B&O Railroad Museum's
"All Aboard Days"

Sunday, 19 May, 2002

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Updated 2004.02.02 01:37 Eastern U.S. time

Created 2002.06.05 23:15

Visit the B&O Railroad Museum's web site

B&O RR museum wall

The B&O Railroad Museum in downtown Baltimore, Maryland rightfully can be called the most historic railroading site in the United States of America. This is where it all began. The first commercial rails were laid from here westward over what is now called the Old Main Line by CSX.

The former roundhouse now houses numerous prototype and model railroad exhibits while the former station building provides offices and theater-like presentations and visual displays. The yard area is chock full of equipment of all kinds, from the humongous 4-6-6-6 "Allegheny" C&O 1604 steamer to a wooden snow plow that used to keep the tracks clear for her. Cabooses and unusual maintenance-of-way equipment flesh out the complement inside the fence and an overflow area on tracks running through the parking lot contains still more memories for those from the mid-Atlantic region.

The B&O Railroad Museum holds its "All Aboard Days" twice yearly, once over a weekend in the Spring and once in the Autumn. I was most fortunate to be in town for the Spring affair in May of 2002 and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! I took the requisite ride in the cattle cars behind newly refurbished steam engine No. 4, which used to switch cars down at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. I then learned that cab rides were being offered on one of three engines lashed up outside the engine shop, so I real quick-like ran into the station-turned-office and plunked down my $20 to ride in the cab of a GP38. I snapped numerous still photos, below, and recorded the sounds of all these great units on minidisc.

I simply did not allot enough time for this adventure, arriving a bit after noontime; there is simply too much to see and do during these All Aboard Days. I guess I really should have taken advantage of all this great railroadiana years ago, since I was born and raised in Washington, D.C.. I hope you enjoy vicariously these few photos that I caught before I ran out of film!

The links to the photos are in-line with the story text.

Steam Engine Ride

No. 4, a 0-4-0 tender-less unit

I had to take the free ride on the steam train. I am helping a group that is restoring Florida East Coast steam engine #253 along with its component cars of the "wreck train" at Hialeah Yard in Miami, Florida. Plus, No.4 was just placed in service after about 4 years of restoration. I wanted to see, hear, and feel how it all works in real life. There is nothing like a live steamer.

This small steam engine is totally self-contained, with a small vertical coal tender mounted to the rear of the cab and a water jacket draped over the boiler. Yes, it still burns coal, as it's chief maintainer told me that he is not fond of oil.

I had just arrived and parked my car when I heard No.4 whistling as he pulled into the "station" (actually a track smack next to the car shop). I ran to the fence and snapped a photo of No.4 arriving. The man stepping down from the cab is the one who led the restoration effort (he's the coal lover). Western Maryland caboose (90)1803 can be seen on static display to the right.

The work is never finished when running steam power and it requires some gymnastic ability to climb up the boiler, check the water level in the water jacket, check the oil levels in the oilers and refill them as needed to keep the drivers and rods free to move.

That was just the preparatory work to get ready for the next journey down the 1.3 miles of jointed rail. As the eager visitors lined up for the next ride, the fireman climbed back aboard the cab to help the engineer get ready. These were a great bunch of guys running this whole show and it really made the whole experience enjoyable and informative.

The steam ride consisted of about 6 converted flat cars with wooden sides and canopies. We sat on wooden benches facing the rear of the train. Although it was a brisk day for the middle of May in Baltimore, the winds were kind and we didn't get a lungfull of coal smoke or dust either way.

We began our jaunt by making a reverse move down about a mile, then through a switch that moved us off the museum's main track; this whole area used to be Mount Clare "A" yard. We waited in the siding just short of a CSX spur into a scrap metal company as the other two train rides headed our way. I don't think that rail has seen this much activity in quite a while—three trains at once! The caboose train was the first to meet us down at the end, with C&O 3324 bringing up the rear. Then, the cab ride train led by B&O 7402 rocked past us to occupy the end of the museum main. Once B&O 6944 (GP30) cleared the switch, we could move forward and return to our starting point at the car shop.

The Cab Ride

SD35, GP38, and GP30

When I learned that diesel cab rides were available during "All Aboard Days" I rushed in to get my ticket. It cost twenty bucks, but that is simply an incentive fee to weed out those who don't really want to go. This is definitely the railfan's ride. Even though most of the people whom I saw riding it had children with them, it was the big kids who wanted to ride in the cabs more than the small kids, I'd bet. With three units pulling no cars, we had power to spare, baby!

They had B&O 7402 (SD35), CSX 9699 (GP38), and B&O 6944 (GP30). Since there were a whopping 4 people riding on the time slot that I chose, I had the pick of the litter and rode the GP38 since that is closest to what I see every day on the F.E.C. line (GP40s). Still, it was great to see B&O equipment lit up and operating, just like the good old days.

The units were rigged for remote control and it was informative to see the gauges react as the brakes were applied and the speedometer indicated our speed. As an electronic engineer, I was amazed to see the traction ammeter swing way up to 300 amps when we started from a dead stop. That's a lot of juice!

The CSX engineer who was running the lead unit was having a great time rocking and rolling us down the jointed rail. I have to say that the seats are pretty comfortable, all things considered. The docent who rode along in my cab explained to me and the father-son duo in the fireman's seat about the history of this yard, railroad operating procedures, and even told a humorous story about the lead unit.

It seems that Ringling Brothers were storing their circus train on the museum's lead. When B&O 7402 called CSX dispatcher to ask permission to enter CSX territory and pull the circus cars back onto the museum track, the dispatcher exclaimed "You've got to be kidding me!" Shortly, everything was worked out and they proceeded as planned, but I bet that dispatcher thought he was hearing a blast from the past, much like that movie "Frequency"!

Caboose Train

6 Cabooses as One Train

They also gave rides on a caboose train with 5 or 6 cabooses pushed and pulled by switcher B&O 633.

The colorful consist was a big hit for the families in attendance. The individual cars are shown on my caboose page.

Miscellaneous Sights

Static Displays

"All Aboard Days" are definitely family events with fun for everyone. As I entered the fenced display area from the roundhouse, I saw a whole series of children being helped onto the hand car and grab the handle as they wheeled themselves down the 30 feet of track. I think this was the most popular activity in the whole place for the children since they actively participated in the traction experience.

It was great to see the old B&O logo again. This boxcar had the slogan "Linking 13 great states with the nation" wrapped around the traditional capitol dome.

There were sights from bygone eras, like the gigantic C&O 1604 4-6-6-6 steam locomotive that has a firebox so large that it required a 3-axle truck underneath it!

I never knew much about Western Maryland Railway, except for seeing that name labeling maps throughout Carroll, Frederick, and other counties in Maryland. As I was leaving, I got to get up close and personal to Western Maryland No.81, a BL-2 with a slug unit coupled to it.


Then there were the unusual sights, like maintenance of way equipment (my favorite flavor of rail stuff). The old B&O wooden snow plow looked worse for the wear, but it is still impressive when you imagine that huge blade throwing deep snows off the tracks back in the mountains of West Virginia and Pennsylvania in January and February.

The thing that really caught my attention was a tunnel clearance car reminiscent of the Shadow ships from the sci-fi television show Babylon 5. It was built by the B&O shops. The metal fingers are manually rotated out to an extended position, then the car is shoved through the tunnel. When it clears the other side they can look at the displacement of each finger to measure the clearance of the tunnel. Locomotives and cars were getting bigger and bigger long after the tunnels were built, but the holes through the mountains stayed the same size. They needed to know what they were getting into before they got into it and this tunnel clearance car told them what they needed to know.

I didn't have enough film to capture everything that I wanted to, but my memories will live with me forever. If you ever have the chance to stop by the B&O museum, DO IT! You won't regret it, even if it isn't an "All Aboard Days" weekend.

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