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:
I hope you have enjoyed this brief story and if you know of any photos or stories from those events, please do share!
Side note: The B&O Modeler magazine did an article on these cars. Link here.