Rich Pearlman shared these four photos with me that he shot as a kid in Bethesda. The car is sitting on what was the passing siding/team track in Bethesda. Thanks to some wonderful sleuthing by folks over on the Freight Car Enthusiasts Facebook Group, the car was identified. This is a General American Railcar 40′ mechanical refrigerator car, built 9/1957. I can’t read the rebuild date but similar cars have dates in the 1971-75 range. I also can’t make out the reporting marks, but I believe they are URTX based on what the FB group revealed and other photos that are online of similar cars.
This is an oddball to me. This refrigerator car parked in the yard in downtown Bethesda. Why? At this point, I don’t know what industry was left in Bethesda. I don’t think Maloney was even receiving rail cars at this point and most of the others had departed long ago. There was some LCL service and I’m assuming that’s what this was. But for who? And what was it transporting? A mystery that will likely go unsolved. Would love to hear your thoughts! And, thanks again, Rich!
Over on Lance Mindheim’s wonderful blog, he developed a track plan design for the Georgetown Waterfront that fits on a small L-shaped shelf. I really like this plan and think it captures the essence of the waterfront in a very small space. For me, the most fascinating thing about the waterfront in its heyday was the multitude of industries and how the B&O served them.
The track plan covers a lot of the industries and yards represented in Georgetown and would make for engaging and interesting operations. I could see the Georgetown Turn has left its string of cars on the long siding (staging) and the switcher is tasked to pull the cars onto K St. and begin classifying them. Meanwhile the empties are being rounded up and built into a train for the Turn to bring back to Eckington. These cars would be spotted on the staging track. The switcher then goes back to focusing on spotting all the loads that just came in. If another track could be added to the staging yard, a second “Georgetown Turn” train could be spotted there for the switcher to pull into town and work on, as the cycle would start again. Hours of work here to do. I dig it!
I know I haven’t posted in a while but as the Spring approaches, things are getting busy around here. Work has been nuts. HPDE season is upon us and I’ve got my first event at Summit Point with the Audi Club this coming weekend. Track prep time! Here’s the update:
Layout progress has been focused on cleaning up, organizing and working on the Rock Creek trestle, as well as devoting a large amount of time to working out the operations scheme in JMRI Operations Pro, with lots of help from Kelly R. The cleaning and organization tasks were accelerated by a visit from Ken & Bill from Spring Mills Depot. Ken and I chatted at the Springfield show and decided to get together to see each others’ layouts and share progress and lessons learned. It’s been very motivational seeing what Ken is doing and having them visit my layout to talk about my own process and future goals. I’ve got lots of good energy to move forward with.
Coupled with the layout visitors, I have also been selling a lot of extra stuff on eBay. Over the last year or so I’ve really culled a lot of rolling stock and material from my collection. Much of it was sold at the GSMTS Timonium show, but much of it has been sold via eBay. As I clean and dig through my things, I find more and more to list for sale which really helps motivate me to continue to refine my focus and standards for the layout. Also, the sales help pay for the layout materials and new freight cars that I come across. Here’s a photo of the layout from a month or so ago:
JMRI progress has been a real roller coaster. Yesterday morning, in a fit of frustration, I was ready to swear off the program (both literally and figuratively) after running up against a string of constant, baffling errors. Kelly talked me off the ledge and offered to help rebuild and refine my layout concept in the software. I’ve realized that JMRI is going to be the best solution for what I want to do with the operations scheme on my layout; it offers pretty much all that I want, even though I have a long way to go before I get to my goal. I do have a document which outlines all of my “givens & druthers” as well as rules, specs and other details about my scheme. This will be published later for anyone who’s interested. Also, if anyone wants to talk Operations or JMRI, please reach out! I’m neck-deep.
A byproduct of the layout visitors and the JMRI work I’ve been doing was that I put together manifests for four trains that I refer to as the “Bethesda Turn”, since Bethesda is as far as the track currently goes on my layout. After the visit, I ran these four trains as I intend to run most of my trains, and it was fantastic. Yeah, not all the switch machines are in place, and some of the frogs aren’t wired, but the overall feeling of what it will be like to operate the layout was there, and it was really cool. A taste of things to come.
I find that in this hobby it’s important to have active projects in different areas of the hobby to keep things interesting. Last month when I got tired of installing DCC decoders and building trestle bents I switched over to building a freight car kit. The one I chose from my shelf-o-unbuilt-kits was an old Intermountain PS-1 50′ Double Door Box Car lettered for Southern Pacific #650159, kit #40607-10, with a 1955 build date; just inside my era. I found this kit on the shelf at the Annapolis area LHS, Star Hobby, for a had-to-have-it price of $10. Side note: I-M seems to be taking reservations for a re-release of this kit right now!
Car weights came in the form of wheel weights I collect off the ground at track day events, which I glued to the interior floor with Liquid Nails. The body was badly warped at the top and required careful attention to straighten when gluing to the roof. The doors were also ever-so-slightly warped but once in place looked fine. All in all, a neat car. I don’t have many 50′ cars so this one will look nice delivering lumber to Galliher Lumber in Georgetown.
Lastly, a word about the NMRA Achievement Program (AP). Over the winter I was inspired to begin participation in the various AP areas. A few of the folks in my club are diving in and working toward their MMR so I figured I’d join the journey. So far, not a whole lot of movement on my end. I’ve started organizing and reading through the materials but that’s about it for now. I just haven’t been making this a priority, as I’ve had other things going on requiring attention. However, I have been taking photos of some of my projects in preparation for writing up articles. I will definitely post links here once that materializes. For now, I’ll keep planning and aligning my modeling efforts with the various AP certification qualifications. I think of it like merit badges for adult model railroaders. I’m enjoying the challenge!
Like I said, this is just a quick, off the top of my head update. I am hoping to be able to post more, but with work being so busy and other things vying for my time, I do what I can when I can. Be well and keep in touch!
This wonderful photo by Russ Strodtz on Flickr came via Jeffrey Sessa over on the Maryland Division Railfans FB group. My money is on the train likely being a load of empties coming off the branch, perhaps from Maloney in Georgetown or Bethesda. Curious if they’ll pick up some cars from the Junction and head East or pick up loads and head back to Georgetown. REALLY neat view of the E.C. Keys lumber shed in the background. Gives me some great info for when I build that model! Thanks, Jeffrey!
Over the years, I’ve shared a few photos I’ve come across depicting the National Christmas Tree resting in the B&O yard in Georgetown. (one, two, three) Beginning in 1954, the “Community Tree” would make its trek cross-country on a flat car or gondola; blocked, braced, packed and tied-up like a Christmas ham, the tree would arrive in DC to be transloaded onto a flatbed trailer and trucked through Washington to the National Mall where it would be craned into place, decorated and illuminated as the star attraction in the Pageant of Peace.
I was recently contacted via email by a member of the Forest History Society who so generously shared some photos (and a video!) related to Christmas trees in Georgetown. These images are REALLY cool and show some views that I’d never seen before. I am always really excited whenever I get to see new things related to the Branch! You can see all of their National Christmas Tree related images in their archives, here. They recently published a wonderful article on the journey the 1961 National Christmas Tree made from forest to the National Mall.
In these photos from FHS we see the 1960 tree having arrived in Georgetown being tended to by some staff members. This tree was cut in Oregon and traveled via SP/UP/CNW/B&O on an SP F-70-17 85′ flat car. In the first photo we see what must have been an arrival ceremony and even Santa has climbed on board and is wielding a “Seal of Approval” sign. In the next images we can see a large box surrounding the end of the tree, no doubt to protect it and keep it wet. We then see the tree being prepared for transloading to the adjacent flatbed trailer. Bonus video footage of the tree being prepared in Oregon for its voyage across the Country. The final images are the 1961 tree which came from Grays Harbor County, WA via NP/CB&Q/B&O on a TTX flatcar. All photos are courtesy of the Forest History Society, Durham, N.C.
The National Christmas Tree tradition stretches back to 1923 but in 1954 the decision was made to do something more extravagant and impactful to woo more tourists to the area and do something really special. The Pageant of Peace was born, a celebration of the holiday season that included music, art, and lights, with the centerpiece being what was being called “the National Community Christmas Tree”, culled from the great forests of America and erected on the National Mall where the Pageant and “Pathway of Peace” display would be located. There were national displays, international exhibits, participation from civic and religious organizations and all sorts of activities for children and adults alike. Over the years, the Pageant transformed and changed with the times. Some years it reflected a more somber national situation; in 1963, after the assignation of Pres. Kennedy, the lighting of the tree was delayed for several days to allow for a period of mourning and a more somber ceremony followed. Some years it was befallen by delays and problems. In 1970, the tree came from Nemo, South Dakota and along the way it derailed twice; once near Beemer, NE and again near Pittsburgh, PA. The tree was thankfully undamaged. The tree then laid over for a few days at the Army Map Agency siding near Dalecarlia Reservoir, apparently so the soldiers could keep souvenir-hunters away from stealing branches off the tree in Georgetown.
But at the center of each Pageant was the tree itself. A symbol of pride for whatever region it came from, there was often a good bit of pomp and circumstance at each end of its journey from forest to the National Mall. Ceremonies were held when the tree was cut, when it departed on rail car and when it arrived in Washington DC. Sometimes Santa or Mrs. Claus would make an appearance. And always, officials from the home town, suppliers, as well as the railroads that transported the tree would be present to get every P.R. dime out of the occasion. I dug around for a few hours and tried to gather all the info I could using newspaper clippings, photos and other articles online to figure out details of what years the tree traveled by rail, what route it took and what cars were involved. (I am a model railroader, after all.)
From what I can gather, the tree traveling by railroad began in 1954 (from MI) and ended in 1972 (from WY). There were a few years in-between where the tree traveled by truck and not by rail. I also could not find definitive data for several years but the fact that the tree came from far away, one can assume it traveled by rail. In at least one of the years, the final leg of the Tree’s journey was on the PRR. I’m not sure if this was because the Pennsy wanted a piece of the P.R. pie or logistics. In 1973, after pressure from environmental groups, the committee decided to use a living tree. The same tree was used for several years until it was damaged and needed replacing. In 1977 a dead tree was again used, but in 1978 they went back to using a live tree. I stopped tracking in 1985, as that is when trains stopped running on the Georgetown Branch and at that point they were still using the living tree.
I am obviously most interested in the 1945-55 timeframe as that is the era I am modeling. In 1954 the tree came to DC from Michigan on two Soo Line flat cars. (more on this in a future article.) In 1955, the tree traveled from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Georgetown in a CB&Q 65’6″ 70 ton mill gon, likely class GM-3A or GM-3B. I do plan on modeling both of these trees for my layout, but I first need to find acceptable freight cars that fit the bill. The CB&Q mill gondola will be particularly challenging as I have yet to find a suitable HO scale model. Maybe I will have to build one! Well, that’s it for now. Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and here’s to a Happy New Year!
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.
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!
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!
I normally don’t like catch up posts, but I figure I should give everyone an update on what’s been going on. Earlier in the Summer I began a class in Cinema4D which occupied nearly all of my free time. Besides the weekly train club meetings, my hobby time shrunk to zero. The class wrapped up a few weeks ago so between catching up on email, attending the GSMTS as a vendor, and attending the NMRA NER convention and visiting family, I have had little time to spend on the GB project.
That is not to say nothing has been going on! Nay! In the small bits of free time I have had, I have been researching various photo mysteries, objects, buildings, freight cars and more. One thing I have spent a significant amount of free time on is working on the operations scheme for the railroad. This involves studying what information I do have, namely photographs of freight cars, first and second-hand stories about how the railroad operated and various other documents. (My life for a stack of waybills!) I will likely be using JMRI Operations Pro to handle movements on the layout. I have really enjoyed tinkering with the software and am impressed in the flexibility and utility it offers.
I have plans in the works to share several things here on the blog in the near future as well as push more to get some progress made on the layout. My Rock Creek trestle model is soldiering along, bit by bit. In the near future, I will be attending an Audi Club HPDE at VIR in Nov so I have a ton of car prep work to tackle for that! Busy busy.
In the meantime, I wanted to leave you with a teaser. I finally found a photo of the 1954 National Christmas Tree when it was parked down in Georgetown:
At some point I will try to write up a full article on this phenomenon, as I find it really fascinating and a super interesting facet of operations on the railroad. And to answer your question, yes, I will definitely be modeling this! 🙂
I am playing catch-up with many things including getting everyone up to speed on my progress with Rock Creek trestle model. Unlike many folks, COVID was not a super-duper productive time for me with my model railroad. At the outset of the stay-home orders, I embarked on a remodeling project that took most of my time, sanity and family peace away for several months. The upstairs guest (kids) bathroom was gutted and renovated all by myself. This included a completely new tub, surround with tile, plumbing, new tile flooring, toilet, vanity/sink, beadboard, ceiling fan, and a custom-made mirror made using the very large old one and some leftover trim. It all came together in the end, but the journey burned me out. I found that I had no time during the project to work on my model railroad, and for a very long time after was uninterested in doing layout work at all. As such, my progress over the last year has been slow.
NONETHELESS, I have made progress! Today I’m going to share a slew of photos showing where I am with the Rock Creek trestle model. This will be a showcase piece on the layout so taking my time is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m learning A LOT along the way with this scratch build and it’s been fun so far. Tedious, but fun. If you recall from previous blog posts, I drew the plans from drawings, photos and some measurements I made. The challenge was great, as there are no good reference photos from the time frame I want to model (late 1940s) so a lot of time was spent making careful judgements and measurements from the few photos I DO have. In the end, I’m quite proud of the plans I made.
I started in earnest on actually building the trestle back in June of 2020. (yeah, yeah, a YEAR AGO…) A few early experiments helped me to refine my technique for how to assemble the trestle bents. At first I had hoped to use a magnetic tray to lay out the parts. This quickly was dismissed, as I realized the magnets did not allow for fine adjustment and placement that was necessary for this sort of construction.
Reaching back to my youth, I decided to use the same technique I used to build balsa airplanes; pins. This turned out to be a great choice, and paired with small slabs of 2″ extruded pink foam boards, worked beautifully.
My technique is to trim the 8.5×11″ sheet of paper the plan is printed on to fit on the foam block. Then, place the plan down and a small sheet of wax paper atop it. Use pins to secure to foam. Then I will place my dimensional lumber atop the plan to mark and cut using The Chopper II or a new X-Acto blade. I use the NWSL True Sander to achieve a good angle on the trestle bents. I use white glue (used carpenter’s glue for a while) and pins to hold the pieces in place while they dry.
The benefit of using the slabs of pink foam is that I can have 5-6 of them working at once. I start one, glue and pin it up, then set it aside. Prep another bent, glue and pin it, set aside. Rinse and repeat. Once a bent is dry, I flip it over and finish the other side. I made up an angle template for my Chopper to cut bents at a consistent angle. I would then clean them up on the True Sander. These were really coming together nicely.
After the bents had dried, I would trim up any angles or edges with an X-Acto blade. The next step is to install the NBW (Nut-Bolt-Washer) castings. I prefer the Tichy 8016 as they are molded in brown plastic and reasonably well resemble the prototype. I also have some of the NWSL 5046 NBW and they are very nice, too. EDITORS NOTE: While writing this, I looked more closely at the image below and realized I should be using the NWSL 5066 (1 1/4″ NUT, 3″ MALLEABLE WASHER .014″), as it is a MUCH better match. I will have to get some of these now.
I first painted the tips a rust color, trimmed using sprue cutters and then installed the NBW castings on several bents using a pin vise and a small #76 drill.
The results were quite nice, but my fingers were starting to get really sore.
I knew there was a better way. A bit of brainstorming and Googling, I found the Dremel 220-01 Workstation, which is essentially an arbor press for your Dremel multitool. Using the Dremel 4486 Keyless Chuck with my #76 bit, this worked a treat. The Workstation was only $45 at Home Depot, which I think is a bit of a steal considering the excellent functionality of the tool.
After assembling several bents, I decided to change gears and work on another part of the trestle – the deck. I needed a change of scenery. This required clearing down my workbench and developing a new workflow. I knew I wanted to assemble both sides at the same time. This would allow me to have everything aligned and placed on the same level, except for the center deck girder section which I’d have to spike in place later. Once both sides were spiked down, I could flip the whole rail and top deck over and glue the bents in place, upside-down. Again, this would allow everything to be aligned perfectly on the same plane. At least, this is the plan. I used an old shelf that I had in storage in the garage as a base. The shelf is straight and level and when I need to move it off my workbench I can do so easily.
I first used a straight edge to align and then tape down the plans on the board, side by side. I then used used some double-sided tape (which I had removed some of the tackiness from by touching my fingers to both sides) placed on the plans to secure the laminated stringers to the plans. (I previously laminated four sets of three 8″ x 16″ (HO scale) cut to length using a straight edge on a sheet of glass)
As you may recall, I had previously installed the ties into the laser-cut mat board jigs I made and installed Proto:87 tie plates. My plan was to put some glue on the bottom of the ties and then carefully place the jig/ties onto the stringers, weigh them down, and then once dry, lift the jig off of the glued-down ties.
Well, this very much did not go as planned and resulted in the first big “disaster” of this project for me. When I began to remove the jig, ever-so-carefully, it began to “flake off” the scale tie plates and about 1/3 of the ties with it. Apparently the glue did not quite reach between the ties and the stringers (not enough) and the tie plates, well that was a mistake to begin with. They were never really aligned correctly and I should have never put them on first. In hindsight, this was a mistake. So now I had a mess to clean up.
First, I picked off all of the old tie plates from the ties, sorted and stored them. I then removed any other loose ties. Next, I re-glued any of the wayward ties back in place, using my plans as a guide.
For the other side, I decide to be a bit smarter on the approach. I laid a strip of masking tape atop the ties in the jig and carefully, using a putty knife, pried the ties slowly out of the jig. This worked well. Once they were removed, I laid glue on the ties and placed them atop the stringers where I aligned them using the plans. I placed a piece of extruded foam and some weights atop the assembly to dry overnight. This worked well.
Over the last few weeks (catching up to today) I have been working on installing the rails. I chose to use Micro Engineering’s 30-108 Micro Spikes and the Proto:87 tie plates. I am generally spiking the rails about every five ties, and the ties that have no spikes will get the tie plates. This is an incredibly tedious process but the end result will be some nicely detailed track. I experimented with installing the Proto:87 spikes, but decided I didn’t have the patience to go through with spiking all the tie plates so that’s where I’ll be drawing the line. Here are some photos of this process:
And so here is a photo from today:
I’ve got three of the four rows of spikes done. The bottom right is the one I’m working on now. Once this is completed, I will set it aside and continue working on the trestle bents. Once they are done, they can begin to be installed. My aim is to have this completed by the end of the Summer, so hopefully you’ll be seeing an update sooner!
If you’ve got any questions or comments about the project, would love to hear them!