Category Archives: News

New and interesting items.

Layout Progress Update

It’s been too long. Over a year. I haven’t touched the layout since the summer of 2015. There, I said it. There have been many, many factors and excuses to explain this lapse, none more compelling than inertia and laziness. I’ve taken on lots of other side-projects and tasks and found many other ways to distract myself and burn time doing fun things that don’t involve working on the layout. Well, I’ve got the bug again and I’m back at it. I spent the holiday weekend cleaning out the layout room, reorganizing and getting myself mentally back up to speed with my progress on the layout.

I’ve posted a few photos of my progress here on my Flickr page.

When I had last left off I had completed much of the track in Bethesda but ran into a snag when on of my train club friends pointed out that there was a nasty S-curve in the yard entrance. I had also installed some spline roadbed at the Geo. Jct. area and that worked out quite nicely. Much of the rest of the layout was covered with “stuff”, and became staging for painting trim for our office renovation as well as other random projects. All of that stuff was cleaned up, moved out or reorganized to optimize space. I completely cleared the upper level of the layout so I could continue working on the track work I had started over a year ago. Once I got cleaned up, things really moved along nicely. I realized a few things:

  1. I really love this project and I’m excited to see where it takes me.
  2. I need glasses – reading glasses at least. My vision is not what it was.
  3. I need to set some goals and stay on task.
  4. I need to flesh out the layout design a bit more; I came across some issues that are going to prove to be challenging to overcome and will most likely require reworking some of the track plan. (oh well!)

All in all, it’s been a productive weekend and I’m moving ahead with a good head of steam. I just hope I can keep the momentum!

The Famous Talbot Ave Bridge is Slated for Demolition

Talbot Ave bridge, 2/7/2015. © Ben Sullivan
Talbot Ave bridge, 2/7/2015. © Ben Sullivan

A sad, sad day indeed. A couple of weeks ago I learned about the eminent demise of the famous Talbot Ave bridge which has spanned the Metropolitan Branch and Georgetown Branch of the B&O for nearly 100 years. The bridge was built back in 1918 and is somewhat of a special legend among railfans being that the girders appear to be sourced from an old turntable, giving it the distinctive profile. This shape is recognizable in so many photos shot over the ages at the Junction. I, myself, have visited the bridge many times, shooting photos of it and from it and enjoying it as a landmark. I’m terribly sad to hear of its eminent demise and will miss seeing it at the Junction as it altered forever with the Purple Line destruction not far off. At least it will live on in my basement, as I plan on modeling it on my railroad. Here are a couple links covering its history:

Talbot Avenue: a bridge in black and white

A Montgomery bridge that linked black and white neighborhoods during segregation soon will be lost to history

On February 7, 2015 I visited the area and took many detail photos of the bridge. You can find them here on my Flickr page. (Scroll down a ways, they begin around IMG_6582)

Talbot Ave Bridge in the distance as a CSX freight approaches
Talbot Ave Bridge in the distance as a CSX freight approaches. © Ben Sullivan

The Georgetown Branch in Train Simulator 2017

I was contacted by a really nice gentleman named Mark V. via the B&O Yahoo Group who indicated he had some photos of the GB that he had shot ages ago (more on that later). What really piqued my curiosity is that he mentioned he is working on a model of the GB for Train Simulator 2017! We exchanged a couple emails and he sent me a link to a video showcasing his progress. Wow! This is incredible. I will update more when I get it. Have a look for yourself here:

So far he has completed from the Junction with the Met all the way down to the crossing over Rock Creek. The details are fantastic. The track layout is a more modern arrangement, what existed near the end of the branches life. I am really excited to follow his progress and see more of the development! I may have to pick up a copy of Train Simulator 2017 myself! If you’d like to contact Mark V., you can reach him at

Georgetown Yard Limit, 1966

A really wonderful photos was posted to the Maryland Division Railfans group on Facebook. The photo was taken in July 1966 at the west end of Georgetown yard, along the Potomac, and is one from a location that I have never seen before; at the end of the passing siding/yard track at the west end of Georgetown. There is a “YARD LIMIT” sign placed at this location that I never new existed. I’m so thankful as it provides a peek at something I never would have known had I not seen the photo. When I model this area on my layout, I will be sure to add that sign! Thanks so much, Guy Span!

July 1966, B&O GP9 6503 appears to be heading west (RR East) out of Georgetown as it passes the yard limit. The caboose is tucked behind the locomotive, per RR practice. Guy Span photo.
July 1966, B&O GP9 6503 appears to be heading west (RR East) out of Georgetown as it passes the yard limit. The caboose is tucked behind the locomotive, per RR practice. Guy Span photo.

RIP Barry Rubin

Barry Rubin passed away earlier this year on Feb 3, 2014.

2003 was a hallmark year for me in my research on the Georgetown Branch. Up until that point, I had spent much of my time hunting around online for Sanborn maps, looking at old aerial photos and maps of the line, trying to decode the various phases and stages of the construction of the line. Unraveling the mystery, as I like to say, which I still am doing to this day. Around this time I became involved with the B&O RR Historical Society and joined the popular related Yahoo group. Worlds opened as I met many new B&O enthusiasts eager to share information, ideas and recollections. I had members mailing me photos, form 6’s, maps, drawings and other pieces of data that I had never seen. The web was growing.

One day I heard that there was a B&ORRHS member, Duane Carrell, who was planning on writing an article about the Georgetown Branch. Imagine my excitement. I mean, here I was, trying as hard as I could to dig up information on the line, and there was another nut just like me who was writing an article about it! I was thrilled. Then came the emails that really locked everything in for me. Barry Rubin, who at the time was involved with the Society, decided that with all the interest in the Georgetown Branch, perhaps we should have a get-together, a sort of meet-and-greet. He offered up his house as a location and we put it on the books.

On a very cold January morning, I showed up not knowing what I’d find or who I’d meet, or that it would be the seminal turning point for opening up my eyes to the depth of the history of the Branch. Duane, who was writing the article, showed up and brought with him all of his source materials. There were original track chart blueprints, maps, huge collections of black and white photos, overhead aerials, notes, and a variety of other plans and documents. ALL about the Georgetown Branch. I was just overwhelmed with excitement and remember poring over each and every page and photo, knowing that none of these were going home with me so I had better soak it all up now.

Barry then led us, caravan style, from his home in Chevy Chase down to Bethesda, where we parked at River Rd. and walked a short distance both North and South down the old right-of-way, describing track alignments, old buildings that remained, remnants of sidings and ghosts of operations gone by. We had a GREAT time and we all became friends as we shared in an enthusiasm for this little old railroad branch line.

Jan 18, 2003, Bethesda MD. The first (and only) Georgetown Branch get-together. From left to right: Kelly Regan, C.E. Close, Duane Carrell, Barry Rubin, Daniel Rubin and Joe Nevin.

Barry was the impetus for that meet-up. He took the time to get everyone together, offering his house and his leadership. He did so much outside of this silly little meeting, but for me it was one of the most important in my quest as a historian and a fan of the Georgetown Branch, the B&O and the people of the B&ORRHS. It’s the people that I meet, who put in time and effort to share and foster that energy and excitement that carries the legacy of the B&O on for future generations to enjoy and discover. For this, I thank you, Barry. Safe home.

Duane Carrell wrote the following obituary on the B&ORRHS Yahoo Group:

I wanted to let the members of the chat know that Barry Rubin, titular editor of the Sentinel, passed away this morning in Tel Aviv.  He had been fighting cancer for over a year-and-a-half.

I met Barry when we entered 7th grade in 1961 at Alice Deal Jr. High in Washington and we became fast friends in the ninth grade when we discovered that we each had an interest in railroads.  I was with him when he bought his first train set in downtown Washington on the day that President Kennedy was assassinated.  A year later we joined the Rockville Society of Model Engineers and his father often drove us to meetings.  By our senior year our interests had diverged somewhat although we remained friends.  He went to Georgetown Univ. and became a history professor and also worked for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate.  I saw him briefly at our 20th high school reunion in 1987 and then lost touch for another 14 years.  In the meantime he had developed a deep interest in Israel and Mideast affairs and moved to Tel Aviv, although he kept a residence in Chevy Chase for lengthy visits here.  In 2001 I happened to see his name in the masthead of the Sentinel as the editor, wondered if it could be the same person and emailed him.  Lo and behold it was and we re-kindled a long-dormant friendship and became very close.  It was Barry who made me aware of the yahoo group and encouraged me to write for the Sentinel.  And, as history sometimes repeats itself, Barry took part in his first Civil War reenactment with me three years ago in Olustee, Florida.

 Barry became an authority on Middle East Affairs, founded the Global Research in International Affairs Center, wrote close to 20 books – most on the Middle East – and traveled the world, speaking to government and private groups about the state of the Middle East.  He was extremely professional in his analysis and did not let his opinions get in the way of the facts.  He did not back away from stating the truth and made some enemies for it.

 He was diagnosed with cancer in July, 2012, appeared to be beating it and more appeared in recent months.  He married somewhat late in life and leaves his wife, Judy, an 18-year old daughter who is performing public service in Israel and a 14-year-old son.  I have no word on funeral arrangements yet.

 He will be missed.

 Duane Carrell

Relics From The Past: A Mystery Wreck on the Branch

Last spring I was contacted by someone who had made a discovery along the Georgetown Branch. Just North of the Dalecarlia tunnel some folks were clearing invasive species brush from the park area just around the trail. While going through the brush, they uncovered this:

Mysterious wreck on the GB.
Frame of a freight car. Photo from David Cohen.
Frame of two more freight cars. Photo from David Cohen.
Frame of two more freight cars. Photo from David Cohen.

There have been a couple blog posts pop up (one here)covering the discovery, but no solid information on the wreck itself has arisen. I’ve had discussions with a few other railfans and friends and aside from a few clues this is a mystery.

Here’s what we know: the cars are likely freight cars. There are apparently no trucks, bolsters or couplers. They appear to have been torched off (and presumably removed). The one car nearest to the trail dates from 1935-1950. Jeffrey Ramone writes: It’s definitely from a car that was built between 35 and 50. New York Air Brake equipment, AB valve…way cool.” J. D. Hathaway writes: “I’m told the car was built after 1934 because of the type of brakes. The cylinder and various things are all part of the “AB” type air brake system”.   It’s unlikely these were hopper cars, as the subframe is clearly from a car that has a solid frame beneath. Boxcars, gondolas, flatcars are all possibilities. It’s most likely a 40′ car. Some more sleuthing is necessary to really get to the bottom of it.

Why are the cars there? This is the biggest mystery. Several theories have arisen. My best guess is that they were part of a wreck in this area at some point. Something akin to a messy derailment. There were no injuries so perhaps there was no public report. The cars were simply torched in place to salvage some of the materials and parts and the rest left to rot. Obviously an air brake system can’t be reused after it’s suffered damage in a wreck.

Perhaps the economics of the time dictated that the underframes were the least valuable parts and were left behind. Perhaps the crew was called away on another job and this was simply forgotten. I doubt these were placed here intentionally, ie on a siding of some kind. Due to the dates on the cars there should be a report of the wreck somewhere. I will keep searching! If you come across any additional information, please share it here!

CCT North side 1
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT North side 3
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT South side 1
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT South side 2
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT North side 5
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT North side 4
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT South side 3
Photo by J.D. Hathaway
CCT North side 2
Photo by J.D. Hathaway


Layout: Progress at Georgetown Junction & Bethesda

Got a bit of work done on the layout today. Laid down more roadbed at Georgetown Junction and laid in the sub roadbed (Homasote) in Bethesda. Did some thinking about track laid flush on the sub roadbed in Bethesda vs. laying it on roadbed. I was originally leaning toward all on the sub roadbed itself but thinking about Bethesda there was a nice track profile on much of it. This will be tricky. I do have some large Homabed panels that would work but I think it may be a waste here. We will see! Going to study some more photos and make a decision. Progress is good!

IMG_6898 IMG_6897 IMG_6896 IMG_6894 IMG_6892 IMG_6891

Kelly’s Georgetown Branch layout updates

Dale_Tunnel5My friend Kelly is moving along on his Georgetown Branch layout, making great strides and some impressive progress! My model RR club, RMRRS, visited his layout a couple months ago and were really impressed. He has since completed the “paving” in Georgetown and reworked and scenicked the Georgetown Jct. area. Very cool!

I have some more photos in my gallery:

Layout Construction update

Upper helix lead
The upper deck helix lead.

It has been a very, very long time since I posted an update here on the blog about my model RR progress. Let me get things up to speed. The benchwork for the layout is about 95% complete. I have a few odds and ends to do but that hurdle has been crossed. Now I am working on adding the subroadbed, roadbed and connecting bridges and track. I completed construction on the helix and recently constructed the upper bracket and transition to allow the track to transition off the helix and enter the layout room. Remember, my helix is mobile and must be able to detach and roll away from the wall whenever the HVAC is serviced (like today!)

The staging yard was completed and track laid. I also built and installed a hinged swing-up bridge (with neodymium magnets to hold it in the up position) that connects the staging yard and the staging lead going into the layout room.  With some assistance from my train club several areas were completed, including the base for Rock Creek, and the lower helix lead entry point through the wall. One member, Tom, came over and helped me figure out how to do the entire Georgetown Jct. area, including the subroadbed and track arrangement. I realized I needed to put in the upper helix lead first, so that is what I am working on currently.

All in all, I have not been terribly busy with the layout. There are many distractions and I have many hobbies so I come back to it when I can. Also, I have spent a good bit of time researching the GB and have many, many materials to go through and add to the catalogs and notes and that takes time, too. I’m having a heck of a lot of fun with it.

As always, I try to keep my Gallery up-to-date where you can see snapshots of my progress. Enjoy!

Passing of a B&O Legend, Norm Nelson

Here we see Norm (center) telling a story outside the B&ORRHS Archives in Arbutus, MD

Mr. Norm Nelson, an oft-quited source for B&O history passed away Monday. I met and got to know Norm on a few occasions when working at the B&ORRHS archives and at various meetings and get-togethers. He was always friendly and approachable, full of wonderful stories and detailed descriptions of how the railroad operated, what it was like and what the people who worked the trains were like. I remember one entertaining story in particular that had to do with a dispatcher in DC accidentally making some inappropriate comments into an open mic which was broadcast down the line to where Norm was waiting with his crew. He said that there were some funny responses back to the dispatcher which I’m not going to mention here. He was such an amazing contributor to the B&O Yahoo! Group as well, and a search through their archives will reveal a trove of first hand stories about the B&O and its inner workings. Some folks on the list will admit that they stick around just to hear his input. Norm, you will be missed. Hope you’re having fun with all the other ‘Domers up there sharing stories of the good old days. Thank you.

Norm Nelson Obituary in the Washington Post