Parma to serve as Godfather to his new son.  (John and his wife Nancy remained close to my parents, although both John and my dad have passed.)
My Dad

In so extending this invitation, the reverend set in motion a chain of events that led to today's adventure.  You see, my mom, Barbara, was John's parish secretary.  Imagine if you will, being a young woman of 26, and looking out your office window to see a long, red automobile sweep into the drive, tail-fins glistening.  With the top down, you see a splendid young man with wavy blond hair step out, and he politely greets you with a pleasant smile, sparkling blue eyes, and a strange accent that, at least in northern Ohio, might as well have been from South Carolina.  (Dad didn't really have an accent, at least not to our ears, but then we grew up in Baltimore, too!)  His face was tanned from the long trip up US 40 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  He must have seemed quite exotic.

So, anyway, one thing led to another, Barbara was swept away in the big red convertible, and they settled in Dad's home town.  Naturally, as we children came along, there evolved the annual ritual of traveling up to Cleveland to spend a week or so each summer with the cousins.  By the early 70's, Interstate 70 was gradually being completed, and we would speed along in a series of Plymouths, each gulping down more gasoline than the last.

Back in the days before the mind-numbing omnipresence of television, and this ridiculous modern philosophy that children need to be entertained every moment of the day, we did what came naturally.  This usually involved squabbling over who would sit next to the window, or complaints about the comparative proportion of this half a sandwich vs. that.  But for the most part, we would just press our noses against the glass and look out the window (provided, of course, that you were the one that won the window battle!)

Traveling west from Baltimore on I-70 in those days was a good illustration of why Maryland has long been referred to as "America in Miniature."  From the big city with the harbor and industry, you traveled to the Beltway, that most modern of conveyances that provided a gateway for massive suburban development.  Once on 70, you found yourself in rolling country dotted with dairies and horse farms.  Once you reached Frederick, you could see the first line of the Blue Ridge reaching up into the sky.  I remember imagining that it was really an enormous tidal wave ready to crash over the little town below.

After a couple of ridges, there was the broad Cumberland Valley, a tremendously fertile farming area marked by huge barns, hay stacks, and silos.  The silos always made this elementary school boy think of giant Thermos bottles for some reason.  Past Hagerstown, the more rugged  ridges of the Alleghenies began.  I knew my favorite part of the trip was close at hand when the two westbound lanes climbed high above the eastbound traffic, which afforded an excellent view of the railroad tracks that ran next to the highway just to the left.

How often it happened I can't recall, but I do have vivid memories of coming around that certain bend in the road just before Hancock, and seeing the headlight of an oncoming train.  I had no idea at the time, but this was the Western Maryland Railway.  I suppose my dad called this to my attention at some point or another, but at that age, I would have had no idea what he was talking about anyway.

There was a long siding there just east of Tonoloway Creek, which snakes down from Town Hill just east of Hancock.  My guess is that this was an important passing siding between Hagerstown and Maryland Junction, the two major terminals of the WM, so it wouldn't be unusual for a westbound drag of empty coal hoppers to be holed up in the siding to wait for the passage of a hot Alpha Jet going east.

As the 1970's wore on, and the Chessie System asserted itself as the new landlord over the WM, I noticed that I didn't see those headlights much anymore.  The main line was cut just west of Hancock in 1975, and all the WM's through traffic was diverted over to the B&O tracks at Cherry Run.  The line from there to Hancock remained in place to serve a couple of industries with local switching.  The long siding at Tonoloway became little more than a storage track for some of Chessie's decrepit fleet of poorly maintained freight cars.

With the passage of a few more years, business dried up for the shippers in Hancock, and the purpose of the line was called into question by Chessie's management.  In rapid succession, an application was filed with the ICC to abandon the route, followed shortly by an approval.  The scrap train was on hand before the ink was dry.  As a final insult, the handsome Hancock train station burned to the ground in a fire of suspicious origin.

As we got older, the trips to see the relatives became fewer and farther between, but I still had occasion to travel that way on business, or to go to a wedding or funeral.  But I still experienced the anticipation of possibly spotting a headlight, even after I knew there was no possibility of there being one.  Still, this remained a special place for me, and when I learned it had been converted into a "Rails to Trails" project, I knew that one day I'd have the opportunity to take a closer look at this stretch of railroad that so intrigued me as a child.

Today, well, Yesterday was the day.

My son and I embarked on a camping adventure earlier in the week after Laura and my youngest, Julie, went to Disney World thanks to the huge volume of Girl Scout Cookies that was peddled by her troop.  After spending the night in Brunswick, Maryland, we headed to Hancock for our second night.  So Thursday morning, we struck our tents, loaded the bikes back on the rack, and headed to downtown Hancock for lunch.  I decided to ride on the rail trail going east, then cross over to ride the C&O Canal towpath back to town.  The round trip was about 17 miles.

I managed about 8 miles out of 22.5 on the WM Rail Trail out of Hancock.  If you're a low level bicyclist like myself, this trail is a dream.  Fully paved, barely a grade (Thanks to the outstanding 20th Century engineering of the WM), and absolutely bucolic surroundings... save for the roar of I-70 most of the way going east. 

A few hours after dark with an extension ladder and some wire cutters would net a treasure hunter quite a few glass insulators...
The original WM era mile markers, sections of rail driven into the ground, have been restored.

another bag of rocks has been harvested for the layout...

Apart from one couple I encountered going west, this was the only other "hiker" I came across on my ride.  After I switched over to the canal for the trip back, she reappeared with her fawn.  I'm definitely heading back up there as soon as I can to ride the rest of the route.

Photo by Charlie Hill

While I would have probably enjoyed it more to see some speed-lettered diesels barrel through with a fast freight one more time, I have to say it was nice to get up close and personal with this stretch of right of way that was responsible for a whole slew of childhood memories.  And maybe, just maybe, for the rest of the stuff you've read about here...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dream Big

So I've whipped up a tentative train schedule now that the layout is more or less complete. 

Train descriptions:

AJ-1/3  Alpha Jet fast freights originating at Allentown from west bound cars consolidated from the L&HR, CNJ, and Reading.  Interchanges to the WM at Lurgan, near Shippensburg, PA.  After being switched at Hagerstown westbound Alpha Jets would typically run through to Rook Yard near Pittsburgh, then on to Bellevue, Ohio for further classification.
On the layout, AJ 1 & 3 starts at east staging, entering the layout at North Junction.  At Ridgeley, set outs for local traffic and cars bound for other points on the railroad are made, and cars are picked up that are bound for the interchange with the N&W at Connellsville.

AJ-2/12:  Alpha Jet fast freights originating at Bellevue Yard on the N&W (former NKP) via Rook Yard, to Connellsville, Ridgeley, Hagerstown and Lurgan on the WM, destined for Rutherford Yard, and eastbound connections at Allentown (CNJ, L&HR, NH). 
On the layout, these trains originate in West Staging, entering the layout at Greenwood, proceeding east to Maryland Jct. then on to Ridgeley for classification to continue east to Lurgan.

GRAIN EXTRA(Seasonal) Eastbound grain from the Great Lakes and Midwest for shipment to Port Covington for storage and/or export.  Connection from NW at Connellsville, through train to Baltimore.  

On the layout, follows main around Ridgeley, pausing for a power change and fresh caboose.

SECOND CLASS – FAST FREIGHTS with Intermediate Switching
BT-1  Originates at Port Covington (Baltimore), westbound to Connellsville to P&LE (Dickerson Run) to Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Cleveland.  From there, it followed the Nickel Plate to Toledo, Ohio, its terminus. 
On the layout, BT-1 starts at east staging, entering the layout at North Junction.  At Ridgeley, set outs for local traffic and cars bound for other points on the railroad are made, and cars are picked up that are bound for the interchange with the P&LE at Connellsville.  The train may also do pick-ups and set-outs at Maryland Junction.  If volume permits, it may also pick up cars bound for the Laurel Valley, which would be set out at Rockwood Jct.

WM-6  Eastbound counterpart to BT-1, operating from Dickerson Run Yard on the P&LE through Connellsville and on to Baltimore via the East Sub. 
On the layout, the train originates out of West Staging, entering the layout at Greenwood.  It proceeds east on the Connellsville Sub as far as Maryland Junction, where it may do pick-ups and set-outs of traffic from the Thomas Sub.  Proceeding east, it enters Ridgeley Yard to be reblocked for the trip east to Baltimore, via North Jct. into East Staging.

NW-12  Technically East bound from Roanoke, Va to Hagerstown on the Norfolk and Western.  Primarily traffic bound for the northeast via the Reading at Lurgan, and timed to connect with AJ-12 at Hagerstown.  Also carried traffic to go through to the N&W connection at Connellsville as well. 
On the layout, the train originates in East Staging, entering via North Jct. and terminates at Ridgely Yard (a westbound move on the layout).

NW-11  Technically West bound from Hagerstown to Roanoke.  Reverse move to NW12, with connections from the Reading and other points via AJ-1. 
Originates at Ridgeley, then departs for East Staging via North Junction (eastbound move).

WEST BOUND GRAIN EXTRA (MT) (Seasonal)  Empty grain hoppers being returned to the Midwest via Connellsville and the N&W. 
On the layout:  Originates from East Staging.  May pause at Ridgeley for a power/caboose swap.

THIRD CLASS TRAINS – Local Freights and Traveling Switchers.
Luke Digger:  Originates at Ridgeley Yard.  Turn to Westvaco Mill at Luke and return.  Departs westbound, works at Luke, then returns eastbound via Williamsport Jct.   

Handles all Luke traffic that originates from the Main line via Ridgeley.

West Local:  Originates at Elkins and moves eastbound toward Ridgeley.  Switches Thomas, Shaw, and Cumberland, and provides pick-ups and set-outs at Luke, and transfers through traffic to Ridgeley for connections.  Typically carries wood chip loads from the west into Luke. 

East Local:  Originates at Ridgeley and works westbound toward Elkins.  Also switches Cumberland, Maryland Junction, Shaw and Thomas as needed.

Union Bridge Traveling Switcher:  Originates Ridgeley, operating eastbound to North Jct. and East Sub (staging.)  Switches NC industrial tracks and PC interchange as needed.  Return train (from East Staging to Ridgeley) uses the same symbol.

Elkins Mine Run:  Handles delivery of empty hoppers to mines along the Thomas Sub, pulling loads and staging them at Thomas if space permits, otherwise returning loads to Elkins.

Coal Extras
(Train Symbol = Road Number of Lead Unit)
Connellsville Sub: 
GREY TRAIN:  Eastbound. Originates at Somerset, PA on the Laurel Valley, also picks up at Blue Lick at Meyersdale (all off layout).  Consists of Laurel Valley and WM hoppers, usually with Laurel Valley power through to Ridgeley.

FAIRMONT EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates Fairmont, WV(B&O) via Bowest Jct. and the Connellsville line.  Consists of WM and B&O hoppers.  May include B&O power through to Ridgeley.

ELKINS EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates at Elkins, with coal from the WM’s local lines in WV, as well as cars from Thomas.  WM hoppers, WM power through to Ridgeley.

Eastbound from Ridgeley:
ALLENTOWN EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates Ridgeley, with cars bound for Bethlehem Steel at Allentown.  Usually includes cars from Fairmont.

PHILADELPHIA EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates Ridgeley, with cars bound for Philadelphia Power electric generation plants.  Soft coal from the Grey Train, WM and Laurel Valley

BALTIMORE EXTRA:    Eastbound.  Originates Ridgeley, with cars bound for Baltimore Gas and Electric generation plants.  Soft coal from the Grey Train, WM and Laurel Valley

PORT COVINGTON EXTRA:  Eastbound.  Originates Ridgeley, with cars bound for Port Covington for export.  All 55 and 66 ton cars due to limitations at the rotary dumper.  Cars from the Thomas Sub.

Westbound from Ridgeley: (loads)
PITTSBURGH EXTRA:  Westbound.  Originates Ridgeley, coal for US Steel and other manufacturers via Connellsville/PLE connection.  Small numbers of cars may be added to BT-1.   

Train also includes ore loads from Port Covington.

Westbound from Ridgeley: (MT)
FAIRMONT EXTRA:  Westbound.   Originates Allentown (East Staging) proceeds through to West Staging.

GREY EXTRA: Westbound:  Originates Philadelphia and Baltimore, combined at Ridgeley.  WM Power into Ridgeley, LRV power west to Rockwood Jct. (West Staging)

ELKINS EXTRA:  Westbound:  Originates Port Covington, Baltimore, Allentown etc.  Combined at Ridgeley with cars for Shaw, Thomas, Elkins and points beyond.  Also includes westbound ore movements bound for Pittsburgh.

I either need more staging, a bigger yard, a longer main line run, fewer trains or more freight cars...  The eyes might be a little bigger than the stomach, not sure yet!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Arteries in Place, Time to Get the Blood Flowing...

So, now that the primary infrastructure of the Western Maryland Western Lines layout is in place, and the ceremonial last spike and first trains have been dispensed with, it's time to get down to the business of operating a model railroad.

This means the uproariously fun activities of inventorying the rolling stock, updating the car cards (these are actual cards that represent each and every piece of rolling stock on the layout) and preparing the multitude of waybills for each car.
Car cards and waybills begin to make sense of the mayhem.

I use a simplified 4-cycle waybill in my operations, wherein each car card is matched to a slip of paper that dictates four different destinations for the freight car in question.  The waybill slip is turned at each destination, revealing where it will be headed next.  Some of them are easy, such as some of the coal hopper fleet.  When loaded, they head east, when empty they head west back to the mines in the mountains.

One of the challenges of organizing the operations on my layout is to keep the "bridge" traffic as interesting as the on-line and local stuff.  The Western Maryland earned it's bread hauling coal, but it was the through traffic as part of the famed "Alphabet Route" that provided much of the butter.  At the west end, trains came to the WM from both the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie and the Norfolk and Western at Connellsville, while to the east, priority freight arrived from New England and the northeast via the Reading at Lurgan, and from the WM's own terminal at Port Covington in Baltimore.

On the real WM, Hagerstown was the nexus of the eastern routes, while Ridgeley Yard near Cumberland worked the traffic coming and going from the west.  Between the two yards lay the Cumberland Extension, a largely unpopulated route designed to little more than shuttle trains back and forth with virtually no on-line traffic along the way.

Coal traffic, meanwhile, was concentrated at Knobmount Yard, just south of Ridgeley, where coal drags from both the Thomas Sub and the Connellsville "New Line" came together to be weighed, marshalled and otherwise readied for distribution to the WM's many coal-consuming customers.

On the WMRY Western Lines, I had to pick and choose my operations focal points carefully.  Initially, my primary yard was to be Hagerstown.  This was driven by the relative importance of this yard compared to Ridgeley, as well as the desire to model the massive engine terminal there.  But I really needed to also account for the coal traffic at the west end, since I clearly don't have room to model both Hagerstown AND Knobmount.  So I compromised, building the large yard and engine terminal in the mold of Hagerstown, but naming it Ridgeley to be more reflective of the overall traffic flow.

A side benefit of this is the geographic proximity of Ridgeley Yard to Cumberland is a reasonable facsimile of reality on the layout.

Having spent the last few evenings riffling through the paperwork, the overall operations scheme of the layout is starting to come into focus.  I'm planning a little shake down session in a couple of weeks, so I expect to have a bit more to report once that's under my belt.