Rock Creek Trestle Model Update

I am playing catch-up with many things including getting everyone up to speed on my progress with Rock Creek trestle model. Unlike many folks, COVID was not a super-duper productive time for me with my model railroad. At the outset of the stay-home orders, I embarked on a remodeling project that took most of my time, sanity and family peace away for several months. The upstairs guest (kids) bathroom was gutted and renovated all by myself. This included a completely new tub, surround with tile, plumbing, new tile flooring, toilet, vanity/sink, beadboard, ceiling fan, and a custom-made mirror made using the very large old one and some leftover trim. It all came together in the end, but the journey burned me out. I found that I had no time during the project to work on my model railroad, and for a very long time after was uninterested in doing layout work at all. As such, my progress over the last year has been slow.

The completed bathroom.

NONETHELESS, I have made progress! Today I’m going to share a slew of photos showing where I am with the Rock Creek trestle model. This will be a showcase piece on the layout so taking my time is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m learning A LOT along the way with this scratch build and it’s been fun so far. Tedious, but fun. If you recall from previous blog posts, I drew the plans from drawings, photos and some measurements I made. The challenge was great, as there are no good reference photos from the time frame I want to model (late 1940s) so a lot of time was spent making careful judgements and measurements from the few photos I DO have. In the end, I’m quite proud of the plans I made.

Prepping materials and plans for the trestle. Jun 2020.

I started in earnest on actually building the trestle back in June of 2020. (yeah, yeah, a YEAR AGO…) A few early experiments helped me to refine my technique for how to assemble the trestle bents. At first I had hoped to use a magnetic tray to lay out the parts. This quickly was dismissed, as I realized the magnets did not allow for fine adjustment and placement that was necessary for this sort of construction.

Reaching back to my youth, I decided to use the same technique I used to build balsa airplanes; pins. This turned out to be a great choice, and paired with small slabs of 2″ extruded pink foam boards, worked beautifully.

2″ Pink foam, pins and wax paper made bent construction very easy.

My technique is to trim the 8.5×11″ sheet of paper the plan is printed on to fit on the foam block. Then, place the plan down and a small sheet of wax paper atop it. Use pins to secure to foam. Then I will place my dimensional lumber atop the plan to mark and cut using The Chopper II or a new X-Acto blade. I use the NWSL True Sander to achieve a good angle on the trestle bents. I use white glue (used carpenter’s glue for a while) and pins to hold the pieces in place while they dry.

The benefit of using the slabs of pink foam is that I can have 5-6 of them working at once. I start one, glue and pin it up, then set it aside. Prep another bent, glue and pin it, set aside. Rinse and repeat. Once a bent is dry, I flip it over and finish the other side. I made up an angle template for my Chopper to cut bents at a consistent angle. I would then clean them up on the True Sander. These were really coming together nicely.

Balsa angle template for the Chopper.

After the bents had dried, I would trim up any angles or edges with an X-Acto blade. The next step is to install the NBW (Nut-Bolt-Washer) castings. I prefer the Tichy 8016 as they are molded in brown plastic and reasonably well resemble the prototype. I also have some of the NWSL 5046 NBW and they are very nice, too. EDITORS NOTE: While writing this, I looked more closely at the image below and realized I should be using the NWSL 5066 (1 1/4″ NUT, 3″ MALLEABLE WASHER .014″), as it is a MUCH better match. I will have to get some of these now.

Photo I took from Jan, 2019 before the trestle had been torn down. This is one of the original bolts and washers.

I first painted the tips a rust color, trimmed using sprue cutters and then installed the NBW castings on several bents using a pin vise and a small #76 drill.

Drilling holes for the NBW castings.

The results were quite nice, but my fingers were starting to get really sore.

A nearly completed bent with NBW castings installed.

I knew there was a better way. A bit of brainstorming and Googling, I found the Dremel 220-01 Workstation, which is essentially an arbor press for your Dremel multitool. Using the Dremel 4486 Keyless Chuck with my #76 bit, this worked a treat. The Workstation was only $45 at Home Depot, which I think is a bit of a steal considering the excellent functionality of the tool.

The Dremel set up in the Workstation arbor press. After some configuration and adjusting, the press made quick work of drilling holes for all the NBW castings. The block of wood provides a surface that I can safely drill into as well as move the trestle bent around easily and position for drilling. This took a bit of practice to get right. I use a very small pin awl that belonged to my grandfather to “mark” the holes prior to drilling.

After assembling several bents, I decided to change gears and work on another part of the trestle – the deck. I needed a change of scenery. This required clearing down my workbench and developing a new workflow. I knew I wanted to assemble both sides at the same time. This would allow me to have everything aligned and placed on the same level, except for the center deck girder section which I’d have to spike in place later. Once both sides were spiked down, I could flip the whole rail and top deck over and glue the bents in place, upside-down. Again, this would allow everything to be aligned perfectly on the same plane. At least, this is the plan. I used an old shelf that I had in storage in the garage as a base. The shelf is straight and level and when I need to move it off my workbench I can do so easily.

I first used a straight edge to align and then tape down the plans on the board, side by side. I then used used some double-sided tape (which I had removed some of the tackiness from by touching my fingers to both sides) placed on the plans to secure the laminated stringers to the plans. (I previously laminated four sets of three 8″ x 16″ (HO scale) cut to length using a straight edge on a sheet of glass)

As you may recall, I had previously installed the ties into the laser-cut mat board jigs I made and installed Proto:87 tie plates. My plan was to put some glue on the bottom of the ties and then carefully place the jig/ties onto the stringers, weigh them down, and then once dry, lift the jig off of the glued-down ties.

Well, this very much did not go as planned and resulted in the first big “disaster” of this project for me. When I began to remove the jig, ever-so-carefully, it began to “flake off” the scale tie plates and about 1/3 of the ties with it. Apparently the glue did not quite reach between the ties and the stringers (not enough) and the tie plates, well that was a mistake to begin with. They were never really aligned correctly and I should have never put them on first. In hindsight, this was a mistake. So now I had a mess to clean up.

First, I picked off all of the old tie plates from the ties, sorted and stored them. I then removed any other loose ties. Next, I re-glued any of the wayward ties back in place, using my plans as a guide.

Finished gluing ties to stringers.

For the other side, I decide to be a bit smarter on the approach. I laid a strip of masking tape atop the ties in the jig and carefully, using a putty knife, pried the ties slowly out of the jig. This worked well. Once they were removed, I laid glue on the ties and placed them atop the stringers where I aligned them using the plans. I placed a piece of extruded foam and some weights atop the assembly to dry overnight. This worked well.

Over the last few weeks (catching up to today) I have been working on installing the rails. I chose to use Micro Engineering’s 30-108 Micro Spikes and the Proto:87 tie plates. I am generally spiking the rails about every five ties, and the ties that have no spikes will get the tie plates. This is an incredibly tedious process but the end result will be some nicely detailed track. I experimented with installing the Proto:87 spikes, but decided I didn’t have the patience to go through with spiking all the tie plates so that’s where I’ll be drawing the line. Here are some photos of this process:

And so here is a photo from today:

I’ve got three of the four rows of spikes done. The bottom right is the one I’m working on now. Once this is completed, I will set it aside and continue working on the trestle bents. Once they are done, they can begin to be installed. My aim is to have this completed by the end of the Summer, so hopefully you’ll be seeing an update sooner!

If you’ve got any questions or comments about the project, would love to hear them!

When The Troops (and Guns) Came to Georgetown by Rail

I recently struck gold whilst looking for Georgetown-related articles in the Library of Congress “Chronicling America” online newspaper archives. One such article really blew me away, no pun intended! It details how on October 18, 1912 three batteries of field artillery normally stationed at Ft. Myer traveled from Tobyhanna, PA to Georgetown in DC via the B&O. The troops had been in PA for exercises and came to town in a series of three trains, each 20 cars long carrying all of the troops, officers, horses, and their equipment, including the artillery pieces!

The yard was cleared and special equipment had been prepared to facilitate the speedy offloading of all equipment and personnel. The troops then marched up 30th St., west on M St. and over the Aqueduct Bridge to Ft. Myer. I can only imagine what a spectacle this must have been for the locals. Imagine, the scene! The B&O’s Georgetown Terminal was in its infancy at this point and had only been operational for about two years. This would have been a major undertaking and a real test for the personnel working there. Apparently the special equipment created for the exercise was preserved for future troop activities. I haven’t found anything else to indicate there were more of these exercises.

Washington Times article from Oct 18, 1912 chronicling the movement of troops from PA to DC via Georgetown on the B&O.

The Washington times. [volume] (Washington [D.C.]), 18 Oct. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026749/1912-10-18/ed-1/seq-11/

There has long been discussion by folks in the B&O circles about whether troop trains went down the Georgetown Branch and the consensus was generally “yes” due to the proximity to Ft. Myer and downtown DC, in general. This is the first time in recent memory I’ve found information about such movements and I hope to find more. The timeframe I model includes two major conflicts; WWII and the Korean War. There is a good chance that at some point there was a special movement of troops via the GB to support an activity in the area.

The Mole

In doing some online research on businesses located in Georgetown, I stumbled on this great book produced by the US Dept. of the Interior and the National Park Service in 1991 entitled “C&O Canal, The Making of A Park,” by Barry Mackintosh. The book outlines the enormous challenges the NPS had in creating the C&O Canal NP and how it was done. Lots of great info including a battle they had between the B&O RR in Georgetown over a spit of land called “The Mole.”

The Mole was historically significant in that the “water gate” of the C&O Canal was located at the very tip of this peninsula. The C&O Canal itself emptied into the Rock Creek just a few hundred yards upstream. But barges would float from the Canal, into the creek and on into the Potomac when traffic was heavy. Don’t forget there was an inclined plane a couple miles up the Potomac where barges could drop down from the Canal to the Potomac and float into Georgetown on the river.

I have seen track charts depicting the railroad extending on to the Mole in its early years but I had never known of its name nor of what was exactly there. Thankfully, this book has a couple nice photos and a description of the area. They also discuss “Parcel G” (seen on the map above) which the NPS and B&O fought over due to environmental and economic concerns. (The NPS wanted the B&O out and the B&O wanted to stay; remember, construction was booming in Washington, DC. Supplying that massive demand was the B&O’s priority.) Eventually the B&O would relent, moving the American Cement Corp. from the Mole over to a location in the large yard. As for McGuire & Rolfe Inc.’s asphalt plant, I am not sure what happened to it.

This also answers a big puzzle I have pondered for some time. In the B&ORRHS Archives there are blueprints for changes to the tracks in the old yard dated 9/27/1941. I had wondered why they were modifying it, and on the blueprint you can see the ghost of the sidings which had extended on to the Mole. Reading this book, it all makes sense. The B&O had to remove those tracks due to the agreement they made with the NPS for the C&O Canal NP.

9/27/1941. The Mole would have extended off the top right corner to the NE in this plan. Note the “old” B&O freight station is still in place. The “new yard” would be built over the next year or so. Image from the B&ORRHS collection.

Modern CSX Ballast Train at Georgetown Junction

Pete D. captured this awesome trackside footage at Georgetown Jct. The new track closest to the camera is the original alignment of the Eastbound siding at the Junction and the Branch itself branched off to the far left where the new grass is growing. Purple Line tracks will be in the vicinity of the camera in the future, further changing the landscape forever. NICE catch!

CSX Ballast Train passing Georgetown Jct WB 4/13/2021 w/SD70MAC leader

Model Rails Magazine, Vol 1, No 1 – The Georgetown Terminus, ca 1957

A very lucky find on eBay is this issue of Model Rails Magazine. A small publication that I had never previously heard of, this premiere issue features a thorough article on the Georgetown Branch operations on the waterfront. Not only is it full of details, but it is focused on building a model of the terminal. I’ve scanned it and hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

If anyone knows more about this publication, I’d love to hear about it. I found it fascinating that a publication from the 1950s was so prototype-focused. There were at least two volumes, but I have found no more beyond that run.

A Couple Georgetown Photos from the Barriger Library

Recently the Barriger Library has been uploading images from a very large collection of Thomas Underwood. The images are an absolute boon to fans of the B&O, as the subject matter is spectacular and full of detail. There are images spanning the 1950s to 70s and so far a couple of Georgetown Branch images have been posted.

Thomas Underwood Coll B&O445
B&O 9716 under Whitehurst Freeway, Georgetown, Washington, DC 2/1/1970
Thomas Underwood Coll B&O444
B&O 9716 switching under Whitehurst Freeway, Georgetown, Washington, DC 2/1/1970

1912 Historic Footnote: A Wreck in Bethesda

A gentleman named Jack T. in the DC Metro Area – Vintage Photos (MD, DC, VA) Facebook Group (it is a private group.) posted a fascinating snippet from his grandfathers engineers logbook:

From Jack: My grandad worked on the B&O RR for most of his career as fireman & engineer. Here is a note he scribbled in 1912 re a train wreck he was involved in in Bethesda. It could be a dangerous occupation.

The note reads (to the best of my ability): “Eng 2052 Turned over at Bethesda MD Sat Night Oct 12th 1912 at 11:10 PM acct Low place in Track, Engr J.S. Clifton + Fireman O.T. Templeton, Condr. Elmer Wholmes.” There is a lot to take in here. First up, the B&O line into Bethesda had only recently been completed, some time between 1908 and 1910 when it fully opened. At this point, Bethesda was very rural and there wasn’t much industry. The fact that the engine turned over (assuming on its side) is really striking. I wonder if it was due to a washout. The fact that it happened at 11:10 PM is also surprising to me, as I did not know they ran so late at night! But the MOST interesting thing to me is the engine number. I am constantly trying to decipher what power was running on the line in the early years, and here I have an actual locomotive number.

So here are the details, which I pulled from the B&O Steam All-Time Roster by W. Edson. Engine no 2052 was a 4-6-0 class B-19a built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in August of 1901. It was dropped from the B&O roster in 1933.  Here is a photo of sister loco, 2046 in Glenwood, PA, for reference:

Photo from North East Rails (http://www.northeast.railfan.net)

Freight Car Find: Episode 1 – A New Series

I have been spending a really large amount of time lately trying to identify freight cars in old photos of the Georgetown Branch. As a modeler who is striving for authentic representation and operation, I am driven to figure out what traffic on the GB was like; where it came from and where it was going and who was shipping it. I don’t have a collection of train orders or waybills, only some records, maps and photos. Much of my study revolves around the industries that I am familiar with whether through first-hand account, B&O Form 6 data, old maps indicating what industries existed where and when, and photos which show the lay of the land and the freight cars on the rails.

Although seeing a freight car in a photo does not necessarily translate into knowing the details of shipments and carriers, it does provide some detail and context to help guide me as I make up my own model railroad roster and operational narrative. Seeing a Great Northern boxcar on a siding at a lumber yard, one can reasonably assume that it is carrying lumber from the Pacific Northwest. Seeing a tank car sitting on a fuel dealer siding, one can reasonably assume it is carrying fuel oil to be unloaded in a nearby storage tank. Seeing a B&O boxcar on the main line of the branch means very little; but it provides a reference point and a data point for my own model research and acquisition.

So with this new series I am going to take a closer look at the freight cars in the old photos I have and try to identify them as best I can. I am not trying to write a detailed article, but rather make a positive ID and gather some details, and perhaps some references. My end goal is to find HO scale models for these cars so I can represent them on my model railroad. I hope you enjoy.

Kicking it off, let’s start with a fun one.

Aug, 1957, Bethesda, MD. B&O GP7 3400 is pulling in from Georgetown with the other GP in the distance. Note the three freight cars visible in the photo. Photo by Ray Mumford.

Let’s start with the boxcar, furthest away, just in front of GP9 3400:

There happens to be one other shot of it in another photo.

It’s a B&O boxcar (note the “13 Great States” herald on the far right). The car has 4/5 corrugated ends and Youngstown doors. Note the tack board placement on the end and door. From what I can tell this is an M-55 class variant, perhaps an M-55c, which I understand had those distinctive squared-off corrugated 4/5 ends. Ted Culotta has a nice blog post about the M-55a and the B&O RR Historical Society, B&O Modeler, has a nice article about the M-55h in the “orange comet” scheme. I found a few other photos which may give more insight: M-55? (Sentinel Service) 466054, M-55h 467673, M-55c 466350, . Accurail offers an M-55a model. as well as an M-55 trio of “Time Saver” schemes. Not sure of the details on this car. Sunshine Models also produced an M-55h kit, which you can see in the B&ORRHS article linked above. It sounds like National Scale Car has an M-55 kit in the works, which I eagerly await.

Next up is this DL&W hopper. Note, there is a vertical artifact on the photo which appears as two or three vertical stripes. This appears to be an 8-panel hopper. (10, if you count the two end panels where the slope is located.) I know little about DL&W so it makes the challenge even greater. I have spent a good amount of time digging around online and have yet to find some good reference material. A photo on the RR-Fallen Flags site appears to be a close match, but it’s got u-channel ribs at each end, where the car in the photo does not appear to. The paint scheme reveals a number xx6535, perhaps. Note the spacing of the LA | CKA | WAN | NA and the “The Road of Anthracite” herald. Bluford Shops produced an 8-panel, 2-bay hopper which to me VERY closely resembles the prototype in the photo I have. My search for an HO scale representation is ongoing; any help finding a source would be MUCH appreciated!

Last up is this gondola, spotted on the Eisinger Mill & Lumber siding:

The number, to me, looks like 439586.

This one is pretty neat. Thankfully, there is a fantastic resource for PRR freight cars: the PRR Freight Car Page. Studying the design of this car; the ribs, their length, the lettering and the shape of the car, I determined this is a PRR class G26 gondola. A personal guess at the number, 439586, matches with the prototype info being part of car nos. 439009-440709, AAR class GB, built in Altoona between 1930-31, measuring 65’6″ inside length, 20 panels. Thankfully, this car was produced in a kit form by the now-defunct Eastern Car Works a number of years ago, and I picked up a very nice completed model via eBay last month that will really go well on my layout (below). As I plan on modeling the construction of the Whitehurst Freeway, there will be plenty of girder loads to be brought down the Branch in this neat car!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first installment of FCF. I have so many more freight car sleuthing stories to share and welcome any and all input you all may have on helping me solve some of these mysteries.

EDIT: I recently discovered the MyHeritage photo colorizer via Chris Adams’ wonderful Valley Local blog. This is an AI-based tool that does a darn decent job of colorizing black & white images. Now, it’s just for fun and nothing is meant to be perfectly accurate, but sometimes a bit of color helps the brain put things in context. Anyway, here’s what the subject image looks like when run through the colorizer:

eBay Purchase: 1943 Georgetown Jct, “NY-CHI Express” Print

B&O Train no. 9, “NY – Chicago Express”, P-1d 5038, Georgetown Junction, MD, 1:22pm 7-29-43, Bruce Fales

I picked up this print off of eBay last week and was pleased at my purchase. I try my best to scoop up any Georgetown Branch-related photos whenever possible, as they are relatively rare and help me with my research. Even somewhat plain photos like this are helpful, as they show track arrangement, landscape, structures, such as the Talbot Ave. bridge seen in the background. It might seem small, but here I have a nice view of the railings, which I hadn’t seen before. Or had I…

Once I scanned this photo, and looked closely at the caption, a bell began to ring in the back of my mind. I realized that maybe I’d seen this image before. Maybe it wasn’t so long ago. And I was right. Three years ago, to be exact. I even posted about it to this blog:

It seems I purchased a negative of this very photo. Now, here’s where it gets weird. The negative I purchased is in rough shape. It’s a medium format and has tons of scratches. Is it a dupe? Is it a proof of some kind? Note the dust and scratches in the negative, and compare that to the print I picked up this week! Night and day. Is the negative I have an original that was just used and abused? It’s hard for me to say, but it’s an interesting story. I don’t regret buying the new print but I may have been more hesitant. Thankfully, it wasn’t too expensive and I can add it to my collection as a “better” print copy of the Fales (?) negative I already have.

New Purple Line Bridge Installed Across Connecticut Ave

The B&O crossed Connecticut Ave at grade for nearly 97 years. The Purple Line project recently installed the new bridge across the roadway, which sits atop the original B&O crossing. Avid fans will recall that Connecticut Ave. was the original terminus for what would become the Georgetown Branch, as the railroad served the Rock Creek Ry. power plant and a growing industrial area including T.W. Perry and other merchants.

Here is a photo of unknown origin showing the crossing ca the late 1800s:

From collection of Wm. Duvall. Scanned by me. Photographer is standing on Connecticut Ave, facing North with the B&O tracks crossing Connecticut Ave in the background. A train is visible in the distance. The Rock Creek Ry. car barn is to the right.

I previously posted a time lapse video of this bridge’s installation.