GB Mystery Boxcar Wreck… Solved?

As some of you may or may not know, there are remains of a wrecked boxcar located on the Georgetown Branch just a bit north of the Dalecarlia tunnel. The wreckage has been somewhat of a mystery as to how it happened, where the car came from and why it was partially scrapped in place. I first got wind of this discovery in 2014 when some photos were shared online:

The underframe center section sat further in the woods and was dragged closer to the right of way during a cleanup event by locals. Lots of folks (including myself) developed theories on just how the car came to be where it lay. In 2019 I visited the site with my friend Kelly and snapped many photos of the wreck. This past Fall I circled back on my notes and spent some serious time studying the photos I had taken and correlating details on the wrecked car with photos of other steam era freight cars. My goal was to hone in on what type of car it is and where it may have came from. I created a presentation (which you can download below!) that outlines my findings. The TL:DR is that I believe it’s a B&O class M-26 (X-29) boxcar that was wrecked in the flood of 1942 near Fletcher’s Boathouse. The car was likely loaded on a flatcar, useful sections scrapped from the car and the flood-mangled carcass tossed by the wayside in an area away from the National Park land (C&O Canal) which is where it rests today.

Here is a download link to my presentation:

I hope you enjoy my journey to solve this riddle and I welcome any and all questions or comments. If you think there’s something I may have missed or got wrong, it would be great to hear from you! I am not an expert in freight cars, but over the last few years have taken a major interest in studying steam era freight cars and prototype modeling. (I now own a couple ORERs and various other reference books which are wonderful resources!) Please have a look at the presentation and leave your comments below!

4 thoughts on “GB Mystery Boxcar Wreck… Solved?

  1. I enjoy your tidbits… Moved to DC in 1955, but never saw RR action below Bethesda.
    Would like to know more about the trestle over Rock Creek.

  2. Ben, I’ve been curious about this wreckage for years, but was never motivated to sleuth it out the way you did – thanks. One has to wonder why was it a good idea to discard the remnants in this particular location… the state line might be a contributing factor, as the canal washout was in the District of Columbia, while the disposal location is across the state line in Maryland. It may be that DC, compared to MD at that time, imposed more onerous penalties regarding the abandonment of scrap material. Then again, (and I was too lazy to verify) I believe the disposal site was on federal (U.S. Park Service) land. But you see my point: land ownership/jurisdiction may have contributed to the choice of this location. Or not. Your observation about the value of wartime scrap made sense, but one can imagine that the equipment required for retreival and scrapping was subject to competing priorities. Perhaps at the time, the B&O could not spare such equipment and intended to circle back to it later, but just never got around to it. I’m surprised that these remains are still there, given our litigious society’s proclivity to litigate safety hazards, whether real or perceived.

  3. Ed – I’m hoping to write a more comprehensive article on the Rock Creek trestle once I finish my model of it. Going to be a while, as life is really busy right now, but hopefully it’ll be a worthwhile wait. It certainly has an interesting history!

  4. Christopher, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. You bring up some compelling points. I hope some day I stumble across a report in the B&ORRHS archives that outlines the wreck. Another thought was that the C&O Canal was NPS property. I know the railroad and the NPS went head to head for years down at the very end of the line when transferring the property nicknamed “The Mole” over to to the Government. The RR dragged its feet and was hesitant due to business concerns, but eventually relented. I imagine there was lingering resentment of the NPS over the way the RR treated them and perhaps was strict about having them remove their wreck from the Canal property immediately. Who knows? Lots of speculation can be made. It’s definitely a fun mystery.

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