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Western Maryland Scenic RR to Frostburg  

Adventurers in the Appalachia


My First trip on the Southwest Chief going to the 2018 NRHS Convention in Cumberland, Maryland


Chapter Twenty-one


Western Maryland Trip to Frostburg, MD


 August 9, 2018

Thursday

by

Robin Bowers


Text and Photos by Author

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent.


Comments are appreciated at...yr.mmxx@gmail.com


 

      I had another good breakfast in the hotel dining room among fellow conventioneers. Chris got up earlier because he wanted to return the car rental now. After eating I went upstairs to do my laundry. The hotel was a laundromat, but only one of each machine. Chris did his last night but I didn't want to stay up most of the night and we had the morning free so I planed to do it after breakfast. This should be the last for this trip and we been lucky to find laundromats every five or six days that were convenient.       

    At 10:15am Bob, Elizabeth, Chris and myself met to walk the five short blocks to the Western Maryland Maryland station. The NRHS has their trip on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad scheduled for Sunday but no trips for today so we decided to do the trip today and leave one day early on Saturday night for Chicago.
 
The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad History

The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is a heritage railroad based in Cumberland, Maryland. It operates over ex-Western Maryland Railway trackage to Frostburg, Maryland and back using both steam and diesel locomotives.

The WMSR operates passenger excursion trains and occasional freights when needed out of the former Western Maryland station in Cumberland, which also houses one of the six visitor centers of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park as well as other attractions and offices. This station was built in 1913.

The railroad offers coach and first class service, as well as reserved caboose rides. The railroad also runs murder mystery excursions and special seasonal trips.

Rail line description

The track, which for the most part follows a former Western Maryland Railway line, proceeds northwest from Cumberland through "the Narrows", a deep water gap formed by the passage of Wills Creek between Haystack Mountain and Wills Mountain, parts of the Wills Mountain Anticline geological structure. The train then proceeds up the Allegheny Front through a water gap formed by Jennings Run, passes Mt. Savage, and terminates at the former Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad depot in Frostburg. The train lays over there for about 90 minutes to allow passengers to visit the town, and the locomotive is turned back there on a turntable that originally served the Western Maryland in Elkins, West Virginia. The train then returns to Cumberland by the same route.

Intermediate sights on the line include: Helmstetter's Curve in Cash Valley, Brush Tunnel and Woodcock Hollow, site of a hairpin curve.

The Allegheny Highlands Trail of Maryland, part of the Great Allegheny Passage bicycle trail from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, runs along the route of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Cyclists can make reservations with the railroad to put their bikes on board for the climb up the mountain to Frostburg, then cycle back down to Cumberland.

Locomotives

Regular power on the railroad is 734. Normal power for the train is ex-Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad 34, now known as Western Maryland 734, a 1916 Baldwin-built 2-8-0 steam locomotive painted in WM "fireball" livery with a different tender from its original. It was originally built for the LS&I as 34. The locomotive came to the line from the Illinois Railway Museum in 1991. After an extensive rebuild, it entered service in 1992; it has received several modifications over the years to give it more of a WM appearance. The 734 was retired indefinitely after the 2015 season as well as some special excursions in February & April 2016 to undergo the 1,472 service-day Federal Railroad Administration inspection. In order to maintain its steam locomotive operations, the railroad obtained ex-Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 1309 from the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, While 734 is in Pieces. In addition, the WMSR has two ex-Conrail GP30 diesel locomotives (501 being former PRR, 502 being former Reading). WMSR 501 has been painted up in the Western Maryland Circus red and white paint scheme. These engines are used as helper engines for the steam locomotive and as power for short excursions that are run for special events. The WMSR also has a 60-ton Plymouth Switcher locomotive, number 7, which is used to switch cars around. It was also used to transport 1309 to Ridgeley Yards. 2 Canadian Pacific 4-6-2's 1286 & 1238 operated during the early years, along with Alco built Diesels such as an RS3 from the Boston & Maine, an RSD5 from the Chicago & North Western, & 2 FPA4s from The Canadian National & VIA Rail.

On November 17, 2017 after failing to meet their projected summertime completion date for the C&O 1309 the railroad announced that the project had been put on hiatus.

Shops

The WMSR operates out of the former WM's Ridgeley, West Virginia car shops located just across the Potomac River from Cumberland. The shops include offices, a Federal Railroad Administration building, and the former paint shop which is now used to house the steam engine and perform repairs on the railroad's equipment. The WMSR shops also serve as a business offering restoration services for locomotives and coaches from both commercial and private owners. South, past the Ridgely shops and yard, the WMSR also maintains a wye that is used to turn the railroad's locomotives and coaches.

Passenger and Freight Equipment

Since its creation, the WMSR has gained an extensive collection of light weight style passenger coaches, many of which it either has restored to service in its tuscan and gold livery, or has used for parts to restore other coaches. Many of the restored coaches are painted with the names of local area towns, as well as benefactors of the scenic railroad. The WMSR also has a collection of freight equipment it has collected from CSX and other sources that it uses for storage at the shops, rail line maintenance, and photo freight excursions. The WMSR currently also has three cabooses. They are two ex-C&O cabooses and one ex-WM caboose. Other un-restored equipment includes an ex-Chessie System crane, ex-Amtrak material handling cars, heavyweight coaches and pieces for a turntable.





Restored Western Maryland Railway Station, built in 1913.



    The Allegheny County Tourism Office and the C&O Canal Visitors Center occupy the ground floor; the western terminus of the 184.5 mile long Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (1850-1924) is about 50 yards south. On the trackside level of the station are the railroad ticket office, passenger waiting room, a cafe, gift shop and public restrooms. On the west side of the building are the brick passenger boarding platforms covered by canopies supported upon cast iron columns. South of the station, the railroad tracks diverge - the single track continuing south, parallel to the Potomac River and the old C&O Canal, connects with CSX mainline and yards in South Cumberland; the dual tracks that turn southwestward, crossing the Potomac River to Ridgeley, WV, head to where the former WM yards and shops are located about half a mile away, from whence the scenic railroad trains originate.

    We then all went inside the waiting room to the ticket counter where Chris picked up our complementary tickets but Bob and Elizabeth bought theirs. Afterwards I checked out the gift shop and bought a small refrigerator magnet, with space in the luggage running short at this time. Then I browsed the displays till it was time for the train to arrive.

1568

The National Road, US 40, my childhood friend.



I like the Autumn colors on the trees.






The train pulled into the station and we all waited to board. Chris remembered that they used the ramp for boarding so he made his way there and was the first person aboard the train and saved seats for the four of us.





Views inside our car # 112.






Western Maryland caboose, CRR 1072.



Steeples of the Center Street Methodist Church and St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church.



Now we were on our way to Frostburg.



Willis Creek.



    The Narrows began forming about 150 million years ago when the ancient ridge split apart. Wills Creek winds through this gap separating Wills Mountain on the north from Haystack Mountain on the south. The resulting gorge is a mile long, 900 feet deep and about half a mile wide between the rims of the two mountains.






Bike trail abutting the tracks.



Passengers were allowed to take photos from the vestibule on this train.












Near Cash Valley Road.



Cash Valley Road.



Helmstetter's Curve arcs in a spectacular horseshoe bend a half mile long and dramatic view of Cash Valley. This curve is named after the family who operate the farm which the tracks nearly encircle






Brush Tunnel, 914 feet long, bores through a promontory of Piney Mountain. Built in 1911, the tunnel was wide enough to accommodate the original double tracks of the Western Maryland main line.




1601

    The old Western Maryland Railway skirts along the northern end of Piney Mountain, two to three hundred feet above the Jennings Run Valley. In the springtime, dogwood and redbud blossom in the forest covering Little Allegheny Mountain across the valley to the north. Below the valley, the Old C&P rails between Cumberland and Mount Savage ran parallel to MD Route 36. Hemlock, white pine, mountain laurel and rhododendron can be seen growing amid the large boulders on upper slope.












    A good view overlooking Mount Savage where the first rolled iron rails in the United States were manufactured in 1844. These rails weighed 42 pounds to the yard (the standard rail of today weighs 130 -140 pounds per yard) and were used to construct a 9 mile long railroad down the Jennings Run Valley to Cumberland. From the mid-1840s until the 1940s, The C&P Railroad had its yards, offices and shops here and built or rebuilt about one hundred steam locomotives for its company and other short line companies.


1610

Mile marker for the bike trail.

1611

Trimble Road where there was an overhead signal bridge just before the road crossing and a two mile long passing siding to a coal-loading landing on the south side.

Frostburg




Western Maryland GP30 501.



    Frostburg (elev. 1920 ft.) at the Old C&P Station that was designed by architect E. Francis Baldwin and built in1891. The station has been newly refurbished with a restaurant in the old freight depot, a gift shop and lounge. The telegrapher occupied the bay window along track-side, and preserved on his desk are the telegraph, telephone and ticket stamper which he used. The modern electric, engine turntable is located just 50 yards beyond the station; and just beyond the turntable is the portal of the old, 537 foot tunnel (built in 1856) under the city of Frostburg which once led the railroad into the Georges Creek Valley and to the coal mines there.



Tracks on the turntable for the locomotive.



After leaving the train I walked to the turntable and then headed to the stairs which go to the main drag of Frostburg. On my climb up the stairs, I stopped to watch the engine moving on to the turntable and then being rotated so as to now point in the reverse direction.










Main Street and Alt US Route 40.


 
    What began as a tiny mining town and a stagecoach stop along the National Road, the nation's oldest highway, Frostburg has grown to become a modern and diverse community. Home to Frostburg State University and nicknamed the "Mountain City," Frostburg boasts a busting Main Street fittingly located up the hill from the Great Allegheny Passage trail. Nestled in the Maryland Mountains, the area is rich in Appalachian heritage and is known for its vivid autumn foliage, snowy white winters, a vibrant spring and cool summers.

    Coal was discovered near Frostburg as early as 1782. The completion of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to Cumberland in 1842 and the Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad to Frostburg in 1852 made it possible to ship coal in large quantities. Frostburg became a commercial center for mining, both thriving and suffering with the fluctuation of coal prices.

    After climbing the hill, I felt like it was the same as climbing a four or five story building so I didn't stay up top for long. Going down is much easier and the view from up here was great. I also noticed not many others made the trip up the hill. Upon reaching lower altitude I then joined up with Bob, Elizabeth and Chris in front of a hamburger stand near the turntable. I had a hamburger and an ice cream sandwich. As it neared the departure time, the vendor was selling her burgers at half price so I bought one for the road. Then we walked over to the station.




 
Waiting at the station.



We then reboarded the train for a nice return trip.









Entering Brush Tunnel.




































1655

We arrived back at the station in Cumberland and I would like to thank the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad for having us ride their train today and also to the excellent train crew who took such good care of us. From the station, we walked over to next attraction in town.




Start of C&O Canal Towpath.

    From the Great Allegheny Passage in Cumberland, venture onto the C&O Towpath for an entirely different trail experience that follows the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and Potomac River for 184.5 miles to Washington D.C. The C&O Canal was built between 1828 and 1850 allowing lumber, grain and other agricultural products to float down the canal to market. It operated sporadically between floods until 1924. In 1954, efforts were made to save it from being converted to a parkway and in 1971 the Canal became a National Historic Park. Today, much of the Canal has been drained of water and is reclaimed by the forest but remains a favorite of hikers, joggers and cyclists.



    From the canal we walked back to the hotel via Baltimore Street with myself stopping in the main street like stores and shops to look and shop. In a chain drug store I bought a memory card for my camera but wasn't thrilled that the price was double from what I would pay back home.



Small town movie theatre.

    At dinner time, we all met up to walk the couple of blocks to the Roy Rogers store where I had the Berry Chicken Salad with a drink. We ate in but didn't stay long and then walked back to the hotel. Later I went for a stroll around the block for a breath of fresh evening air and then it was time to dive between the sheets.


Thanks for reading.

Next chapter 22 - NRHS Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad >>

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Text and Photos by Author


The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent.

Comments appreciated at .... yr.mmxx@gmail.com