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:
In this view, we get a shot of the new bridge spanning Rock Creek where the long, high B&O trestle once stood. I imagine the worker is standing on the forms for the Capital Crescent Trail pedestrian bridge which will parallel the Purple Line. The bridge is significantly lower than the original B&O trestle, as they have lowered the grade here enough to allow the tracks to pass beneath the nearby Jones Mill Rd.
I have stumbled over some pretty neat stories pertaining to the Georgetown Branch, but the few Christmas-related ones always delight me. I think it’s really interesting to see how the Railroad viewed these events as public relations stunts, but to the kids who participated in them back then, they were probably awesome examples of Christmas wonder. A while back I reported on the National Christmas tree coming to DC via the Georgetown Branch, where in Georgetown it was met with fanfare before being offloaded on to a truck for the trip to the National Mall. Even Santa himself attended the event! But this particular example is hyper-local and really special, in my eyes. A recent Facebook post rekindled my interest in this event; two newspaper clippings highlighting the event. Here is what I know.
In 1954 Ms. Virgina Bourquardes contacted the B&O, requesting a boxcar to be placed at Chevy Chase Lake, where the Georgetown Branch crossed Connecticut Ave. and where a small passing siding and team track was located. It seems the local Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center Association (The shopping center was located just North of T.W. Perry, on the East side of Conn. Ave.) had come up with the idea to promote their businesses. Upon seeing the PR value in participating in such an event, the B&O seemingly eagerly offered up not only a boxcar, but a platform with steps, power and offered to repaint the car into “first-class condition for advertising purposes.” (more on this, later) Here is how the plan was to go down:
The B&O would spot the car in the Bethesda yard on Nov 29th so the Chevy Chase folks could decorate it, install the floodlights and wiring, along with “Santa Claus’ workbench, etc.” They also inquired about the person who would ride IN the car from Bethesda to Chevy Chase, dressed as Santa! The B&O indicated that the Georgetown Local would move the car on the afternoon of Dec 1 from Bethesda into position at Chevy Chase Lake. They politely requested that the day following that the car would be cleaned out so as to permit the Railroad to return it to revenue service. In the documentation I have, the gentleman who volunteered to play Santa was Mr. Gerard Moynihan of Silver Spring, MD who had to sign a notarized release in order to ride in the freight car.
The Railroad promptly selected a car; B&O 467293 from the pool at Brunswick, MD, which was an all-steel 40’6″ boxcar class M-55ha, built in 1947. The foreman indicated it had all wood sides and floor and would be repainted for the event. Here is a link to B&O 467673, a similar M-55h class boxcar, which appeared in Parkersburg, WV Aug 1, 1954. Some of these M-55h cars received the brilliant blue and orange “Orange Comet” Time-Saver scheme; I can only hope that 467293 was! 🙂 Another Time-Saver Service scheme was less fancy and more likely an option. In Further instructions to move the car any time after Nov 26th to Bethesda were made. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the car, nor do I know what paint scheme it was painted in. The car was to be moved from Bethesda to Chevy Chase to arrive between 1 and 2pm on Dec 4th. The business association promoted the event through local papers and radio spots.
I can only imagine the excitement of the crowd as the Local came trundling up from Bethesda to Chevy Chase, horns blaring, arms waving. A newspaper article details the event, saying “Santa arrived in his especially equipped workshop aboard a freight car on a train from Bethesda. With whistles blowing and children waving a welcome, the train stopped at the Connecticut Avenue siding at 1 p.m.” More details are in the article, below:
According to the article, it was a great success in the eyes of the shopping center officials, hoping it would continue in future years. It is unclear as to whether or not it did. In the correspondence I uncovered from 1955, the Railroad initially denied the request, stating a shortage in equipment would prohibit them in sparing a boxcar for the duration. They do, however, indicate that Santa would this year ride on the Caboose of the Georgetown Local! I didn’t find any further documentation or information regarding this move, but I think it would have made for an equally exciting event. Maybe some photo or documents will reveal the rest of the story.
I have made a PDF document of the file I uncovered in the B&ORRHS archives which you can download here:
In a wonderful photo posted to the CSX “Cap, Met, and OML” subs, Railfans Facebook group by Ray Soderberg, we have a look at the track arrangement at the water treatment plant ca May, 1974. This arrangement was implemented when the facility underwent various upgrades.
For me, it was a real eye-opener. I had never seen this arrangement and it is really cool to see. Remnants of the unloading facility (where the tank car is spotted in the distance, in the center, are still there today: https://goo.gl/maps/PEi6kpCXfrbBcssu9
One of the challenges as a prototype modeler is deciphering what commodities traveled on the railroad that I model and from where they came or were going to. So far, my only clues are the venerable B&O Form 6 (a document which outlines sidings and businesses that they served, yet is not complete considering there were team track yards, shared trackage, etc.), photographs and some maps & diagrams which offer up clues. There are documents buried in various archives waiting to be uncovered but that’s another story. For now, I run with what I have.
An excellent HABS/HAER document from the Library of Congress outlines the history quite nicely. Dalecarlia existed as a reservoir beginning in the mid 1850s, which received water from the Washington Aqueduct. The water treatment plant was built ca 1922 to help meet the growing population. DC began adding chlorine to its drinking water in 1923 and the Dalecarlia rapid sand filter came online around 1927 and used sand and aluminum sulfate to clarify the water. In 1928 the chemical building/head house was constructed, including a five-story tower which stored additional chemicals; alum, bauxite, lime and more. Likely, the B&O’s relatively new branch line provided a conduit for construction materials and consumables/chemicals for the construction and initial operations there. (Kelly and I uncovered what I believe to be an old siding where there was some sort of unloading device or construction facility astride one of the ponds, in the very northwestern tip of the facility.) Early photos indicate that the B&O had merely a short siding there for many years.
At some point, the B&O built a yard and an unloading system In a photo from 1947, I can see the unloading tanks which is the earliest photographic representation I have. An aerial photo from Historic Aerials shows the facility in 1949.
In a photo from 1956 shot by Ray Mumford, we get the best view I have of the yard and facilities. Note the overhead pipe bridge.
Thankfully, the B&O documented the construction of this overhead bridge:
The plan indicates that this bridge was constructed in 1952, perhaps replacing or upgrading an earlier structure; I have no photos to determine this, yet. Here is a detail of the pipe bridge cross-section:
So back to our original question about commodities. This cross-section has labels on the pipes, indicating what they were used for. Nice! We see: sulfuric acid, carbon, “elec.” (electrical?), air (compressed?), sulfur dioxide and two chlorineconduits. Combined with the information found above – sand, aluminum sulfate, alum, bauxite, lime, etc. – we start to get an even better picture of what arrived at the water treatment plant via the B&O. This helps me to hone in on freight cars and operational schemes for my layout which is a crucial thought exercise for planning what cars I want to model and what purchases I want to make for my fleet.
I still have so many unanswered questions – like what did the plant look like in the 1940s? What were the chemicals used for? What was stored where? How did the unloading facility work, exactly? What shippers sent cars to the reservoir and what rolling stock was used. Someone once mentioned seeing a “chlorine train” going down the branch with a few cars. Did the B&O have a dedicated train for chlorine on the Georgetown Branch? This offers an interesting operational possibility, if true. These fine details are what run through my head as I compile this information and seek answers and solutions. For now, I’ll have to go with what I have. We’ll probably go in a bit deeper later on some other speculation and theorycrafting, but until then, enjoy this photo of a train at Georgetown Junction that includes a chlorine car from Westvaco in WV:
My copy of the 1954 ORER indicates 12 cars for Westvaco, with reporting marks WVCX. By 1959 I am sure they had more but I need to get my hands on an ORER for that year. Onward!
“BALTIMORE AND OHIO SYSTEM, ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT, TRACK CHART ALIGNMENT AND PROFILE” I picked this document up via eBay probably about 17 years ago. The original scans of the Georgetown Branch section have lived on my GB website for many years and are a constant source of reference as I build my model railroad and study the right of way. This particular book includes six other branches, which I had completely forgotten about until last week when a reader contacted me inquiring about the Washington County Branch, which ran from Weverton to Hagerstown, MD. It was fun rediscovering this book so many years later and having a much more voracious interest in the B&O and its history. I decided to scan the whole document as a PDF and post it here for others to enjoy.
The book was created in 1949 and revised up to Jan 1, 1958. Baltimore Division Branches included in this document include: