Hot Shoppes HQ in 1959

This neat photo from 1959 of the front of the Hot Shoppes Inc. (later Marriott) HQ at 5161 River Rd was shared on the Bethesda Chevy Chase Back In The Day Facebook Group, by P. Wilson (Thanks!). The Georgetown Branch passed just behind the photographer, the siding that served the building was located just to the left of the building. In the distance to the right, we can see a boxcar spotted at the industry located next door on Landy Ln. I’m not certain what this industry was but they had a large loading hopper.


J. Willard Marriott and George Romney standing in front of the offices of Hot Shoppes, Inc. , 1959. Multimedia Archives, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, P0164 J. Willard and Alice Sheets Marriott Photograph Collection
https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6029bvz

https://collections.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6029bvz

Mystery Refrigerator Car in Bethesda, ca 1973

Rich Pearlman shared these four photos with me that he shot as a kid in Bethesda. The car is sitting on what was the passing siding/team track in Bethesda. Thanks to some wonderful sleuthing by folks over on the Freight Car Enthusiasts Facebook Group, the car was identified. This is a General American Railcar 40′ mechanical refrigerator car, built 9/1957. I can’t read the rebuild date but similar cars have dates in the 1971-75 range. I also can’t make out the reporting marks, but I believe they are URTX based on what the FB group revealed and other photos that are online of similar cars.

This is an oddball to me. This refrigerator car parked in the yard in downtown Bethesda. Why? At this point, I don’t know what industry was left in Bethesda. I don’t think Maloney was even receiving rail cars at this point and most of the others had departed long ago. There was some LCL service and I’m assuming that’s what this was. But for who? And what was it transporting? A mystery that will likely go unsolved. Would love to hear your thoughts! And, thanks again, Rich!

The Georgetown Branch as a Shelf Layout

Over on Lance Mindheim’s wonderful blog, he developed a track plan design for the Georgetown Waterfront that fits on a small L-shaped shelf. I really like this plan and think it captures the essence of the waterfront in a very small space. For me, the most fascinating thing about the waterfront in its heyday was the multitude of industries and how the B&O served them.

https://www.shelflayouts.com/post/design-for-a-waterfront

The track plan covers a lot of the industries and yards represented in Georgetown and would make for engaging and interesting operations. I could see the Georgetown Turn has left its string of cars on the long siding (staging) and the switcher is tasked to pull the cars onto K St. and begin classifying them. Meanwhile the empties are being rounded up and built into a train for the Turn to bring back to Eckington. These cars would be spotted on the staging track. The switcher then goes back to focusing on spotting all the loads that just came in. If another track could be added to the staging yard, a second “Georgetown Turn” train could be spotted there for the switcher to pull into town and work on, as the cycle would start again. Hours of work here to do. I dig it!

Quick Update: Layout Visit Projects, and More

I know I haven’t posted in a while but as the Spring approaches, things are getting busy around here. Work has been nuts. HPDE season is upon us and I’ve got my first event at Summit Point with the Audi Club this coming weekend. Track prep time! Here’s the update:

Layout progress has been focused on cleaning up, organizing and working on the Rock Creek trestle, as well as devoting a large amount of time to working out the operations scheme in JMRI Operations Pro, with lots of help from Kelly R. The cleaning and organization tasks were accelerated by a visit from Ken & Bill from Spring Mills Depot. Ken and I chatted at the Springfield show and decided to get together to see each others’ layouts and share progress and lessons learned. It’s been very motivational seeing what Ken is doing and having them visit my layout to talk about my own process and future goals. I’ve got lots of good energy to move forward with.

I drove up from MD to Springfield to attend the big show with my cousin Eric. Here’s the status on the evening of the first day. It wasn’t too bad in Springfield compared to eastern MA, but it was still an adventure!

Coupled with the layout visitors, I have also been selling a lot of extra stuff on eBay. Over the last year or so I’ve really culled a lot of rolling stock and material from my collection. Much of it was sold at the GSMTS Timonium show, but much of it has been sold via eBay. As I clean and dig through my things, I find more and more to list for sale which really helps motivate me to continue to refine my focus and standards for the layout. Also, the sales help pay for the layout materials and new freight cars that I come across. Here’s a photo of the layout from a month or so ago:

The layout became staging for eBay sales for a few weeks.

JMRI progress has been a real roller coaster. Yesterday morning, in a fit of frustration, I was ready to swear off the program (both literally and figuratively) after running up against a string of constant, baffling errors. Kelly talked me off the ledge and offered to help rebuild and refine my layout concept in the software. I’ve realized that JMRI is going to be the best solution for what I want to do with the operations scheme on my layout; it offers pretty much all that I want, even though I have a long way to go before I get to my goal. I do have a document which outlines all of my “givens & druthers” as well as rules, specs and other details about my scheme. This will be published later for anyone who’s interested. Also, if anyone wants to talk Operations or JMRI, please reach out! I’m neck-deep.

A byproduct of the layout visitors and the JMRI work I’ve been doing was that I put together manifests for four trains that I refer to as the “Bethesda Turn”, since Bethesda is as far as the track currently goes on my layout. After the visit, I ran these four trains as I intend to run most of my trains, and it was fantastic. Yeah, not all the switch machines are in place, and some of the frogs aren’t wired, but the overall feeling of what it will be like to operate the layout was there, and it was really cool. A taste of things to come.

I find that in this hobby it’s important to have active projects in different areas of the hobby to keep things interesting. Last month when I got tired of installing DCC decoders and building trestle bents I switched over to building a freight car kit. The one I chose from my shelf-o-unbuilt-kits was an old Intermountain PS-1 50′ Double Door Box Car lettered for Southern Pacific #650159, kit #40607-10, with a 1955 build date; just inside my era. I found this kit on the shelf at the Annapolis area LHS, Star Hobby, for a had-to-have-it price of $10. Side note: I-M seems to be taking reservations for a re-release of this kit right now!

Photo of my boxcar kit.
Trimming the grab irons from the sprue. A fresh blade was a necessity here.

I hadn’t put together a challenging kit like this in many years and I had a blast. I upgraded it with a Kadee Apex running board, some Tichy end grabs and Tangent ASF A-3 wheel sets. (The prototype apparently had Symington-Gould A-3 trucks, but I haven’t found a manufacturer for those in HO.) The kit didn’t come with instructions, but thankfully I found some on the I-M website. It’s really nice they put the instruction manuals up on their site!

Tiny bracket.
This particular bracket decided to liberate itself into thin air as I was attempting to install it. I searched and searched and eventually gave up. The next day, I found it nearly straight away below my workbench. Huzzah!

Car weights came in the form of wheel weights I collect off the ground at track day events, which I glued to the interior floor with Liquid Nails. The body was badly warped at the top and required careful attention to straighten when gluing to the roof. The doors were also ever-so-slightly warped but once in place looked fine. All in all, a neat car. I don’t have many 50′ cars so this one will look nice delivering lumber to Galliher Lumber in Georgetown.

Lastly, a word about the NMRA Achievement Program (AP). Over the winter I was inspired to begin participation in the various AP areas. A few of the folks in my club are diving in and working toward their MMR so I figured I’d join the journey. So far, not a whole lot of movement on my end. I’ve started organizing and reading through the materials but that’s about it for now. I just haven’t been making this a priority, as I’ve had other things going on requiring attention. However, I have been taking photos of some of my projects in preparation for writing up articles. I will definitely post links here once that materializes. For now, I’ll keep planning and aligning my modeling efforts with the various AP certification qualifications. I think of it like merit badges for adult model railroaders. I’m enjoying the challenge!

Like I said, this is just a quick, off the top of my head update. I am hoping to be able to post more, but with work being so busy and other things vying for my time, I do what I can when I can. Be well and keep in touch!

B&O FM H12-44 9725 Heading East at Georgetown Jct., April 5, 1966

B&O 9725-1 Silver Springs MD 04-05-66, By RNS
B&O 9725-1 Silver Springs [sic] MD 04-05-66, By RNS

This wonderful photo by Russ Strodtz on Flickr came via Jeffrey Sessa over on the Maryland Division Railfans FB group. My money is on the train likely being a load of empties coming off the branch, perhaps from Maloney in Georgetown or Bethesda. Curious if they’ll pick up some cars from the Junction and head East or pick up loads and head back to Georgetown. REALLY neat view of the E.C. Keys lumber shed in the background. Gives me some great info for when I build that model! Thanks, Jeffrey!

Georgetown, Jan 20, 1949, East End

Selection from image: National Archives Identifier: 68153293 Series: “Airscapes” of American and Foreign Areas, 1917 – 1964, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/68153293

While perusing the wonderful Airscapes of American and Foreign Areas collection on the National Archives site, I came across this image of the Lincoln Memorial and vicinity. In the back corner, we get a nice view of some new buildings at the East end of the Branch as well as seeing construction on the Whitehurst Freeway well underway. In this image from January, 1949 we see the new West Heating Steam Plant and associated Coal & Ash House, which was turned out to be the last customer on the Branch until the last train in 1985. We see that the spit of land at the tail end of the yard, known as “The Mole,” has been nearly fully vacated save for a stiff-leg derrick crane.

C&O Canal Trestles, Summer of ’86

C&O Canal Trestles, Summer of '86
Photo from Christopher Russell

Christopher Russell sent me this neat photo of the C&O Canal trestles shot in the summer of 1986. Of particular interest is the fresh ballast and what appears to be girder welded rail. As far as I know, the last train down the Branch happened in the summer of 1985. I had also heard rumor that Chessie/B&O decided to lay girder rail just before the abandonment took place. Maybe a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing? I know the Tom Thumb John Bull operated on this stretch in 1981 and thought maybe it was something similar. Anyone have any ideas? Was there a film or TV show shot on this stretch? The track would have been serviceable through the late 1980s so it could have been anything. Would love to hear your thoughts!

NOTE: Thanks Christopher for the corrections. I think I wrote this in a hurry and neglected to proofread it. Mea culpa!

Christmas Comes to Washington Via Georgetown

Over the years, I’ve shared a few photos I’ve come across depicting the National Christmas Tree resting in the B&O yard in Georgetown. (one, two, three) Beginning in 1954, the “Community Tree” would make its trek cross-country on a flat car or gondola; blocked, braced, packed and tied-up like a Christmas ham, the tree would arrive in DC to be transloaded onto a flatbed trailer and trucked through Washington to the National Mall where it would be craned into place, decorated and illuminated as the star attraction in the Pageant of Peace.

I was recently contacted via email by a member of the Forest History Society who so generously shared some photos (and a video!) related to Christmas trees in Georgetown. These images are REALLY cool and show some views that I’d never seen before. I am always really excited whenever I get to see new things related to the Branch! You can see all of their National Christmas Tree related images in their archives, here. They recently published a wonderful article on the journey the 1961 National Christmas Tree made from forest to the National Mall.

In these photos from FHS we see the 1960 tree having arrived in Georgetown being tended to by some staff members. This tree was cut in Oregon and traveled via SP/UP/CNW/B&O on an SP F-70-17 85′ flat car. In the first photo we see what must have been an arrival ceremony and even Santa has climbed on board and is wielding a “Seal of Approval” sign. In the next images we can see a large box surrounding the end of the tree, no doubt to protect it and keep it wet. We then see the tree being prepared for transloading to the adjacent flatbed trailer. Bonus video footage of the tree being prepared in Oregon for its voyage across the Country. The final images are the 1961 tree which came from Grays Harbor County, WA via NP/CB&Q/B&O on a TTX flatcar. All photos are courtesy of the Forest History Society, Durham, N.C.


Film footage of cutting of 1961 National Christmas Tree (film has no sound). The 1961 National Christmas Tree was a 75 foot Douglas fir grown on Weyerhaeuser Company’s Clemons Tree Farm in Washington State. The tree was shipped by rail to Washington, DC, where it was erected and displayed on the Ellipse. This film footage shows cutting of the tree in November 1961, and the ceremony at rail yard prior to shipment. Film is from the Weyerhaeuser Company Records held at the Forest History Society: https://foresthistory.org/research-ex…

The National Christmas Tree tradition stretches back to 1923 but in 1954 the decision was made to do something more extravagant and impactful to woo more tourists to the area and do something really special. The Pageant of Peace was born, a celebration of the holiday season that included music, art, and lights, with the centerpiece being what was being called “the National Community Christmas Tree”, culled from the great forests of America and erected on the National Mall where the Pageant and “Pathway of Peace” display would be located. There were national displays, international exhibits, participation from civic and religious organizations and all sorts of activities for children and adults alike. Over the years, the Pageant transformed and changed with the times. Some years it reflected a more somber national situation; in 1963, after the assignation of Pres. Kennedy, the lighting of the tree was delayed for several days to allow for a period of mourning and a more somber ceremony followed. Some years it was befallen by delays and problems. In 1970, the tree came from Nemo, South Dakota and along the way it derailed twice; once near Beemer, NE and again near Pittsburgh, PA. The tree was thankfully undamaged. The tree then laid over for a few days at the Army Map Agency siding near Dalecarlia Reservoir, apparently so the soldiers could keep souvenir-hunters away from stealing branches off the tree in Georgetown.

But at the center of each Pageant was the tree itself. A symbol of pride for whatever region it came from, there was often a good bit of pomp and circumstance at each end of its journey from forest to the National Mall. Ceremonies were held when the tree was cut, when it departed on rail car and when it arrived in Washington DC. Sometimes Santa or Mrs. Claus would make an appearance. And always, officials from the home town, suppliers, as well as the railroads that transported the tree would be present to get every P.R. dime out of the occasion. I dug around for a few hours and tried to gather all the info I could using newspaper clippings, photos and other articles online to figure out details of what years the tree traveled by rail, what route it took and what cars were involved. (I am a model railroader, after all.)

Here is a link to my spreadsheet, a work in progress.

From what I can gather, the tree traveling by railroad began in 1954 (from MI) and ended in 1972 (from WY). There were a few years in-between where the tree traveled by truck and not by rail. I also could not find definitive data for several years but the fact that the tree came from far away, one can assume it traveled by rail. In at least one of the years, the final leg of the Tree’s journey was on the PRR. I’m not sure if this was because the Pennsy wanted a piece of the P.R. pie or logistics. In 1973, after pressure from environmental groups, the committee decided to use a living tree. The same tree was used for several years until it was damaged and needed replacing. In 1977 a dead tree was again used, but in 1978 they went back to using a live tree. I stopped tracking in 1985, as that is when trains stopped running on the Georgetown Branch and at that point they were still using the living tree.

I am obviously most interested in the 1945-55 timeframe as that is the era I am modeling. In 1954 the tree came to DC from Michigan on two Soo Line flat cars. (more on this in a future article.) In 1955, the tree traveled from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Georgetown in a CB&Q 65’6″ 70 ton mill gon, likely class GM-3A or GM-3B. I do plan on modeling both of these trees for my layout, but I first need to find acceptable freight cars that fit the bill. The CB&Q mill gondola will be particularly challenging as I have yet to find a suitable HO scale model. Maybe I will have to build one! Well, that’s it for now. Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and here’s to a Happy New Year!