I recently set up a Facebook blog page for the Georgetown Branch. I will try to cross post anything that is posted on the blog over to FB, so any subscribers shouldn’t miss anything. Head over there if you are on FB and join us!
Pete D. captured this awesome trackside footage at Georgetown Jct. The new track closest to the camera is the original alignment of the Eastbound siding at the Junction and the Branch itself branched off to the far left where the new grass is growing. Purple Line tracks will be in the vicinity of the camera in the future, further changing the landscape forever. NICE catch!
Recently the Barriger Library has been uploading images from a very large collection of Thomas Underwood. The images are an absolute boon to fans of the B&O, as the subject matter is spectacular and full of detail. There are images spanning the 1950s to 70s and so far a couple of Georgetown Branch images have been posted.
I have been spending a really large amount of time lately trying to identify freight cars in old photos of the Georgetown Branch. As a modeler who is striving for authentic representation and operation, I am driven to figure out what traffic on the GB was like; where it came from and where it was going and who was shipping it. I don’t have a collection of train orders or waybills, only some records, maps and photos. Much of my study revolves around the industries that I am familiar with whether through first-hand account, B&O Form 6 data, old maps indicating what industries existed where and when, and photos which show the lay of the land and the freight cars on the rails.
Although seeing a freight car in a photo does not necessarily translate into knowing the details of shipments and carriers, it does provide some detail and context to help guide me as I make up my own model railroad roster and operational narrative. Seeing a Great Northern boxcar on a siding at a lumber yard, one can reasonably assume that it is carrying lumber from the Pacific Northwest. Seeing a tank car sitting on a fuel dealer siding, one can reasonably assume it is carrying fuel oil to be unloaded in a nearby storage tank. Seeing a B&O boxcar on the main line of the branch means very little; but it provides a reference point and a data point for my own model research and acquisition.
So with this new series I am going to take a closer look at the freight cars in the old photos I have and try to identify them as best I can. I am not trying to write a detailed article, but rather make a positive ID and gather some details, and perhaps some references. My end goal is to find HO scale models for these cars so I can represent them on my model railroad. I hope you enjoy.
Kicking it off, let’s start with a fun one.
Let’s start with the boxcar, furthest away, just in front of GP9 3400:
It’s a B&O boxcar (note the “13 Great States” herald on the far right). The car has 4/5 corrugated ends and Youngstown doors. Note the tack board placement on the end and door. From what I can tell this is an M-55 class variant, perhaps an M-55c, which I understand had those distinctive squared-off corrugated 4/5 ends. Ted Culotta has a nice blog post about the M-55a and the B&O RR Historical Society, B&O Modeler, has a nice article about the M-55h in the “orange comet” scheme. I found a few other photos which may give more insight: M-55? (Sentinel Service) 466054, M-55h 467673, M-55c 466350, . Accurail offers an M-55a model. as well as an M-55 trio of “Time Saver” schemes. Not sure of the details on this car. Sunshine Models also produced an M-55h kit, which you can see in the B&ORRHS article linked above. It sounds like National Scale Car has an M-55 kit in the works, which I eagerly await.
Next up is this DL&W hopper. Note, there is a vertical artifact on the photo which appears as two or three vertical stripes. This appears to be an 8-panel hopper. (10, if you count the two end panels where the slope is located.) I know little about DL&W so it makes the challenge even greater. I have spent a good amount of time digging around online and have yet to find some good reference material. A photo on the RR-Fallen Flags site appears to be a close match, but it’s got u-channel ribs at each end, where the car in the photo does not appear to. The paint scheme reveals a number xx6535, perhaps. Note the spacing of the LA | CKA | WAN | NA and the “The Road of Anthracite” herald. Bluford Shops produced an 8-panel, 2-bay hopper which to me VERY closely resembles the prototype in the photo I have. My search for an HO scale representation is ongoing; any help finding a source would be MUCH appreciated!
Last up is this gondola, spotted on the Eisinger Mill & Lumber siding:
This one is pretty neat. Thankfully, there is a fantastic resource for PRR freight cars: the PRR Freight Car Page. Studying the design of this car; the ribs, their length, the lettering and the shape of the car, I determined this is a PRR class G26 gondola. A personal guess at the number, 439586, matches with the prototype info being part of car nos. 439009-440709, AAR class GB, built in Altoona between 1930-31, measuring 65’6″ inside length, 20 panels. Thankfully, this car was produced in a kit form by the now-defunct Eastern Car Works a number of years ago, and I picked up a very nice completed model via eBay last month that will really go well on my layout (below). As I plan on modeling the construction of the Whitehurst Freeway, there will be plenty of girder loads to be brought down the Branch in this neat car!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this first installment of FCF. I have so many more freight car sleuthing stories to share and welcome any and all input you all may have on helping me solve some of these mysteries.
EDIT: I recently discovered the MyHeritage photo colorizer via Chris Adams’ wonderful Valley Local blog. This is an AI-based tool that does a darn decent job of colorizing black & white images. Now, it’s just for fun and nothing is meant to be perfectly accurate, but sometimes a bit of color helps the brain put things in context. Anyway, here’s what the subject image looks like when run through the colorizer:
“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:
- Frederick Branch
- Washington County Branch
- Antietam Branch
- Fort George G. Meade Branch
- Patuxent Branch
- Alexandria Branch
- Georgetown Branch
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.
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.
Another magnificent find from the National Archives. This one is a straight-down view of the heart of Georgetown. There are SO many things to take in here. Let’s have a look:
Hope you enjoyed this one. It’s a real rabbit hole! I have many more to share and will over the coming months. Would love to hear what you think of this awesome image!
A bit of a misnomer, in 2002 I went out and shot b-roll video footage of the Branch between Georgetown Jct. and Rock Creek. My then-fiancee, now wife, Kristin, accompanied me on the adventure. At the time, I was taking a video editing class at the Corcoran in Georgetown, back when it was still around. I had intended to do an entire tour of the Branch, highlighting what was left of it. Well, life happened; I was engaged, we bought a house not a month earlier, and the wedding was planned for June. The GB Tour video was never made. The tapes were dumped in a box and only recently uncovered as I go through old belongings.
I captured all the footage from the old MiniDV tapes (originally shot on a Canon XL-1) and assembled them into a long, uncut timeline. This is not meant to be a compelling documentary of any kind; it’s merely a way for me to share some rare footage of the remnants of my favorite branch line. Some of what you see is long gone. Some is recently gone. For example, the Rock Creek trestle is still standing, in its pre-2000s facelift form! We even climbed atop the trestle to capture footage of the tracks. (if only I’d had the foresight to bring a measuring tape!) With all the Purple Line construction, you’ll notice much of the original right of way, which is now nearly obliterated. Enjoy this time capsule from 2002!
These aerial photo mosaics shot over DC in the early 20th century are incredible.
Aerial photographic mosaic map of Washington, D.C., Sept 13, 1922
Aerial photographic mosaic, Washington, D.C., 1918
It is striking to me just how built-up the city has become over the last one hundred years. Looking at the mosaic from 1922, I’m not certain there is a bridge across Canal Rd. at the future site of Arizona Ave. It appears there is only the bridge across the Canal. Perhaps there was a smaller bridge there? My sources are not clear. More research is in order!