Interesting 1958 Rockville Wreck Video

Video here
Saw this video this morning, posted to the CSX “Cap, Met, and OML” subs, Railfans group on Facebook. I know it’s not Georgetown Branch related, specifically, but it’s hyper-local and shows some amazing detail shots of the track and some equipment in the 1950s. I don’t have many details about the wreck, only what’s found in the description. Anyone got more info? Post it here in the comments. Also, note all the people on the live tracks! Nowadays that would never happen.

Georgetown Yard Limit, 1966

A really wonderful photos was posted to the Maryland Division Railfans group on Facebook. The photo was taken in July 1966 at the west end of Georgetown yard, along the Potomac, and is one from a location that I have never seen before; at the end of the passing siding/yard track at the west end of Georgetown. There is a “YARD LIMIT” sign placed at this location that I never new existed. I’m so thankful as it provides a peek at something I never would have known had I not seen the photo. When I model this area on my layout, I will be sure to add that sign! Thanks so much, Guy Span!

July 1966, B&O GP9 6503 appears to be heading west (RR East) out of Georgetown as it passes the yard limit. The caboose is tucked behind the locomotive, per RR practice. Guy Span photo.
July 1966, B&O GP9 6503 appears to be heading west (RR East) out of Georgetown as it passes the yard limit. The caboose is tucked behind the locomotive, per RR practice. Guy Span photo.

Rock Creek mystery photo

I just stumbled across this really neat photo from the GWU Special Collections showing the mule stables located along the Rock Creek. What’s interesting from a B&O perspective is that just behind it you can see the terminus of the Georgetown Branch as well as what may be the extension of the line built to serve the construction of the Lincoln Memorial.

Rock Creek, C&O Canal mule stables, B&O RR
Rock Creek, C&O Canal mule stables, B&O RR (Photo from Special Collections Research Center GWU)

In the foreground we see a canal boat, docked next to the mule stables. Not sure if the railroad ever provided any service here, but perhaps they brought new animals in stock cars and perhaps feed for them. In some very old Sanborn maps I have, there are stock pens indicated in this location.

Behind the pens, to the left, you can see a few box cars. One has a circular logo. Look carefully for the roof lines. Above and behind them, you will see the roof of the old B&O RR freight station, which was in service until the late 40s when they tore it down and built the coal and ash house which stood until 2006 when it was torn down to make way for the Swedish embassy expansion. The original freight house was a wooden timber affair, built to the B&O Standard Plan.

What interests me most is the prospect that the bridge in the background is the one which was built to serve the Lincoln Memorial construction. The Georgetown branch was completed to Georgetown in 1908-1910. The C&O Canal stopped service some time around 1924. The Lincoln Memorial was constructed between 1914-1922. Being that the bridge appears to be a heavy duty type, and the smaller connecting section to the right appears to have ties and rail on it, and no railing for pedestrian safety, I’d say it’s a good chance. If you look carefully you can see a second bridge, just beyond the first one, behind the light-colored house to the right. This one appears to have sides. I have some other photos of the area that I will have to study more carefully. Enjoy!

Georgetown Waterfront, 1939

Alert reader Christopher R. emailed me to share this wonderful view of the waterfront in 1939. Probably the most interesting thing in the photo is the B&O Georgetown local switcher, at work! If you look above the Aqueduct Bridge abutment, you will see the smoke pouring from the smoke stack of the venerable 0-6-0. It appears to be reversing and has just passed the scale house and is passing beneath the footbridge to the Washington Canoe Club. There is a long passing siding that begins  just behind the Club. Other items of interest are the buildings lining the waterfront, beyond the boathouses, Canal Rd./M St., and the old pilings for the Aqueduct Bridge, now gone. About ten years later the pilings would be demolished by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Georgetown Waterfront, 1939

* interesting note: About ten years ago I found this very same photo in the LoC online collection “American Memory” and gleefully posted a zoomed in view of the lower res image from the site:

RIP Barry Rubin

Barry Rubin passed away earlier this year on Feb 3, 2014.

2003 was a hallmark year for me in my research on the Georgetown Branch. Up until that point, I had spent much of my time hunting around online for Sanborn maps, looking at old aerial photos and maps of the line, trying to decode the various phases and stages of the construction of the line. Unraveling the mystery, as I like to say, which I still am doing to this day. Around this time I became involved with the B&O RR Historical Society and joined the popular related Yahoo group. Worlds opened as I met many new B&O enthusiasts eager to share information, ideas and recollections. I had members mailing me photos, form 6’s, maps, drawings and other pieces of data that I had never seen. The web was growing.

One day I heard that there was a B&ORRHS member, Duane Carrell, who was planning on writing an article about the Georgetown Branch. Imagine my excitement. I mean, here I was, trying as hard as I could to dig up information on the line, and there was another nut just like me who was writing an article about it! I was thrilled. Then came the emails that really locked everything in for me. Barry Rubin, who at the time was involved with the Society, decided that with all the interest in the Georgetown Branch, perhaps we should have a get-together, a sort of meet-and-greet. He offered up his house as a location and we put it on the books.

On a very cold January morning, I showed up not knowing what I’d find or who I’d meet, or that it would be the seminal turning point for opening up my eyes to the depth of the history of the Branch. Duane, who was writing the article, showed up and brought with him all of his source materials. There were original track chart blueprints, maps, huge collections of black and white photos, overhead aerials, notes, and a variety of other plans and documents. ALL about the Georgetown Branch. I was just overwhelmed with excitement and remember poring over each and every page and photo, knowing that none of these were going home with me so I had better soak it all up now.

Barry then led us, caravan style, from his home in Chevy Chase down to Bethesda, where we parked at River Rd. and walked a short distance both North and South down the old right-of-way, describing track alignments, old buildings that remained, remnants of sidings and ghosts of operations gone by. We had a GREAT time and we all became friends as we shared in an enthusiasm for this little old railroad branch line.

Jan 18, 2003, Bethesda MD. The first (and only) Georgetown Branch get-together. From left to right: Kelly Regan, C.E. Close, Duane Carrell, Barry Rubin, Daniel Rubin and Joe Nevin.

Barry was the impetus for that meet-up. He took the time to get everyone together, offering his house and his leadership. He did so much outside of this silly little meeting, but for me it was one of the most important in my quest as a historian and a fan of the Georgetown Branch, the B&O and the people of the B&ORRHS. It’s the people that I meet, who put in time and effort to share and foster that energy and excitement that carries the legacy of the B&O on for future generations to enjoy and discover. For this, I thank you, Barry. Safe home.

Duane Carrell wrote the following obituary on the B&ORRHS Yahoo Group:

I wanted to let the members of the chat know that Barry Rubin, titular editor of the Sentinel, passed away this morning in Tel Aviv.  He had been fighting cancer for over a year-and-a-half.

I met Barry when we entered 7th grade in 1961 at Alice Deal Jr. High in Washington and we became fast friends in the ninth grade when we discovered that we each had an interest in railroads.  I was with him when he bought his first train set in downtown Washington on the day that President Kennedy was assassinated.  A year later we joined the Rockville Society of Model Engineers and his father often drove us to meetings.  By our senior year our interests had diverged somewhat although we remained friends.  He went to Georgetown Univ. and became a history professor and also worked for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate.  I saw him briefly at our 20th high school reunion in 1987 and then lost touch for another 14 years.  In the meantime he had developed a deep interest in Israel and Mideast affairs and moved to Tel Aviv, although he kept a residence in Chevy Chase for lengthy visits here.  In 2001 I happened to see his name in the masthead of the Sentinel as the editor, wondered if it could be the same person and emailed him.  Lo and behold it was and we re-kindled a long-dormant friendship and became very close.  It was Barry who made me aware of the yahoo group and encouraged me to write for the Sentinel.  And, as history sometimes repeats itself, Barry took part in his first Civil War reenactment with me three years ago in Olustee, Florida.

 Barry became an authority on Middle East Affairs, founded the Global Research in International Affairs Center, wrote close to 20 books – most on the Middle East – and traveled the world, speaking to government and private groups about the state of the Middle East.  He was extremely professional in his analysis and did not let his opinions get in the way of the facts.  He did not back away from stating the truth and made some enemies for it.

 He was diagnosed with cancer in July, 2012, appeared to be beating it and more appeared in recent months.  He married somewhat late in life and leaves his wife, Judy, an 18-year old daughter who is performing public service in Israel and a 14-year-old son.  I have no word on funeral arrangements yet.

 He will be missed.

 Duane Carrell

Very short film clip of Georgetown in the 50s

I’m a complete sucker for media showing the Georgetown Branch in its heyday, and get pretty excited when it’s of the film/video variety. There are simply not that many films in existence which depict the branch in service! There are fabled copies of a film showing the fan trip down the line in the late 40s held by the NRHS but I haven’t even been able to get a reply from them on this.
Anyway, in this film which is a snippet of a collection of aerial footage of DC in 1954 shows the Georgetown waterfront area for the first 23 seconds. Not that great, it’s wobbly, but it’s there. Note the aqueduct bridge footings, still in place in the river (Army Corps of Engineers had yet to demolish them), the Lone Star cement factory standing tall and the Hopfmaier rendering plant smoking away across from the Wilkins Rogers mill. The power plant is still standing and the coal steam plant can be seen in the background near the end of the line. Very cool!

Some eBay finds, including an interesting building feature.

I hope you find these photos I recently purchased on eBay as interesting as I do!

May 15, 1947, Fatal Bus Accident
“BETHESDA, MD- Three persons were reported killed and at least five injured when a B&O freight train struck a private bus at a grade crossing here today (5/14). One of the victims is shown being removed from the wreckage. ACME TELEPHOTO” I wrote about this previously here:
March 19, 1936, Potomac Floods Capital Area
“POTOMAC FLOODS CAPITAL AREA, An aerial view of Georgetown, Historic spot of Washington, D.C., Submerged in flood waters of the swollen Potomac. The building with the two smoke stacks is the city’s gas plant which probably will be out of commission soon, thus leaving the city without gas. 3/19/1936” I’m curious if that power plant was ever gas powered. I always thought it was coal-fired. Hmm…
March 19, 1936, Georgetown Flooded
“GEORGETOWN FLOODED, A view from the air of Georgetown, in the District of Columbia, several feet under water due to the rising waters of the Potomac. It is estimated that the Potomac has left $5,000,000 property damage in its wake. 3/19/1936” Interesting to note the rail cars left in the yard as well as the buildings along Water Street. Also note the trails of stains in the water from the industrial area.
October 17, 1942, District of Columbia Flooded
“DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA FLOODED, Washington, D.C. – “K” street in Georgetown, D.C., was submerged by the flood waters of the Potomac today. The river can be seen at upper right. 10/17/1942″ Note the giant beer bottle sign on the corner of the building at left. Also the Lone Star cement plant to the right and the Wilkins Rogers milling building in the distance.

The preceding photos include some fascinating shots. My favorite has to be the big beer bottle advertisement on the corner of the building in the lower-left hand corner of the bottom image. This was most likely for Brenizer Brewing Co. which maps indicate was located on this site.


Relics From The Past: A Mystery Wreck on the Branch

Last spring I was contacted by someone who had made a discovery along the Georgetown Branch. Just North of the Dalecarlia tunnel some folks were clearing invasive species brush from the park area just around the trail. While going through the brush, they uncovered this:

Mysterious wreck on the GB.
Frame of a freight car. Photo from David Cohen.
Frame of two more freight cars. Photo from David Cohen.
Frame of two more freight cars. Photo from David Cohen.

There have been a couple blog posts pop up (one here)covering the discovery, but no solid information on the wreck itself has arisen. I’ve had discussions with a few other railfans and friends and aside from a few clues this is a mystery.

Here’s what we know: the cars are likely freight cars. There are apparently no trucks, bolsters or couplers. They appear to have been torched off (and presumably removed). The one car nearest to the trail dates from 1935-1950. Jeffrey Ramone writes: It’s definitely from a car that was built between 35 and 50. New York Air Brake equipment, AB valve…way cool.” J. D. Hathaway writes: “I’m told the car was built after 1934 because of the type of brakes. The cylinder and various things are all part of the “AB” type air brake system”.   It’s unlikely these were hopper cars, as the subframe is clearly from a car that has a solid frame beneath. Boxcars, gondolas, flatcars are all possibilities. It’s most likely a 40′ car. Some more sleuthing is necessary to really get to the bottom of it.

Why are the cars there? This is the biggest mystery. Several theories have arisen. My best guess is that they were part of a wreck in this area at some point. Something akin to a messy derailment. There were no injuries so perhaps there was no public report. The cars were simply torched in place to salvage some of the materials and parts and the rest left to rot. Obviously an air brake system can’t be reused after it’s suffered damage in a wreck.

Perhaps the economics of the time dictated that the underframes were the least valuable parts and were left behind. Perhaps the crew was called away on another job and this was simply forgotten. I doubt these were placed here intentionally, ie on a siding of some kind. Due to the dates on the cars there should be a report of the wreck somewhere. I will keep searching! If you come across any additional information, please share it here!

CCT North side 1
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT North side 3
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT South side 1
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT South side 2
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT North side 5
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT North side 4
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT South side 3
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT North side 2
Photo by J.D. Hathaway


Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

Channeling the classic episode of The Simpsons, were you aware that the corridor from Bethesda to Silver Spring could have been a monorail type train, known as an Aeromovel? This odd type of transport uses compressed air to “push” the train along on an elevated platform, and was considered as an alternative for reuse of the Georgetown Branch between the two cities. A study was done and a copy can be found in the Chevy Chase Historical Society archives.

GB Corridor Study Aeromovel
GB Corridor Study for the Aeromovel Alternative, 1989



Layout: Progress at Georgetown Junction & Bethesda

Got a bit of work done on the layout today. Laid down more roadbed at Georgetown Junction and laid in the sub roadbed (Homasote) in Bethesda. Did some thinking about track laid flush on the sub roadbed in Bethesda vs. laying it on roadbed. I was originally leaning toward all on the sub roadbed itself but thinking about Bethesda there was a nice track profile on much of it. This will be tricky. I do have some large Homabed panels that would work but I think it may be a waste here. We will see! Going to study some more photos and make a decision. Progress is good!

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