Category Archives: History

Items of historical interest and relevance.

Two Special Photos – Dalecarlia and Rock Creek Trestle, 1949

Earlier this week my model railroad club visited the historic B&O station in downtown Silver Spring, MD to assist in reassembling the model railroad there in the baggage room. The layout had recently been moved due to some HVAC work above. While there, the host gave me a tour of the building. As I entered the station master’s office, and was glancing around, a poster board with photos caught my eye. On it were a collection of images from the long time Silver Spring station agent, Robert Davis, taken in the late 1940s mostly depicting the railroad in the area; wrecks, maintenance work, etc. But there were two photos that jumped off the poster for me. First is this image of the Rock Creek Trestle:

“November 18, 1948. Looking West. B&O Trestle over Rock Creek, Georgetown Subdivision.” Photo by Robert Davis.

The reason this image is so special to me, is it is perhaps the best image I’ve seen that shows the trestle as it stood from the mid 1940’s until the Hurricane Agnes flood of 1972 when the west side of the trestle collapsed, forever changing the bridge. The trestle was demolished in 2019 to make way for the Purple Line. We are looking north in the photo, trains to Georgetown would be heading to the left.

“February 17, 1949. Looking East. The Dalecarlia Tunnel, now part of the Capital Crescent Trail.” Photo by Robert Davis.

This image shows the south portal of the Dalecarlia Tunnel. For context, just eight months earlier the B&O ran an excursion for the MSME, taking Q-1c 4320 out for a grand trip to Georgetown and back.

“B&O Engine emerging from Dalecarlia tunnel on Georgetown Branch, May 1948 [sic]” Photo by Paul Westhaeffer. B&ORRHS Collection.

It was a delight to stumble upon these two photos. I am always looking for images to fill in the gaps of understanding and context as I do my research and these are two that I’d never before seen. I am hoping that there are more!

1951 Georgetown Aerial Images

While going through some old notes today I found a link to the USGS EarthExplorer website with the note “will want to create a login.” This puzzled me, so I went ahead and explored the site a bit. After creating a login (a somewhat involved process) I was able to access some pretty wonderful imagery. There are aerials going back to 1949 and some of them are full of tremendous detail that I enjoyed exploring. First up is a crop of the downtown Georgetown area:

Georgetown, DC. July 5, 1951. USGS image.

Let’s drill down a bit.

Georgetown, DC. July 5, 1951. USGS image.

Starting on the east end of town, we see a relatively busy yard full of boxcars, covered hoppers and a gondola. The photo was taken in early July so it’s not surprising that there aren’t too many coal cars in the yard. The switching loco is visible at the top right next to the Whitehurst. Note the sharp shadows being cast. A fantastic view of the Smoot Sand & Gravel operation along with the cement vendors next door. It’s pretty incredible how many trucks they had! The idle power plant stands silent.

Georgetown, DC. July 5, 1951. USGS image.

On the north side of Whitehurst we get a closer look at some industries. To the right is the West Heating Plant and its large coal yard. Next is the diminutive King & Sons Coal, still in service, but not long for the world. Next door is the massive sprawling W. T. Galliher Lumber complex with its large storage yard. They were a major customer of the Branch up to near its end. Further left is the massive Rosslyn Steel shed, with a freight car on the siding leading into the plant. Note that about four years prior the massive cement silo structure which sat along that curved track had been removed. Next is the DC Incinerator and then Wisconsin Ave.

Georgetown, DC. July 5, 1951. USGS image.

Now we get a nice look at the “new yard” which is really packed! From my eyes, it looks like there’s ten carloads of gravel (or other aggregate) sitting in the yard along with many boxcars and at least one gondola. On the left side of the yard are the two old MoW cars which housed equipment. The Maloney Concrete batch plant was across the street. Several other industries are visible as we move further to the west.

Georgetown, DC. July 5, 1951. USGS image.

Finally, here’s the west end of the industrial area of town. Some great views of Lone Star cement, Key Bridge and all the layout of industries in this area. For sure all of these images will be indispensable when planning the Georgetown area of my model RR because this is pretty much exactly how I’d like to represent it! Very exciting to find this image set.

1936 Capitol Limited Passing Georgetown Jct

A recent eBay purchase. The caption on the back reads “B+O No. 6 “Capitol Limited” + P-1d 5038 4-6-2 Geo’town Jct, MD. 8:41AM 4-6-36 (all Pullman consist)” (Collection of Jay Williams & Big Four Graphics)

Capitol Limited thundering past Georgetown Junction.

The view is looking North, and the train is headed for Union Station, DC. It has just passed under Talbot Ave (seen in the background) and the westbound siding for the Georgetown Branch with a boxcar sitting on it. Visible just in front of the pilot is the turnout (and lantern signal) for the Georgetown Branch. Note that at this point the long siding that extended from Silver Spring all the way to the siding with the boxcar on it where it rejoined the Westbound main. A phone call box is visible to the right.

Rails at the Connecticut Ave Crossing Persist

A recent post by the Purple Line folks got me thinking about how much the Connecticut Ave crossing at Chevy Chase has changed in recent years. Here are a small collection of Google Map screenshots showing the conditions:

2023 – the new overhead bridge is up, but yet, the old rails still poke through the roadway in some places. Amazing.
2019 – The bridge had not been erected and the road was being resurfaced, revealing the tracks one more. Note that the island is now blocking the tracks.
2017 – As late as this, the tracks are still evident and there is a break in the right of way for the tracks to pass through. As if that train would one day come.

May 13, 1924: Flooding in Georgetown

May 13, 1924. Boat houses above Georgetown. Note the B&O hand car and scale house at the top.
May 13, 1924. Boat houses above Georgetown. Note the B&O hand car and scale house at the top. https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.86004

Stumbled across this photo on eBay earlier this week (above) and it reminded me that I’ve been sitting on a handful of really fascinating images I found on the Library of Congress site capturing the flood of May 13, 1924. Like so many things on eBay it’s far from rare or original, but rather just an overpriced print of a Library of Congress file that you can snag at high-res via the website. Pro tip – before you purchase that print, search the LoC thoroughly to possibly save yourself some dough.

The subject matter is interesting because it shows not only the scale house in Georgetown, but also a hand cart full of railroad employees, no doubt headed out to inspect the line as the waters recede. Note the jacks and other tools they have on the cart. They would have been met with some troubling finds. There are many photos on the LoC – here is a selection of relevant ones I found interesting. In the following image I believe it is the same crew; note the lighter color pants on the gentleman standing at the back left of the hand cart, visible in both photos. Note the detail of the scale and scale house as well as all the equipment around the section shed.

May 13, 2024 The B&O section crew prepares to head out to inspect the line. The view is from the Aqueduct bridge facing west. The section shed is on the left and the scale and scale house is visible to the right. Also note the trunk of the water column in the bottom left.
Flood. , 1924. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016837495/.

A neat thing I noticed, if you look really closely in the top right, you’ll see a B&O steam loco doing some switching, with someone sitting on the front pilot. It is likely moving the freight cars you’ll see in some of the next photos. Pretty cool!

A B&O steam engine is visible in the distance.
A B&O steam engine is visible in the distance.
May 13, 2024. View from the Aqueduct bridge again, now facing east. Looking down on the boat yards adjacent to the Key Bridge, much of it washed away and damaged. B&O hopper 135925 and others sit loaded with aggregates, likely from the Smoot Sand & Gravel plant.
May 13, 2024. View from the Aqueduct bridge again, now facing east. Looking down on the boat yards adjacent to the Key Bridge, much of it washed away and damaged. B&O hopper 135925 and others sit loaded with aggregates, likely from the Smoot Sand & Gravel plant.
Flood. , 1924. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016837490/.

Eric Hansmann has a wonderful set of resources for the 1926 B&O freight car fleet: https://designbuildop.hansmanns.org/bo-freight-car-fleet-of-1926/

B&O Hopper 135925 is a class W-1 (135000-135999) 2511 cu/ft capacity, blt 1910. A bit further down the line, just past the boathouses and at the west end of the long passing siding, we come to another string of hoppers and some folks who have rescued their belongings from the floodwaters. The shoreline of the Potomac was absolutely littered with small shacks and cabins that folks had to escape the downtown hustle-and-bustle. Stretching all the way up to Chain Bridge, these shacks were a fascinating part of the history of Georgetown.

 May 13, 2024. We're a bit further west now, at the end of the long passing siding and near the small 2-track yard that was there. Have yet to figure out the purpose of that yard, but the coal car in the distance is spotted on one of the sidings.
May 13, 2024. We’re a bit further west now, at the end of the long passing siding and near the small 2-track yard that was there. Have yet to figure out the purpose of that yard, but the coal car in the distance is spotted on one of the sidings.
Flood. , 1924. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016837488/.

Attempting to ID the freight cars, it looks like from the right to left we have:

  • 1: Philadelphia & Reading 77xxx – 34′ 55-ton arch bar trucks, 1880 cu.ft. capacity hopper, class HTh (nos 74500 – 78999), built 1916-17 by Standard Steel Car. Approx. 4495 on the roster in 1924. Detailed roster info from RT&HS. Builders photo from Kinkaid collection here and here.
  • 2: Philadelphia & Reading 30′ 40-ton, 1485 cu.ft. capacity hopper, class HTk (nos 61000 – 61863), being rebuilt in 1921 from HTb (blt 1902) series 60000-60999 by AC&F. Note unusual Fox Pressed Steel Trucks. In 1924 there were 854 on the roster. Detailed roster info from RT&HS Pic from Kinkaid collection.
  • 3 & 4: Based on the distinctive side sills, these appear to also be Philadelphia & Reading class HTf hoppers, but slightly modified from as-built images I found. The HTf (86000-89999) was a 34′, 55 ton, 1843 cu.ft. capacity car with arch bar trucks. They were built in four batches from 1910-11 and again in 1913. In 1924 there were 3970 on the rails. Likely after shopping they received grab irons on the sides as well as some sort of bracket/brace above each bolster on the side sill. Early photos do not show these brackets. Here are some builders photos from the Kincaid collection one two three. Here is a photo of one with the brackets from Shamokin Div website. Detailed roster info from RT&HS.
  • 5 & 6 These cars are just too far off for me to get a read on what they are.

I believe the cars are actually being moved. Why? Because in this next photo, which is of the same subjects, there are different cars in view:

May 13, 2024. Same spot as previous photo, looking toward the track. The freight cars have moved! BO 328805.
May 13, 2024. Same spot as previous photo, looking toward the track. The freight cars have moved! BO 328805.
Flood. , 1924. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016837496/.

Two B&O Hoppers in view:

  • 1: BO 328805, class N-12g (327000-331999) (4998 cars) 1800 cu.ft capacity, blt 1923.
  • 2: BO ? – appears to possibly be another N-12 class.
May 13, 2024.  View of the shack seen above, looking out at the Potomac. Note the white tent in the distance, you'll see it in the next photo shot from the Virginia shore.
May 13, 2024. View of the shack seen above, looking out at the Potomac. Note the white tent in the distance, you’ll see it in the next photo shot from the Virginia shore.
Flood. , 1924. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016837486/.
View from the Virginia shore looking back at Georgetown. The hopper cars seen above are visible just left of center.
May 13, 2024. View from the Virginia shore looking back at Georgetown. The hopper cars seen above are visible just left of center.
Flood. , 1924. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016837494/.
May 13, 2024, Wash out of the Canal above Georgetown. The tracks of the B&O Georgetown Branch would likely be on the other side of the Canal towpath (washed out).
May 13, 2024, Wash out of the Canal above Georgetown. The tracks of the B&O Georgetown Branch would likely be on the other side of the Canal towpath (washed out). https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.86005

The B&O RR had gained a controlling stake in the C&O Canal, in 1890 it was put into receivership. The B&O wanted to prevent other railroads from purchasing the right of way. A history of damaging floods and maintenance headaches meant that the canal was holding on for dear life but thanks to many unusual years of relatively minor flood issues, the canal soldiered on. The B&O had to maintain it just enough to keep it in service, which they did. That is until 1924.

May 13, 2024. High Water at Chain Bridge. The B&O Georgetown Branch right of way is visible just above where the bridge makes landfall across the river, evidenced by the steep cut.
May 13, 2024. High Water at Chain Bridge. The B&O Georgetown Branch right of way is visible just above where the bridge makes landfall across the river, evidenced by the steep cut. Here is the location on Google Maps. https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.86001

The first flood of 1924 came in March but it was largely focused on Northern sections of the Canal. Repairs were not too overwhelming and were undertaken by contractors for the B&O. The flood that occurred two months later in May was another story, and proved to be too much for the Canal to survive in the long run. By August of that year, the Canal had largely been shut down save for some sections kept open for various contract obligations.

May 13, 1924, Chain Bridge during high water.
May 13, 1924, Chain Bridge during high water. View from Virginia shore. Georgetown Branch right of way in the distance.
Flood. , 1924. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016837498/.

There were many historic floods on the Potomac, and many which affected operations on the Georgetown Branch. In fact, in many instances, the flooding dictated the survival of the line – remember famously the engine that was stranded in Georgetown after the devastating flooding from Hurricane Agnes, which toppled the Rock Creek trestle and damaged many waterfront industries. The 1924 flood, in particular, was interesting because afterwards the B&O was finally able to neglect the waterway, performing only minor maintenance on it until selling to the National Park Service in the late 1930s.

May 13, 1924, Chain Bridge during high water.
May 13, 1924, Chain Bridge during high water. https://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.86000

More LoC photos here: https://www.loc.gov/search/?in=&q=11200+flood&new=true

A fantastic history of the C&O Canal and flooding, published by the National Park Servicehttps://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/choh/trouble.pdf

1862 to 1968 Georgetown Comparison

From the book, Georgetown Architecture, THE WATERFRONT, Selections from the Historic American Buildings Survey, Number 4, comes this neat side-by-side shot of the waterfront.

I especially like the two B&O and one SCL box cars visible in the new yard. By now the overhead crane had been dismantled and removed. In a few years, the yard would be paved over to become a parking lot.

As a sidebar, and linked above, you can read the entire book on the Internet Archive! https://archive.org/details/georgetownarchit04comm/

Freight Cars in Georgetown, March 1949

The National Archives has a magnificent set of photos from the construction of the Whitehurst Freeway. Naturally, there are some wonderful trains caught in the shots and I’d like to document them here.

First up is this shot from March, 1949. There are actually a couple prints from this day, showing these and some other freight cars. I imagine the Georgetown switcher was hard at work preparing the train for the Georgetown Turn or perhaps receiving some new cars into the yard. Regardless, it’s a pretty special photo. Before we go on, a huge shout out to the Steam Era Freight Cars group for car data and other info, as well as the various manufacturer pages linked below. Let’s dive in.

Chesapeake & Ohio 152×8

This is a Pullman-Standard Co. built 40′ PS-1 boxcar, lot 5886, C&O series 15000-15999 (1,000 cars), built in Feb 1948. It has 6′, 7-panel Superior doors (evenly spaced, placard mounted to stiffener), Ajax hand brake, Apex Tri-Lok running boards, A3 trucks, 12-panel sides.

Kadee produced a similar model of this car in HO scale, #5023.

Great Northern 49730

In 1940-41 GN received 3,000 cars of this type, built by Pullman Standard, American Car & Foundry and others. This car was built by Pullman-Standard Co. in 1941 in a lot of 500 cars. This 40’6″ car features a 6′ Youngstown door, steel frame, steel ends, wood sheathing. Note that this car has a rare front-facing goat logo, with the slogan: “SEE AMERICA FIRST, GLACIER NATIONAL PARK.” GN specified boxcar red sides with a black roof, ends and underframe.

Comparison of early GN logos, BNSF website.

Resin Car Works produced a similar model of this car in HO scale, Kit 11.01.

Delaware Lackawanna & Western 51963

This car is an AAR 1937 design boxcar from DL&W series 51750-51999, built Dec 1944 by Magor Car Co. lot W708, a total of 250 cars. The car features 10′ IH, 6′ seven-panel Superior doors, 10-panel riveted sides, 4/5 Dreadnaught ends with round corners and no push-pole sockets. Murphy raised-panel roof, Ajax handbrake, wood running boards, T-Z brake step, 7/7 ladders, double-truss, spring plankless trucks with cast iron wheels. These cars were built between Dec 1944 and Feb 1945.

Rapido Trains has just announced a run of AAR 1937 cars and feature this paint scheme in a slightly different series. SKU 181002A. Atlas offers an entry-level version of the AAR 1937 boxcar as well. From what I can tell, the Intermountain 1937 AAR boxcar has square corners only and is not ideal. They do offer a DL&W paint scheme on the square corner car.

Delaware Lackawanna & Western 47367

Between Nov 1929 and Feb 1930 DL&W took delivery of 1,000 of these unusual cars were derived from the USRA standard design. These all-steel boxcars were from series 47000-47699, 700 cars, built by American Car & Foundry, Lot 998, delivered Nov 1929 – Jan 1930. (The other 300 cars, 47700-47999, were produced by Magor Car Co. Lot P-7072, delivered Jan-Feb 1930.) Cars had an insight height of 8’7″, Hutchins Dry Lading roofs and Youngstown doors. After 1940 when cars were outshopped and AB brakes added, many were outfitted with Murphy panel roofs, steel running boards and Superior panel five-panel doors. Cars were delivered in DL&W freight car brown, with standard white freight lettering. Repaints began in 1942 and included the addition of the “Phoebe Snow” slogan design. In 1955 many of these cars were repainted a second time and received the large” “Billboard” road name stenciled and moved to the left side. (Special thanks to Brian Carlson from the Steam Era Freight Car group and Protocraft for some of this info!)

Ozark Miniatures produces a decal set for these cars in HO scale. Tichy also offers three decal sets for variants of this car. (one, two, three.) As does K4. Decals for O scale cars produced by Protocraft. Apparently the Broadway Limited NYC 40′ Steel Boxcar is a close match to the DL&W prototype, but lacks the correct ends. It can be kitbashed into a stand-in.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this dive into some freight car specifics. I know that I’ll be hunting some models of these cars for my roster!

Talbot Avenue Bridge Preservation and Park

One of the great things from all of the Purple Line destruction/construction is the preservation of the historic Talbot Ave bridge that once spanned the Metropolitan Branch at Georgetown Junction. As you may recall, back in 2019 the bridge was removed in preparation for the installation of the additional two tracks and a new overpass. The County planned to save the bridge for a future installation in a park, and we finally have some renderings of what it may look like.

Lyttonsville Park rendering with the Talbot Ave bridge feature

At the Lyttonsville Park community meeting, a slide presentation outlined the current designs and status. Link to the slide presentation: https://montgomeryparks.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Lyttonsville-community-3-2023-0330-web-r.pdf

In the presentation are several really neat photos of the current state of the bridge. The girders, one of the only parts of the original 1916 construction, are preserved, sitting atop the pedestrian bridge sections that once topped the Rock Creek trestle. Not sure of the current location; probably in a Purple Line storage yard.

A hundred years of weather, deferred maintenance and punishment has not been kind to the old steel, and it shows. I’m so grateful it will be refurbished and preserved; a small piece of railroad history that will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come. I’ll take it. Plus, I can actually go and get more measurements if I need them! 🙂

Where Trains Once Ran; A Georgetown Branch Documentary

Well, this was a special project that I can finally share with everyone. A few months back I was contacted by a Georgetown University graduate student who was putting together a brief documentary on the Georgetown Branch; specifically its history and transformation into a rail trail. We initially shared stories and historic reference material and eventually I was interviewed on-camera at home. I think the project turned out brilliantly and my hats off to Evan, the director, producer, writer – well, everything! He did an awesome job capturing the entire story of the Branch. I hope you enjoy!

Where Trains Once Ran

1959 B&O Crossing the Cabin John Trolley Line

I found this print on eBay recently and am quite pleased to add it to the Georgetown Branch collection. The caption on the back of the 8×10 print reads: “1/59 Washington, DC – Line #20 – B&O RR trestle – crossing over Cabin John line.” The photo was taken from the west side of the trestle, facing to the east.

Jan 1959 – B&O trestle crossing Cabin John trolley line. Photographer unknown. Personal collection.
Approximate location of the photographer, facing East. Historic Aerials.

At the time, the Dalecarlia Reservoir was undergoing a massive expansion project. Aerial photos from 1949 and 1957 show the scale of the expansion.

1949. Historic Aerials.
1957. Historic Aerials.

The last trolley on the Cabin John Line was on Jan 3, 1960, and the entire system was fully closed in 1962. Congress revoked its charter in 1956, so likely seeing the writing on the wall, the Dalecarlia reservoir began expansion in the mid 1950s. The right of way was repurposed and is where some major buildings and two of the settling ponds exist today.

The old Cabin John trolley line is outlined in light green on this map. You can see how much has been built on the old right of way.

A link to my Georgetown Branch Google Map

Hope you enjoy this brief view of the bridges over the trolley line. If only there was a train passing by! 🙂