If you are interested in learning more about the Georgetown Branch, the best singular published source would be the out-of-print 2003 Vol 25, Num 1 issue of The Sentinel from the B&ORRHS. One is for sale on eBay right now so go scoop it up! https://www.ebay.com/itm/401484075440
YouTuber Nathan Carrick has posted a brief video showing some of the latest construction progress on the Georgetown Branch at the Connecticut Ave. crossing as well as at Wisconsin Ave in Bethesda. I have wanted to visit the construction site for weeks and am thankful he posted some footage. I was most curious about the old team tracks hidden in the woods at Conn. Ave (in the video, they are behind the excavator) and it appears they are still there, as the area is marked with red tape to preserve the forest. (thankfully) Don’t know how long that will last, but it’s nice to see for now.
Seeing the Branch torn up is painful as they are erasing many vestiges of the original right-of-way that will never be replaced. At the same time, it’s somewhat thrilling to me to think about riding a train on the old RoW once again.
I found this link ages ago but wanted to list it here in case anyone is curious. This gentleman, Craig Bisgeier, has a New England model RR set in 1892. On his layout he needed a Whipple Truss bridge so he set out to kitbash/scratchbuild one from two Central Valley 150′ Pratt Through Truss bridge kits. The build is pretty involved and detailed. I wish there were more photos but nonetheless it’s a great resource for a modeler like me who is considering this daunting task! One benefit I do have is a full set of blueprints of the bridges crossing the canal. My plan is to laser-cut custom pieces as needed from thin mat board. More on this in the future.
Last weekend, while doing some research on track and industry layout in Bethesda with my friend Matt I was looking at a photo that I have looked at many, many times before and noticed something completely new and exciting. (don’t you love it when that happens?!) Here is the photo:
Looks pretty normal. A really full yard at Bethesda. The road crew, on an S2, a short distance from C2222, the “local” caboose that ran regularly on that assignment. In the background is Bethesda Avenue, with a car parked next to it, a few gentleman talking and some freight unloading going on in the background. Well, here’s the fun part. “Computer. Zoom and enhance!” (I love saying that.)
Immediately my brain triggered. “Hey! I know what that thing is! Look, do you see it?!” I exclaimed to my friend Matt, sitting next to me, looking befuddled. It’s a straddle carrier. A lumber straddle carrier. These neat vehicles were invented around 1913 and had four wheels which could turn independent of the others, allowing the vehicle to maneuver in tight spaces. The bottom is open and has arms which can grab a stack of lumber beneath it. Really brilliant. They were common in lumber yards around the country until the advent of the fork lift and palletized lumber. In some instances these vehicles are still used today and are even produced for specialized applications by some of the manufacturers who made them back then.
So why is this special?
Well, it’s another fine detail that brings the setting to life. Had I never zoomed in and noticed that tiny detail, I would have never known there was one in Bethesda. It means that in my modeling of the area I can include this distinctive vehicle and it will be prototypical. I love these things. They’re quirky and eye-catching. I have no other photos that I know of showing the straddle carrier in Bethesda, so it is rather special.
How was it used?
Well, I doubt it was used by the Einsinger Mill & Lumber Co, as they had their own siding into their yard. It very well COULD have been theirs, but there were several other lumber yards in the area (Devlin, for example) who may have used the straddle carrier to shuttle lumber to their yard just a short distance from the team tracks in Bethesda. You can see a gentleman stacking lumber to the right. The lumber would be delivered by boxcar as was common at the time. The lumber would be stacked and then the straddle carrier would drive atop the bundle, grasp it and then shuttle it to the yard for storage and sale.
I NEED YOUR HELP!
I want to identify the make of this carrier. I have been hunting high and low for a photo or reference to the specific unit pictured in this image. Look carefully at the engine cowl, the wheels, what appears to be shrouding over the front wheel mounts up top, the rear gear assembly/cover and front opening. Also, don’t be fooled by the silhouettes of the gentlemen in the foreground, especially the one to the right. Try to crop those out. Also note what appears to be a gas tank of some sort just behind the carrier. Is this part of the unit? I can’t tell. Distance-wise, remember this this is REALLY far from the photographer in the photo. The distances are really squished together at this distance. If you have any info that could help me, please email me at cpl_clegg at yahoo dot com.
These kind of details revealing themselves are the things that keep me hunting for more and more photos, stories, maps and documents related to the Branch. It intrigues me and I enjoy it tremendously! One other thing I noticed, further back, beyond the straddle carrier there appears to be a bulk transfer conveyor loader. These were seen in just about every town and it’s no surprise there was one in Bethesda. One end of the conveyor would be placed beneath a hopper and a truck would be spotted at the upper end. Once turned on, the hopper would be opened and the contents loaded into the back of the truck. Think sand, gravel, etc.
While doing a bit of research on lumber companies in Bethesda, I came across the “who we are” page for ProMark Real Estate, whos predecessors included Einsinger Mill & Lumber Co, which occupied the space at Woodmont Ave & Bethesda Ave. This is the “lumber mill siding” we see so often in photos of the Bethesda yard. This is also the siding that was uncovered a few years back during excavation for the new apartment building. The family has a rich history of building in Montgomery County and the pages are worth a read! They were customers of the Georgetown Branch since the 1920s to the end. Really neat!
An ice dam in the winter of 1918 resulted in massive flooding and damage along the waterfront in Georgetown. This photo is a neat perspective that I have never seen before. The location is the far East end of the Georgetown Branch, basically at the end. Just to the the right, the three freight cars sit on Water St. (aptly named in this situation). Just to the right of the photographer is the old B&O freight station. In front there is a large curved building which sat in front of the Smoot Sand & Gravel plant. Not sure if that’s what it was at this point. I have to check the maps. And just behind it you can see the tall light-colored stack of the Capital Traction Power House, which was constructed 8 years prior in 1910. Views of the waterfront in the early years of the Branch are few and far between so I treasure each one! Hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.
The Capital Weather Gang with the Washington Post, a favorite of mine, posted a neat article discussing the history of ice damming and ice floes in DC, specifically in the Georgetown area, as that is the area most susceptible due to the location of the old Aqueduct Bridge. Ice damming occurs when there is a long cold spell and large rivers freeze with a subsequent fast warming period. This causes the ice to quickly break up and flow down stream. If there is a bottleneck or obstruction , the ice will pile up and dam. Once those dams break, they unleash a torrent of fast-moving water laden with ice & debris which causes destruction down stream.
DC has had its fair share of ice dams and ice floes over the years, some worse than others. The 1918 incident was probably the worst in terms of destruction. Have a look for yourself. The WaPo article includes many great photos. Incidentally, here is a Google Maps view of the photo above!