Another relic from the Georgetown Branch surfaces as a siding in Bethesda at River Road emerges from the brush.
Eagle-eyed viewer, contributor and friend Rich Pearlman went exploring the area around the crossing at River Rd. and came across the tracks on the South side of the intersection. I had a sneaking suspicion there were tracks there as I had previously seen and photographed rails buried in the dirt but I hadn’t seen them listed/shown on the maps I have, nor do I have period photos of them.
Well, Rich did the heavy lifting, digging through the B&O Railroad Yahoo! Group site to uncover a comment from Christopher Parker outlining a brief history of that siding. Here is what he wrote:
The siding, which was quite long (more than 10 cars), once served Metropolitan Fuel Company, across the tracks. By 1980 it was grown over and disconnected from the main, but the pipes and connections for
unloading tank cars were all still present. Metropolitan Fuel Company was purchased by Stuart Petroleum along with next-door Washington Fuel
sometime in the early eighties.
A red wooden caboose sat on this siding all through the seventies. When I first got a look at it in the late seventies, it was quite abandoned and didn’t have a road name on it. Around 1982, give or take a few
years, it was damaged by fire.
In 1981 or 1982, this siding was re-connected and the first 100′ was used by Jack’s Roofing Co to unload Cedar Shingles. They’d get a box car about every two weeks, sometimes less. UP, BN, BCOL, SP. Jack’s
Roofing also used piggyback service (unloaded elsewhere) to get a truckload of shingles every day. Jack’s Roofing company was located a bit behind Roy Rogers, a few buildings away from the tracks. I recall
them using a two axle flatbed truck and forklift.
So there you have it – the siding had multiple purposes and served a few industries over the years. It’s a neat story and a neat relic! I should really get down there and see it myself, because the fact that someone cleared the brush and put up those small red survey markers leads me to believe it won’t be around for long. 🙁
Have been really making some great progress on the layout these last few weeks and it feels great. I last updated that I had got my DCC system up and running and after a little tweaking it is working flawlessly. I power up the system, turn the layout power on, open WiThrottle on my phone, acquire a loco and away I go! And on that note…
I’ve completed the Junction area as well as nearly all the trackage in the first section of the layout. Bus wires and feeders are in place and trains are running! There are a few trouble areas that I am working on- the biggest being the sharp curve leading from the Junction on to the branch. Not sure how I’m going to solve this but I’ll work on the major issues when I get closer to them. I can see my steam engines having a hard time negotiating that tight turnout. In the meantime, here’s more…
I created the temporary bridge from some plywood with an old 2×2 screwed to the bottom for rigidity. The bridge is easily removable with two wood screws. Feeder wires are screwed into a terminal block for easy removal. Right now track is laid semi-permanently on top of the bridge for operational purposes. Once I have the trestle model complete, I will “cut out” the old bridge and replace it with the model. Since that is far off, the temporary bridge is solid.
The drop down area is where the creek bed will be located. The trestle will be built to scale, an exact representation of the prototype as it stood in the 1940s.
In this wide view you can make out the approximate location of the long coal trestle which will branch off from the main right after the junction. I really like how the re-worked grades turned out for the junction area. Originally I had the mainline up very high and it presented some real challenges down grade. My friend Matt helped to re-work the Junction completely. We spent a few hours looking at photos and studying maps to come up with the existing layout, which more realistically follows the prototype, where the Branch drops off quickly from the Metropolitan Branch mainline and is sunken between sidings. (E.C. Keys and the coal trestle) So far, everything is working smoothly. It feels great to make real progress. It feels even better to be able to run a locomotive on the layout! 🙂
Next up I’m going to continue track laying into Chevy Chase and on into Bethesda. If I stay on track, I should make my goal of completing all of the upper-deck track work before Christmas. 🙂
This view is facing geographic East, looking from beneath the Aqueduct Bridge down Water St along the tracks. Here, the switch opens up to dual trackage laid in the cobblestone streets of Georgetown. In the distance one can see old brick warehouses in disrepair; remnants of an era that was coming to a close. A wood sheathed box car sits alone to the right and various automobiles and motorcycles line the street. The Potomac Boat Club is just visible to the right, nicely done up with shrubberies out front. Through the haze in the background we can make out the Wilkins-Rogers Milling plant and the Lone Star Cement plant on the right. An arch of the Key Bridge dominates the scene.
One interesting thing to note is the double-track “telltale” which spans the tracks just beyond the bridge. The little dangling “whiskers” were there to warn any railroad brakemen raiding atop the cars that the overhead structure (in this case, the Aqueduct) was approaching. There was a matching set on the other side, behind the photographer. Also of interest is the cobblestone street and the girder rail, used to ensure a flangeway in the shifting cobbles. In the early 1940s the road was paved with concrete and the flanges were cast as part of the right of way. Surprisingly, several structures remain today that are in this photo; the small brick building to the left, the Brenizer Brewery building straight ahead, the Key Br. (obviously), Wilkins-Rogers Milling (although altered), Potomac Boat House and the Aqueduct arch.
I was alerted to this film over on Archive.org by an alert viewer who pointed out to me that at the very beginning of this home movie from October 6, 1958 there is a twenty-second view of Georgetown Junction from the rear window of a passenger train! Now, videos of the Georgetown Branch are exceedingly rare, so this is particularly special! The train is moving relatively slowly as it rounds the curve past the team track yards at the Junction. You see cars parked on the sidings, and as it proceeds further you see B&O hoppers, some box cars and a ubiquitous covered hopper. Then a view down the Georgetown Branch appears and the Talbot Ave bridge appears overhead. Nice! The shot closes shortly thereafter.
It’s only twenty seconds long, but for me, it’s all gold. Anyone who conducts research for building model railroads will tell you how important the details are. The colors of ballast, the amount of scrub brush and grass that has grown up along the right of way, the height of trees, the discoloration on the ties, the placement of switches and track alignment, buildings and signs… all of those things inspire and help to fill in the scene. Since photos & videos are uncommon, it really is special to see an actual film of the area. There is a legend of the NRHS having a film of the 1958 fan trip down the GB but I have not been able to locate it yet. The folks over there didn’t have a record of it. I will keep hoping!
Another image I found on DCDIG. From a story in the Washington Post, there was a large, popular regatta in Georgetown out on the Potomac and a pleasure boat sank, with ten drowning victims. The helpless crowd that gathered was large and there were photographers covering the race who also managed to photograph the scene of the tragedy.
The images are fascinating for me, as they portray what the waterfront was like just prior to the introduction of the B&O railroad to the scene. Six years after this photo was taken, B&O trains would be plying the street trackage along this waterfront. In fact, there are buildings in this photo that are still extant today! See this image from Google Maps showing one of the oldest buildings in DC still standing. Unfortunately it’s just the facade, but still impressive! The location of the photographer is approximately 32nd and Water street, but out in the Potomac. (obviously)
I just stumbled on this image over at DCDIG which shows the flooding in Georgetown on Mar 19, 1936. The Georgetown Branch ran from the right side to the bottom, through the arch of the old Aqueduct bridge and toward the photographer. If you look carefully you can see the old cast iron DUAL telltales in the foreground! They span the right of way and warned brakemen of the approaching arch. Remember, brakemen rode the roofs of cars back in the older days. The Potomac Boat Club boathouse survives to this day, as does the arch of the Aqueduct bridge.
The prototype DCC system is up and running. I decided to home brew my DCC when I read about DCC++ and realized I had an Arduino laying around with no real purpose. I bought a motor shield and hooked up my laptop and an old power pack to test it out. It worked but I knew I had to come up with a more complete and permanent setup.
I immediately considered the Raspberry Pi (RPi) as it’s a low cost, full featured Linux computer and I can run JMRI on it! I needed a power supply and a bit of research found others doing similar things using various inexpensive devices. I also wanted a proper booster so I chose a Tam Valley unit. I’ll invest in a second one for my other power district in the future.
Today I spent several hours putting all the pieces together that I had collected over the last couple years. The monitor was a donor from my dad. The mouse, keyboard and cabling was all old stuff laying around. I put everything onto a board, first laying it out and planning the cable routing. Once everything was good, I screwed the pieces into place.
Next was to test voltages and see what worked. A bit of tinkering and everything looked good. I set it all in place and started configuring things in the RPi. A bit of trial and error getting things to talk to each other, with some luck, and it’s working!
There are still lots of kinks to work out and I need to experiment with a lot of the features. My intention is for this to be a fun project and provide a robust DCC system to get me started for the Georgetown Branch. We will see how it works in the long run.
incidentally, I had planned on taking apart my Proto2000 GP7 to have a look at the plastic gears, as last time I ran it it was making lots of noise.
Wouldn’t you know it, all four gears were cracked! I replaced them with Athearn units, like a charm. Here’s one of the cracked units:
I was asked to give some more details about parts and prices. I’ve created a spreadsheet and pasted the data here to give you a rough idea. Building this setup requires many things that you probably already have on hand, so the cost will vary. Also, you can find things on sale occasionally and you can simplify or streamline it with your own skills or modifications. I included rough estimates for a few things which you will need just to get the ball rolling. Feel free to reach out with any questions you have!
Even though it’s a short stretch of track and is purely cosmetic on my layout, it feels great to get it done. The track is some Micro Engineering weathered code 100 flex track that I received in a lot of very old track. It’s probably over 20-some years old, if not older. As such, it required me to drill all of the spike holes, which I did about every 4-5″ with a Dremel. Soldered the joints and pre-bent the curves. This stuff is very stiff and tough to bend smoothly! All in all, it turned out nicely. It will be a great spot to stage a mainline passenger train.
Next is to work on bus wiring, roadbed at the Junction and getting more track down.
I’ve always kept an eye out for photos showing freight cars at the Lincoln Memorial, as all of the stone for the Memorial was brought down the Georgetown Branch and onto a temporary branch extension that was laid from the end of the GB, across Rock Creek, down along the Potomac River and over to the construction site. The cornerstone was laid on Feb 12, 1914 so one can reasonably assume that track was laid at some point the previous year when construction began on the massive footings. Foundation work was completed in 1915 and work continued steadily until the Spring of 1917 when the US entered WWI. In Dec 1919 & Jan 1920 the Lincoln statue was assembled. The dedication was on 5/30/1922. So, for roughly ten years the GB was extended to the work site, bringing in the massive marble blocks and pieces needed for one of the most impressive monuments in the US. Pretty neat!
Photos of the construction site are plenty, but rarely focus on the railroad apparatus and right of way that served the site. I have only found a few images and am still uncertain as to the exact alignment of the tracks and yards there. I imagine they would reconfigure to some degree as time went on. Eventually the site around the monument would be filled in with dirt, covering over all of the construction yards surrounding the monument. So recently I found an image which has a couple freight cars visible. I’ve zoomed in on these to highlight the details.
I have long known about the role the Georgetown Branch played in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial, but it is really refreshing to fill in more details and specifics. This chronicle of the Colorado Yule Marble Co. contains a really neat timeline and history which adds some specifics to when the marble for the Lincoln Memorial would have come down the GB, across Rock Creek and down the Potomac to the Memorial construction site on the temporarily constructed extension to the GB. It seems the first shipment left Yule, CO 5/25/1914, and the final shipment was on 6/16/1916.
A few months later the quarry would shut down, only to reopen six years later. In 1931 the famous Yule marble was once again selected for a notable monument in the DC area, the Tomb of the Unknown. Carved from a single, massive piece of stone, this proved to be a real challenge. I would wager that this stone did not travel on the Georgetown Branch, but rather on the Pennsylvania RR which had a branch that ran into Rosslyn, VA, passing the area where the Tomb is located at Arlington National Cemetery.
The block was loaded onto a rail car and shipped to Vermont for cutting
Another interesting tidbit:
In 1913, a slab of Yule marble was sent to Washington, D.C. to be part of the Washington Monument.
There is some chance this traveled to the Monument site via the GB, but based on proximity of the PRR and its trackage on Virginia Ave & Maryland Ave, I would wager the delivery was handled from that location. There were yards located right near the Mall on that PRR line back then.
I am fascinated by the small moments and details that make the GB special. Its proximity to downtown DC certainly gave it host to many interesting deliveries over the years; National Christmas Trees, stone for national monuments and maybe even a President of the United States. More details on that another time.