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Old Main Line Photo Tour

B&O Old Main Line
Modern day photo tour

Accompanying each photo below are:

Click a photo to see a larger view. Please send your comments and corrections to Steve.



Map - West

Map - West
Mile: Date: Jan 2005
Ease: View:
Area: IC2: 352
Map: Topographic Map

Before resuming the tour, here's a map. The area from Mt. Airy west to near Monrovia is depicted.

This map represents data from Harwood (1979), USGS maps (1945 and 1980), and aerial photos (1980) combined with research from my hiking and photographing the area many times over the course of several years.

The alignments are depicted on the map by colors that indicate the date of opening. The same colors are overlaid on some of the photos below to assist visualizing the route.


Plane 3

Plane 3
Mile: 40.2 Date: Dec 2004
Ease: A View: W
Area: A IC2: 354
Map: Fr 42 B 2, Ho 2 A 5 Topographic Maps

Did the builders of this new house know we would use it as a reference point for resuming the tour from the prior page?

This is the view down from the top of Plane 3 at Mt. Airy's Ridge Road. The slight curve ahead tells me the railroad's original cut through the top of the ridge was likely near here on the right.

Plane 3 is the best preserved of all the planes, and now serves as a utility access road.


uphill

Uphill
Mile: 40.4 Date: Dec 2004
Ease: B View: E
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 42 B 2, Ho 2 A 5 Topographic Maps

Looking back to view Plane 3's 5% grade, the steepest of the bunch. But now trains avoid the whole issue by riding in relative comfort through Mt. Airy tunnel, which is underground on the left. The tunnel's grade here is 0.8%.

In the aerial photo linked below, Plane 3 cuts a chord through the trees south of the present-day trackage. Ridge Road, where we resumed this tour, is at lower right.

Link: 1988 aerial photo


I-70 Grade

I-70 Grade
Mile: 40.8 Date: Apr 2005
Ease: A View: E
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 K 2, Ho 1 K 5 Topographic Maps

Eastbound trucks work a bit to overcome the last significant hill on the way to Baltimore. Plane 3 is within the trees over on the left.


Mud

Mud
Mile: 40.5 Date: Dec 2004
Ease: B View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 42 A 2, Ho 2 A 5 Topographic Maps

"It's wabbit season." - "It's mud season." - "It's wabbit season." - "It's mud season."

I think Bugs is right as the mud here was viscous enough to suck the shoes off any wabbit wearing them.

The utility road peels off to the left leaving the remains of Plane 3 to fend for themselves, the path of which is marked by the small gap in the forest on the right.

I was surprised to find any gap at all: the planes were removed from railroad use over 160 year ago. Or, maybe not. In misc.transport.rail.americas the late Silas Warner wrote:

    "Originally there was an inclined plane, with cables, to pull trains up into Mt. Airy on the east side, and a steep but steam-worked grade on the west side. About 1870 the B&O built the tunnel, and tore up the cable but left the west-side grade. A single car and steam engine ran up and down the west side to connect passenger trains to town."

Silas has the tunnel date wrong, which makes me question the accuracy of his other statements. But I had to get in a Silas Warner reference since he was a creator of the game =empire= on the PLATO computer system. (PLATO did pretty much what the Internet does, except it did it a quarter-century earlier.) =empire= initiated my interest in multi-user computer games, from which I started playing various railroad-themed games, which spurred me on to create my own, for which I needed photographs, which encouraged me to take RR pictures, and thus was born this site.

Link: where computer gaming was invented: PLATO


Culvert

Culvert
Mile: 40.5 Date: Dec 2004
Ease: C View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 42 A 2, Ho 2 A 5 Topographic Maps

What the ... ? Why is this picture here?

See the stone on the right? It's a culvert deep below the location of the prior photo. In fact, it's the only known surviving culvert along the route of the planes. And that's the reason the picture is here, because it's obviously not for being good.

The fact I survived shoe-sucking mud, a swampy brook, and shoulder-high thorny brush to get this picture has nothing to do with it. Nope.


Gap

Gap
Mile: 40.6 Date: Dec 2004
Ease: C+ View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 42 A 2, Ho 1 K 5 Topographic Maps

This gap in the forest marks Plane 3's route down to where it meets up with the tracks of the Mt. Airy Cutoff portion of the Old Main Line and Mt. Airy Loop.


Nearing Base

Nearing Base
Mile: 40.7 Date: Apr 2005
Ease: B View: W
Area: B IC2:
Map: Fr 42 A 2, Ho 1 K 5 Topographic Maps

Emerging from the forested section yields this view to the west. The base of Plane 3 was somewhere within the area depicted here, probably just beyond the crane along the route marked in green. The tracks in the foreground are those of the Mt. Airy Cutoff, Frederick Road (MD 144) is on the right, and Mill Bottom Road connects the two.

In spring 2005 CSX cut down the century-old trees and cleared the area. A resident said the railroad told her they were merely clearing excess vegetation.


Mill Bottom Road

Mill Bottom Road
Mile: 40.8 Date: May 2004
Ease: A View: N
Area: B IC2:
Map: Fr 41 K 2, Ho 1 K 5 Topographic Maps

Before CSX chopped down the trees, this is what the area at Mill Bottom Road resembled. Here all three B&O Mt. Airy alignments make their closest approach in 3-dimensions. The tracks in the foreground are the 1901 Mt. Airy Cutoff, and those most distant (marked by magenta) are the 1838 Mt. Airy Loop. In between, 1831's Plane 3 (green) has descended from Parrs Ridge on the right, to its base in this vicinity.


Back

Back
Mile: 40.8 Date: Apr 2005
Ease: A View: E
Area: B IC2:
Map: Fr 41 K 2, Ho 1 K 5 Topographic Maps

Now we're looking back from Mill Bottom Road to see Plane 3's path.

Wait, notice the small hole the green line bisects at bottom center? What could that be? Has CSX's clearing effort uncovered an artifact? Let's climb down for a closer look.


Pulley Pit?

Pulley Pit?
Mile: 40.8 Date: Apr 2005
Ease: B+ View: E
Area: B IC2:
Map: Fr 41 K 2, Ho 1 K 5 Topographic Maps

Aha, it is an artifact! I believe it could be the remains of the foundation of the stream-powered pulley system the B&O reportedly employed at the planes. If my guess is correct, this is a significant find because the very existence of the pulley system had always been in question. No evidence of it had been previously known to historians.

I pushed aside some of the brush and took measurements. The pit is embedded within a stone/brick/cement structure that is approximately 17 feet by 34 feet as outlined in the photo. The pit itself is 2.5 feet wide by 15 feet long. Debris lines the pit, 2 feet below the surface at max. There are at least 8 rods that protrude upward from the walls up to 18 inches (arrows); other rods may be hidden or broken off. I envision the pit was positioned between the rails and contained the pulley system's base wheels.

This structure is in the right place, pointing the correct direction, seems about the proper size, and is configured as one might expect. However, there is a major problem: it doesn't look old enough. The cement is too well-preserved and the rods look like they might be steel (which had not yet been invented in 1831). If it somehow dates to the 1830s, it has been preserved remarkably well. Did the trees shelter it from weathering, or is the structure more recent? And if it is modern, what was its purpose?

Over the years, I had walked in this area many times in a fruitless search for Plane 3 artifacts. Little did I know this interesting puzzle had been hiding just a few feet away. Nature is once again shrouding this artifact: the area has since been taken over by the quickly-growing, invasive ailanthus tree.


Wheel Axle?

Wheel Axle?
Mile: 40.8 Date: Apr 2005
Ease: B+ View: W
Area: B IC2:
Map: Fr 41 K 2, Ho 1 K 5 Topographic Maps

butter roller The focus of the structure is near its center where I discovered the walls uniquely contain small depressions; a small rusty pipe protrudes from one side. This is where I would expect the axle of a pulley system to reside, in a fashion similar to the restaurant butter roller pictured at left.

The tape measure reports the feature is 4 feet 3 inches wide, which is a good number since it fits nicely between standard gauge rails. That's supporting evidence of a railroad history for this structure.

But there's another problem. Originally the B&O graced the OML with double track, so it's likely the planes were similarly double-tracked. So, why is there only one pit? Furthermore, two tracks would facilitate implementing an interconnected pulley system that counterbalanced the weight of a westbound (downhill) train to help lift an eastbound (uphill) one. The Allegheny Portage Railroad, for one, built such a system in the 1830s. Yet, in the OML's early days trains were infrequent enough the B&O might have done without a counterbalanced system, or might even have single tracked the planes. Records are sparse, so there's lots of room for speculation.

Could this structure instead be the remains of a signal tower, or water pumping station? Since the location is right, might the B&O have built it for Plane 3 use then later repurposed it? Does anyone have more information?

Link: more than anyone ever wanted to know about pulleys, winches and cable


Plane 3 Base

Plane 3 Base
Mile: 40.8 Date: Oct 2004
Ease: A View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 K 2, Ho 1 K 4 Topographic Maps

At the base of Plane 3, both forms of lifting assistance (the horses and the pulley system) would have required a level staging area where the trains could be connected. That's this location which is near the Frederick Road (MD 144) grade crossing of the still-in-service Mt. Airy Loop. The pulley pit is hidden behind the trees on the extreme left.

According to data published by Harwood, the B&O's original route wandered west from here over level ground for 3687 feet which included a masonry bridge and a wood trestle.

Link: 1920 reverse view


Arched Bridge

Arched Bridge
Mile: 40.9 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: B View: W
Area: B IC2:
Map: Fr 41 K 2, Ho 1 J 5 Topographic Maps

Well, here's the masonry bridge. It now carries the Mt. Airy Loop over Bush Creek.

Two things to note here: 1) the style of masonry work of the arch stones matches that of only one other early B&O bridge, the original twin arch bridge over the Patapsco River between Planes 1 and 2, and 2) the angle of the bridge does not quite line up parallel to the Loop's track. For these reasons I believe this bridge was initially built in 1831 for use with the B&O's original inclined plane route.


1831 Bridge

1831 Bridge
Mile: 40.9 Date: May 2004
Ease: B View: NE
Area: B IC2:
Map: Fr 41 K 2, Ho 1 J 5 Topographic Maps

This view looks the opposite direction back up the Mt. Airy Loop track toward Frederick Road.

Note how the arched (closest) portion of the bridge does not align with the track. When the Loop (magenta on the map) was built a few years later to replace the planes, the curve here was changed, necessitating a differently-angled addition to the bridge.

The concrete that tops the bridge implies its height was increased from the original. Both the original 1831 alignment and the 1838 Loop alignment had traversed this area at a slightly lower elevation.


Mt. Airy Junction

Mt. Airy Junction
Mile: 41.0 Date: May 2004
Ease: B View: W
Area: B IC2:
Map: Fr 41 K 2, Ho 1 J 5 Topographic Maps

Cutoff to the left, Loop to the right, stuck in the middle with a hue of green is the plane's route. You can blame Stealers Wheel (hah! another pun) for that bit of lyrical inspiration.

The green line represents my best estimate of that original alignment. As it fades into the distance, heading for what had been Plane 4, notice how it does not descend like the existing tracks do: the original alignment was on a level grade between planes.

The Loop took the place of Planes 1, 2, and 3, but not Plane 4 which was a short distance further west. My research indicates the B&O opted to regrade Plane 4 out of existence.

CSX removed the weary CPL (signal in center) later in 2004.

Links: MA tower in 1952, 1919 meteorite


Sidney Road

Sidney Road
Mile: 41.5 Date: Nov 2004
Ease: A View: S
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 H 1, Ho 1 H 4 Topographic Maps

If you visit at the right time of day and season, the sun helps to illuminate the various "shelves" upon which the alignments had sat. This is the view looking south from the intersection of MD 144 and Sidney Road.

At top left the green line marks the B&O's original 1831 alignment; it stayed level between the base of Plane 3 (further left) and the top of Plane 4 (further right). Records indicate a wooden bridge had spanned the dip in the land at the rightmost endpoint of the green line. The construction of I-70 (blue line) scrambled the artifacts of that alignment.

The black line shows the currently active Mt. Airy Cutoff alignment as it descends from the ridge.

The magenta line illustrates the 1838 alignment, constructed at the same time as the Mt. Airy Loop. The roughly 2-mile-long regrade eliminated the need for Plane 4. Note how its slope is roughly the same as that of the Cutoff.

Bush Creek flows at the bottom of the hillside, and the pavement of MD 144 is seen in the foreground.


I-70

I-70
Mile: 41.5 Date: Jan 2005
Ease: A View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 J 2, Ho 1 H 5 Topographic Maps

While the length of the level area between Planes 3 and 4 is documented as 3687 feet, its exact route is now a matter of speculation thanks to the heavy (de?)construction work associated with Interstate 70.

Following the 656-foot elevation line on old topographic maps implies the level section must have cut across what would become I-70 approximately as indicated in this photo. That puts the top of Plane 4 near the left endpoint of the green line.

Careful examination of the old maps leads me to believe the 80-foot long wooden trestle contained within the level section was positioned across the dip in the road ahead, albeit at a lower elevation, that is, underneath the asphalt. The dip is just ahead of the bridge over the present-day alignment.


From I-70

From I-70
Mile: 41.5 Date: Jan 2005
Ease: A? View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 H 2, Ho 1 H 4 Topographic Maps

Sometimes snow is even better than sun as a highlight. This time no green line is necessary to mark the level section between Planes 3 and 4. This is the view from I-70 looking north (right) from the green line's location in the prior photo.


Snow

Snow
Mile: 41.5 Date: Jan 2005
Ease: A? View: NW
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 H 2, Ho 1 H 4 Topographic Maps

Same vantage point as the prior photo, but turned to look a bit left. Without the snow, you'd never know the old alignment was hiding amongst the trees.


Driveby

Driveby
Mile: 41.6 Date: Jan 2005
Ease: A? View: NE
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 H 2, Ho 1 H 4 Topographic Maps

From a little further west on I-70 you can look back to see both the plane's alignment (curving white stripe above guardrail) as well as the present day double trackage of the Mt. Airy Cutoff.

I won't tell you how many "driveby shootings" it took to obtain this sequence. Having a designated driver (i.e. a patient wife) helps. Special thanks to the truckers who did not barrel into us at 65 mph. Do not stop on the shoulder and do not try this at home.

Link to older pic: 1978


Plane 4 Top

Plane 4 Top
Mile: 41.7 Date: Dec 2004
Ease: B View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 H 2, Ho 1 G 4 Topographic Maps

This is my very speculative placement of Plane 4, its top a short distance behind. I've not found any definitive evidence of the plane, but this is where the measurements place it. If I'm off by just a little, Plane 4 artifacts might instead be buried under I-70.

Harwood's data says Plane 4 was 1900 feet long and dropped 81.4 feet to a base at Bush Creek, for a 4.3% average grade.

The next photo zooms down immediately across the tracks.

Link to older picture: 1985


Plane 4?

Plane 4?
Mile: 41.8 Date: Dec 2004
Ease: B View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 H 2, Ho 1 G 4 Topographic Maps

Is this Plane 4? The appearance here is similar to that looking down from the top of Plane 3 but are our eyes being deceived by a path instead carved by ATVs? I'll leave it to you to decide.

The aerial photo linked below is centered over Plane 4's location, but unlike at Plane 3, no linear scars are evident. What you do see near the I-70 overpass over the railroad are the remains of the highway construction plus a contemporaneous re-alignment of the tracks.

Link: 1988 aerial photo


Regrade

Regrade
Mile: 41.8 Date: Dec 2004
Ease: B+ View: E
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 G 2, Ho 1 G 4 Topographic Maps

Looking uphill back toward the location of the prior photo reveals a graded shelf of land on the right. Initially I was tempted to call this Plane 4, but after looking more closely, the shelf carves out a curve. The planes were most likely straight segments. Instead I believe the shelf to be part of the regrade that replaced Plane 4 in 1838.


Plane 4 Base

Plane 4 Base
Mile: 42.0 Date: Dec 2004
Ease: B View: W
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 G 2, Ho 1 G 4 Topographic Maps

Records state the base of Plane 4 was near Bush Creek at an elevation of 576 feet. Topo maps say this is the spot; I-70 is behind the trees. The creek-bank stones are not squared off like those used in B&O bridges, so are unlikely to be relics. If there are artifacts hiding, I've not been able to uncover them here. Hey, where are those CSX tree choppers when you need 'em?


Plane 4 Lives

Plane 4 Lives
Mile: 42.6 Date: Apr 2005
Ease: A View: N
Area: A IC2:
Map: Fr 41 F 1, Ho 1 E 3 Topographic Maps

Plane 4 is long gone but not forgotten. People were needed at its base to assist with the horses (and maintain the purported steam winches), and a tiny community grew up nearby. Over a century and a half later, the Plane 4 name lives on at this repair shop west of Woodville Road.



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