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:
This post is sort of a mental dump from several months ago regarding a curiosity I discovered while doing research on the Rock Creek trestle for the model I’m constructing. Good photos of the trestle are very rare. Doubly so for older photos from the 1940s and earlier. The trestle was located in an area with a decent amount of vegetation and was a bit out of the way. I only have a few images of the trestle that date from the timeframe in the 1940s-1950s that I model, and they are mediocre shots at best. It was a difficult structure to photograph! But, they are like gold to me. They are all I have! They are the only visual representations of something that was very special and existed in various arrangements over time due to rebuilds, strengthening, vandalism/fire and flooding damages.
Because there are no strikingly significant differences between the North and the South side of the trestle, I have always struggled to determine what I was actually looking at in the photos; North or South side? The small refuge bays that jutted out a few feet at the top were offset on each side in the same relative place, so if you stood on the ground below the trestle and snapped a photo, it would look nearly the same from either side. I had to find a way to figure out which side was which when looking at photos taken from the ground! But how?
First let’s take a look at the bridge sketch. This view would be standing on the south side, facing north.
As I studied photos there was one thing that stood out to me. The large diagonal OUTER cross braces seemed to form an arrow that pointed toward the west. I first took a look at a few known photos that I shot of the East end of the trestle to see if there was something to this. Here is a view from the North side, facing South:
And here is a view on the South side, facing North, of the East end as well; the other side from the above image:
And there it is. My “W” moment. The cross braces form “arrows” which always point West. Looking at some images in my collection which I previously could not determine the side confirmed my suspicion. Here is an image from ca 1946:
Note the side bracing, which I have highlighted in blue, pointing to the West! I have a few other images that I unfortunately don’t have permission to share here, which further confirm my suspicion. So, for anyone who is attempting to identify an old image of the Trestle, if you are curious which side you are looking at, just look for the outer bracing to “point” you the way. 🙂
Thanks to J. Shriver for the tip on this! A link to the “Real Estate Atlas of the Part of Montgomery County Adjacent to the District of Columbia” by Deets and Maddox at Johns Hopkins. (unfortunately the images are in JPEG2000 format and will require either a Mac (Safari or Preview) or a program like Photoshop to open.) I don’t have a whole lot of background on this atlas, but it is really neat. Apparently it covers the land in Montgomery county in several volumes, this one focusing on the area just North of DC and includes the entirety of the Georgetown Branch in Montgomery County, MD. Here is an overview of the plates:
The GB begins at the Junction on plate 12B and continues through 12A, 11D, 11H, 11L, 11K, 11O, 13C and 13G. Early history sources for the GB are rare so this atlas is particularly special. The Branch had only been completed about seven years prior and was very much in its infancy with the extension to Georgetown. Many of the towns along the route had not yet bloomed and as such there is not a lot to see as far as trackage. What you do see are some of the extinct transit lines that crossed the GB at various spots like Connecticut Ave., Wisconsin Ave., Bradley Blvd., and Dalecarlia. Here are a few highlights:
Well folks, this one’s a doozy. A friend, Brian R., who regularly volunteers at the B&ORRHS just sent me one heck of an image. You may recall a few months back he sent me a couple images of the Bethesda Freight House under construction. Well, here is one more that was shot weeks prior to the other one and shows a WHOLE LOT of the surrounding area. I get pretty excited when I get really nice photos of Georgetown Branch subjects, but this one is really very special and so chock-full of details, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s dig in. First, here is the full image:
So there’s a lot in the image and what is funny to me is the construction of the freight house is not the primary interest. I picked out several things of interest. Let’s take a tour around the photo. First up is the yard area, largely visible behind the Maloney Concrete cement mixer. The yard is choc-a-block full of what appears to be marble or limestone. I have references to stone being delivered to Chevy Chase for the Washington National Cathedral and of course the extension of the line in Georgetown to serve construction of the Lincoln Memorial, but I have never heard of any stone deposited in Bethesda on a scale such as this! Have a closer look:
As far as the eye can see, stacks and racks and car loads of stone. Impressive! There are even two unloading devices; one, a stiff leg derrick visible to the left and a crane of some sort, likely an early Burro Type 15 or 20, similar to this one seen here.
Getting a bit closer to the nearest gondola, I can see that it’s a PRR gon, and the number looks to me like 368270. A quick search in the 1943 ORER shows that this falls into the PRR GB class GRA, constructed around 1916 and modified from the GR class by adding 3′ to the overall length. These cars were somewhat plentiful in 1943 with 590 listed in the ORER. (By 1953 this number had dropped to only 31!) Thankfully, Westerfield offers a resin kit of this car, for anyone interested in modeling it.
There are other GRA class gons in the yard, identifiable by the slightly stretched space between the middle braces.
Let’s look at the other freight cars visible in the photo:
The first one is obviously a PRR car and appears to me after some careful study to be numbered something close to 123951 – my confidence is medium, here. If this is accurate, and based on the overall design I think it is, this would be a class X28a boxcar, rebuilt from door-and-a-half X28 class cars in 1933 and of which there were 4957 listed in the ORER in 1943. (In 1953 there were still 3676 listed.) Some info here. Thankfully, Funaro & Camerlengo offers a resin kit of this car if you’d like to model it in HO. Decals here.
The next car appears to be another PRR car, but there’s much less to go on. My guess based on the panels and bracing is something similar to an X26 class boxcar, as they were plentiful; in 1943 the PRR had over 6000-some listed. Again, Funaro & Camerlengo offers a resin kit of this car as well as Westerfield.
The rest of the cars are so far away it’s very hard for me to discern. Perhaps some of the steam era freight car gurus can pick them out. 🙂 Next up, check out the lumber in the Einsinger lumber yard:
The siding is past those stacks of lumber. It’s interesting; at some point in the next few years, Einsinger would build more structures in this area to expand the lot. The cars occupy a space which would be the site of a long lumber shed. Photos from the late 40s and 50s will show the yard expansion. Oddly enough, in later years, the yard would once again be a parking lot and eventually a residential building. There was a curious sign off to the right, next to those cars:
Would love to know the story behind that sign. Heading back over to the right is the Irwin Roofing shop. This is a particularly interesting spot, as it’s a showroom of sorts and there is SO much to see.
Looking closely, I see a well-maintained front lawn with a short walkway up to the small shop and a nice decorative sign hanging out front. The shop itself is adorned with stone all around. Coming out into the back yard, there is a small courtyard with an overhang, the roof of which features various types of slate roofing, each labeled with a letter; A, B, C and so on. A really neat detail! Irwin Stone is still in business today! Behind Irwin Roofing is Enright Oil:
Enright is interesting. I would imagine they unloaded from the second siding coming off the main, which would be just to the right of their plant. Unfortunately the photo cuts off there but we get some idea of their storage yard to the right. A couple storage tanks are visible as well as some bins (coal?) and a nifty gas pump which may or may not be in use there in the yard. Perhaps to fuel up their delivery trucks. I plan on modeling part of this on my layout. Obituary for J.R. Enright Jr. Also of interest here is the access to the yard with the small crossing over the yard tracks. In the distance is Maloney Concrete:
Speaking of Maloney Concrete, here is its mixer pouring ready-mix for the B&O freight station footers:
And lastly, it’s hard to ignore all of those lovely late 30s – early 40s automobiles, but since I’m no expert, I’ll focus on just one. The up front and center 1940 Pontiac Torpedo Coupe:
Well, I hope you enjoyed the photo and the details herein. What are some of your favorite finds? What did I miss?! I have many questions such as what was all the stone for? What cranes were in the yard and during what years? How did Enright Oil receive their fuel? When did Eisinger Lumber expand and who were they renting the yard to? Also of note, the buildings along “Bethesda Row” had yet to be built. And to think, roughly seven months after this photo was taken, the USA would enter into WWII, further pushing the area to develop and grow. And yet, still no one has explained the greatest mystery of all; why did the Bethesda freight house never have rail service? The design is a curious one, with a garage for storage yet no rail service. That’s a discussion for another time.