If you are interested in learning more about the Georgetown Branch, the best singular published source would be the out-of-print 2003 Vol 25, Num 1 issue of The Sentinel from the B&ORRHS. One is for sale on eBay right now so go scoop it up! https://www.ebay.com/itm/401484075440
YouTuber Nathan Carrick has posted a brief video showing some of the latest construction progress on the Georgetown Branch at the Connecticut Ave. crossing as well as at Wisconsin Ave in Bethesda. I have wanted to visit the construction site for weeks and am thankful he posted some footage. I was most curious about the old team tracks hidden in the woods at Conn. Ave (in the video, they are behind the excavator) and it appears they are still there, as the area is marked with red tape to preserve the forest. (thankfully) Don’t know how long that will last, but it’s nice to see for now.
Seeing the Branch torn up is painful as they are erasing many vestiges of the original right-of-way that will never be replaced. At the same time, it’s somewhat thrilling to me to think about riding a train on the old RoW once again.
Last weekend, while doing some research on track and industry layout in Bethesda with my friend Matt I was looking at a photo that I have looked at many, many times before and noticed something completely new and exciting. (don’t you love it when that happens?!) Here is the photo:
Looks pretty normal. A really full yard at Bethesda. The road crew, on an S2, a short distance from C2222, the “local” caboose that ran regularly on that assignment. In the background is Bethesda Avenue, with a car parked next to it, a few gentleman talking and some freight unloading going on in the background. Well, here’s the fun part. “Computer. Zoom and enhance!” (I love saying that.)
Immediately my brain triggered. “Hey! I know what that thing is! Look, do you see it?!” I exclaimed to my friend Matt, sitting next to me, looking befuddled. It’s a straddle carrier. A lumber straddle carrier. These neat vehicles were invented around 1913 and had four wheels which could turn independent of the others, allowing the vehicle to maneuver in tight spaces. The bottom is open and has arms which can grab a stack of lumber beneath it. Really brilliant. They were common in lumber yards around the country until the advent of the fork lift and palletized lumber. In some instances these vehicles are still used today and are even produced for specialized applications by some of the manufacturers who made them back then.
So why is this special?
Well, it’s another fine detail that brings the setting to life. Had I never zoomed in and noticed that tiny detail, I would have never known there was one in Bethesda. It means that in my modeling of the area I can include this distinctive vehicle and it will be prototypical. I love these things. They’re quirky and eye-catching. I have no other photos that I know of showing the straddle carrier in Bethesda, so it is rather special.
How was it used?
Well, I doubt it was used by the Einsinger Mill & Lumber Co, as they had their own siding into their yard. It very well COULD have been theirs, but there were several other lumber yards in the area (Devlin, for example) who may have used the straddle carrier to shuttle lumber to their yard just a short distance from the team tracks in Bethesda. You can see a gentleman stacking lumber to the right. The lumber would be delivered by boxcar as was common at the time. The lumber would be stacked and then the straddle carrier would drive atop the bundle, grasp it and then shuttle it to the yard for storage and sale.
I NEED YOUR HELP!
I want to identify the make of this carrier. I have been hunting high and low for a photo or reference to the specific unit pictured in this image. Look carefully at the engine cowl, the wheels, what appears to be shrouding over the front wheel mounts up top, the rear gear assembly/cover and front opening. Also, don’t be fooled by the silhouettes of the gentlemen in the foreground, especially the one to the right. Try to crop those out. Also note what appears to be a gas tank of some sort just behind the carrier. Is this part of the unit? I can’t tell. Distance-wise, remember this this is REALLY far from the photographer in the photo. The distances are really squished together at this distance. If you have any info that could help me, please email me at cpl_clegg at yahoo dot com.
These kind of details revealing themselves are the things that keep me hunting for more and more photos, stories, maps and documents related to the Branch. It intrigues me and I enjoy it tremendously! One other thing I noticed, further back, beyond the straddle carrier there appears to be a bulk transfer conveyor loader. These were seen in just about every town and it’s no surprise there was one in Bethesda. One end of the conveyor would be placed beneath a hopper and a truck would be spotted at the upper end. Once turned on, the hopper would be opened and the contents loaded into the back of the truck. Think sand, gravel, etc.
The Capital Weather Gang with the Washington Post, a favorite of mine, posted a neat article discussing the history of ice damming and ice floes in DC, specifically in the Georgetown area, as that is the area most susceptible due to the location of the old Aqueduct Bridge. Ice damming occurs when there is a long cold spell and large rivers freeze with a subsequent fast warming period. This causes the ice to quickly break up and flow down stream. If there is a bottleneck or obstruction , the ice will pile up and dam. Once those dams break, they unleash a torrent of fast-moving water laden with ice & debris which causes destruction down stream.
DC has had its fair share of ice dams and ice floes over the years, some worse than others. The 1918 incident was probably the worst in terms of destruction. Have a look for yourself. The WaPo article includes many great photos. Incidentally, here is a Google Maps view of the photo above!
Recently the DC Dep’t of Transportation published thousands of images on a new photo archives page. It’s a wonderful peek back into transportation history in the District and includes many, many wonderful photos featuring the Georgetown Branch, specifically in the area around Georgetown. Photos date from the 30s and 40s all the way to the 80s and beyond in some instances. There are too many to share here, but with a little time and patience you can browse through the tagged images and enjoy these steps back in time. Have fun!
This is the end…
The portion of the Georgetown Branch between Bethesda and the connection to the Metropolitan Branch is about to be changed forever. This coming Tuesday the line will be closed as construction begins in earnest on the controversial “Purple Line”, a Maryland rapid transit line to connect Bethesda to Silver Spring and beyond. The shut down of the trail means that they will bring in cherry pickers to eliminate a wide swath of the beautiful foliage we have all come to love along the trail. They will bring in bulldozers to re-grade and erase the historic 127 year old right-of-way. They will bring in cranes to pull up and destroy remnants of the railroad which existed in that same spot for over 92 years. In essence, what was left of the Georgetown Branch will be no more.
It’s bittersweet; trains will once again ply the right-of-way where the Georgetown Branch local did its business, which is a sort of rebirth and an item of pride and joy to those who wanted this. It’s painful to see so much history AND a beloved trail go the way of progress. It’s never easy, moving forward. It’s always a challenge to figure out and brings with it difficulty and pain to those affected by it. The neighbors losing gorgeous, old tree canopy and a quiet, peaceful yard space. The trail users who will no longer have such a peaceful and bucolic place to exercise and make memories. And dorks like me, who are losing a tangible historic place that is loaded with remnants of a time gone by. One that I don’t remember myself, yet still enjoy deeply. I’m going to miss having a place that I can go to take photos and dream about what was and the men and women who came before to build and run such an interesting piece of railroad history. I’m hoping to make it down this weekend to have one last ply of the right of way as it existed in its final state before rebirth.
In February, 2015, I took a trip with my friend Kelly to seek remnants of the old railroad before it was destroyed. I’m happy I did, and those photos will be crucial in remembering how the railroad ran, existed and looked in its heyday. You can view my photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cpl_clegg/albums/72157650759566062
My progress on the layout has been minimal for the last year, but over the last month I’ve cleaned up and made some great progress, figuring out solutions for some issues I was having. My friend Kelly helped me figure out track arrangement and grades at Georgetown Junction. I am planning on further reworking the track arrangement to be a bit more prototypical and easy for construction/structures. My friends Joe & Matt helped me visualize how to lay in the area West of Rock Creek and East of Bethesda which includes Chevy Chase. I had originally made a mistake of not figuring the grade separation between the trestle at Rock Creek and the level tracks at Bethesda. I decided to create one long grade from the trestle and Bethesda, cut from plywood out of a cardboard template. I’m working on this now.
I’ve also been experimenting with DCC++, a free, open-source, full featured DCC system. It uses an Arduino Uno, Arduino Motor Shield and a 15v power supply. I managed to get it up and running in an evening and will use this moving forward until I am ready to purchase a full featured DCC system… or maybe not! We will see how it works for me. Here’s a short video:
I’m recently enrolled in school at UMUC going for a Computer Science degree, so much of my time is devoted to class work, but I’ve got a reinvigorated interest in the layout so I’m hoping to make steady progress.
I found this photo on the DCDIG website a few weeks back. It’s a very nice photo of the waterfront, showing a few of the boathouses which line the shore West of the aqueduct bridge, which this photo was taken from. Of particular interest is the B&O engine (#25 I believe), flat car and caboose parked on the Georgetown Branch main. How cool is that? It gets even cooler.
I believe this engine, car and caboose is the work train that was sent down the newly-opened Branch to complete a very special project; the widening of the Aqueduct Bridge arch, to allow trains to pass beneath. In a couple photos shared to Facebook a year or so ago a Mr. Ulles posted a couple photos of his ancestor who was part of the team who completed the work on the arch. The photos are really windows into the past that I never thought I’d see. Based on the number on the engine (which I believe is #25), the configuration of the engine (0-6-0, class D2), the train consist (flat car + caboose) and the general surroundings, I do believe this is the work train. This would put the photo at some point in the spring/summer of 1910 and paints more of the picture of what Georgetown looked like when the B&O finally arrived.
A sad day, indeed. This has been coming for a while, but is nonetheless tough to swallow. The iconic Talbot Avenue bridge, which has spanned the Metropolitan & Georgetown Branches of the B&O for so many years is closed indefinitely after failing a safety inspection. The bridge has been on the chopping block for a while now, being in the way of the Purple Line construction which is on hold while a lawsuit is reconciled.
I, for one, am most sad to see the bridge go because it is so iconic in all of the photos I have collected and seen showing action at Georgetown Junction. The bridge is always there, in the background, off in the distance in the shots of B&O trains switching the Branch or screaming off East or West, hauling passengers or commuters. The bridge witnessed the 1996 tragedy and remained. The bridge has been rebuild after most of the iron rotted away from years and years of salt and weather corroded the supports to frail remnants.
It will be a sad day when they finally remove the bridge and there is a hole where it once was. There is a grassroots effort to preserve the bridge as a symbol of the legacy of segregation in the local area; let’s hope they are successful. Read more here: