Back Issues


Main Page

March 2003


B&O Roundhouse Roof Collapses

[Photo by Alexander D Mitchell IV]

A major portion of the roof of the historic 1884 roundhouse of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore came crashing down in the early morning hours of February 17. A record snowfall - officially 28.2 inches as recorded at BWI Airport - resulted in heavy weight, the apparent cause of the collapse. There were no injuries - nobody was inside the building at the time - but the roof fell upon a number of the displays that were housed within the roundhouse. An assessment of the damage to exhibits is ongoing, but it has been reported that two post-Civil War wooden coaches were destroyed. The damage also caused an indefinite closure of the museum. In the meantime, efforts to stabilize the roundhouse and protect its exhibits are top priorities.


CSX to Relocate its Corporate Headquarters to Jacksonville

CSX Corporation has announced the relocation of its corporate headquarters from Richmond to Jacksonville. "This decision continues CSX's strategic evolution from a multimodal transportation company to a streamlined enterprise with greater focus on our railroad," said Michael Ward, CSX chairman, president and chief executive officer. He added that it made business sense to locate the headquarters to the same city as that of its major operating unit, CSX Transportation.


CSXT to Get a New Train Dispatching System

CSXT has awarded a contract to Union Switch & Signal for the design and installation of a new train dispatching system for its transportation center in Jacksonville. The system will eventually replace the one that was installed in 1988.


CSXT Hit Hard by Snowstorms

Sixteen CSXT subdivisions were immobilized on February 17 with 168 trains stopped in their tracks following heavy Washington Birthday weekend snowstorms across the system. The worst hit area was Cumberland, Maryland, with 50 inches of snow. By February 19, all but two subdivisions were back in operation.


Congress Appropriates $1.05-Billion for Amtrak

Congress has appropriated $1.05-billion for Amtrak, $150-million less than it had requested. Amtrak says the appropriation "should be sufficient to operate the national system for the remainder of the fiscal year," which ends September 30. The appropriation was contained in a $397-billion omnibus spending bill that was passed on February 14. The money covers both operating and capital grants for the current fiscal year. As part of the legislation, repayment of a $100-million Department of Transportation loan was deferred. The money to cover losses on long-distance trains will not go directly to Amtrak, but instead to the Department of Transportation. Amtrak will then apply for grants for each specific long-distance route.


Union Pacific, CSXI Expand Intermodal Service to Mexico

Union Pacific and CSX Intermodal have announced a joint enhanced rail/truck service to Mexico from the eastern and southeastern United States. The expanded "Passport Service" will move 48-foot trailers by rail to UP's intermodal facility in Laredo, Texas, where Union Pacific Carrier Services will arrange motor carrier moves to more than 100 destinations in Mexico.


Administration Drops Rail Safety User Charge Plan

The White House has dropped its proposal for the rail sector to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in railroad safety user fees. The decision came as part of the Administration's FY-2004 budget which was unveiled February 3. "The decision represents a major victory for the rail sector," reported the Association of American Railroads. From 1991 to 1995, safety user charges were in effect and railroads paid some $159-million in fees. Congress eliminated them at the urging of the AAR and others in 1995. However, Administrations continued to propose them each year until now.


Recollections, Mentors; and Present

By Byrne Waterman . . .

[Reprinted with permission from the January 2003 issue of "News and Notes," publication of the Retired Administrators of the B&O Railroad.]

In 1827, when the B&O set out to build the railroad west from Baltimore, the goal was to meet the Ohio River within 25 years. At that time, the actual point on the river was not decided; just get there to connect-up with the Ohio River packet boats, the then "Gateway to the West." Western expansion was a popular item - land was opening up, new outlets for eastern goods, new markets for western products coming east.

The National Road, called the "Pike," had opened in 1818 and provided a 130-mile road between Cumberland and Wheeling, Virginia [now West Virginia]. While but a two-lane wagon road, it did become a 'modem nightmare' with its heavy movement of multi-team wagons, stagecoaches, horseman, pedestrians, herds and flocks of animals, traveling in both directions; congestion, yet it just about cut in half the previous 8 days travel time between those two points.

Train connection to Wheeling occurred on December 24th, 1852, at a point called Roseby's Rock, named for a local construction foreman, Roseby Carr. The story goes that the actual connection fueled a large celebration in which "quantities of spirits" were consumed. During the celebration, a local stone cutter engraved a large rock "Rosbby's Rock." Whether the party celebration actually took place or not, evidence points to the fact that the rock read 'Rosbby's Rock,' and not 'Roseby's Rock.' Years later, the spelling on the rock was corrected. With this train service, the eastern seaboard and the Atlantic Ocean were now connected to the Ohio River. The first through trains from Baltimore arrived in Wheeling, Virginia, about three weeks later.

Wheeling became a thriving industrial city. Numerous industries like steel, glass, tobacco, ceramics and tile were founded and flourished. With all of this, the B&O prospered

Benwood Yard became the switching center for the Wheeling area; trains to and from numerous origins and destinations shuttled cars through this yard for reclassification and dispatchment.

Gary W. Schlerf, in the B&ORRHS "Sentinel," 2nd Quarter, 1998, gave some interesting statistics for Benwood Yard in the year 1952. Namely: 6 receiving tracks, 10 classification tracks, utilized flat switching; had a yard capacity of approximately 750 cars with a daily car handling of 1700; numerous miscellaneous tracks for much needed capacity for interchange and the steel corporation needs; 23 stall roundhouse and machine shop supporting a daily dispatchment of approximately 78 locomotives; a daily average of 61 trains operating into and out of the yard with 19 scheduled freight trains. As in the late 1930s, Benwood was a very busy, busy place.

The actual date of my awareness of, or my acknowledgement that I had been smitten by the subject of railroads, is a dark unknown. Some time in the late 1920s, I was aware of a railroad that I could hear several times a day as its trains blew for a public road crossing. This crossing was about 2 miles from my home in the Woodsdale section of Wheeling, West Virginia. I did not realize at that time, that the whistle of each and every train was instilling in me, deeper each time I heard it, a secret desire to consider a job in railroading and that is what my life's work would eventually encompass.

I do know that at a very early age, I began to collect the public timetables of the B&O, the PRR, and the W&LE, the three railroads operating into Wheeling. The B&O was my favorite as they had numerous trains to and from Pittsburgh running over what was known as the WP&B, the Wheeling, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, or referred to as the "Pike." These were the trains that I heard blowing for the Mt. de Chantel road crossing.

In 1934, I entered high school, the school being about 1/4 mile from the B&O's Wheeling to Pittsburgh line. Trains running on this line were clearly visible from the school. While no passenger trains traversed the line during school hours, there was quite often a long freight of which I would make a record. The intervening valley would be filled with dense smoke as these coal or merchandise trains fought the slight grade. I noticed differences in power and began to seek questions about such. The father of one of my classmates was Mr. C. C. Pitcher, the Trainmaster at the B&O's Wheeling Station. I would ask her to ask her father about something that I did not understand; she would give me the answer the following day.

I remember during my freshman year we had to prepare a term paper with pictures and text on a favorite subject. I chose as my title "The History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad." I wrote to Mr. Daniel Willard, President of the B&O Railroad, Baltimore, and told him of my project and asked if there was any material the railroad could share with me to help. I not only received a nice letter from him but the Director of Public Relations, Mr. R. M. Van Sant, sent me all kinds of information, including the two volume set of Hungerford's "History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad." That whetted my thirst for even more printed material. About this time, I found on the newsstand several popular magazines containing not only fiction but locomotive rosters, train schedule information, maps, etc., and lots of photos. If there were anything on the B&O, PRR, or W&LE, I was in my glory.

Two different summers, I made a train trip to Cleveland, Ohio, on the W&LE. That line had a station adjacent to the B&O's Wheeling station, and their tracks terminated at their station. For the train to depart from Wheeling, the locomotive had to run around its train, then back out of Wheeling until it reached a wye track at Terminal Junction, Ohio. There, the locomotive would move to the head end. The last car, in the 3 or 4-car consist, was an observation car with a rear platform. Once the locomotive was on the head end, folding chairs could be set out on the platform and that is where I rode. Cinders, smoke and dirt - you got a lot for your money those days. A paradise for someone interested in trains.

I began to take photos of any and all railroad equipment that I could; locomotives being of special interest. Want ads in the magazines were scanned for pictures available of B&O power. When it was possible to pickup a 'Builder's Photo,' I was in my glory. Also, I began to buy books on American railroads; this practice lasted for many years until I had acquired a nice library.

Through two other high school friends, I heard that their father, Mr. T. J. Bloecher, was the Division Engineer of the Wheeling Division, his office also in the Wheeling Station. Through his daughters, I got to meet Mr. "B" who would invite me to his home on Sunday evenings where I would ask him many questions on various aspects of railroad operations, problems, etc. From Mr. B, I got my first Employee Timetable - it was for the Wheeling Division. This gave me an insight into railroad schedules, speed restrictions, special instructions, etc., covering many areas that were foreign to me. He reviewed for me the Operating Divisions on the B&O, where each division was located and even supplied me with a copy of the Operating Book of Rules.

About this time, Mr. B set up an appointment for me to spend a day with the Chief Mechanical Officer, the Master Mechanic, at the Benwood Yard Terminal. I went early and followed that man around all day - was thrilled to death, seeing the workings of this large roundhouse, how steam engines would come in from the road, or from the Wheeling station, 5 miles north of the yard - go across the cinder track, how the grates were dumped and checked, watched as a man would crawl into a semi-hot fire box to check for flues that might be leaking; followed the overall inspection of a locomotive to determine if possible repairs might be needed; accompanied a hostler spotting a loco under the coal tipple and the penstock; and placing the outbound engine on the 'ready track.' Witnessed the installation of a new 'tire' as it was fitted onto a driving wheel-a dirty, hot and messy job. I remember asking the MM about the possibility of becoming an apprentice machinist in his roundhouse, but was informed that, when an opening did occur, preference usually went to a son of an employee working there.

I learned that Wheeling was a 'Hub' for the various divisions coming together at this point - Pittsburgh Division, Wheeling Division, Grafton Division, and Columbus or Newark Division. Each division had its own particular locomotive power assigned and those engines moved in and out of this terminal on trains designated to stations on those divisions. I believe it was then that I was told that just about every passenger train into and out of the Wheeling passenger station had an engine change at the station. A train from Pittsburgh would have its power cut off after arriving and another engine attached - one assigned to the division that contained the train's destination. Weight limitations of bridges partially determined the size of power. Here again, Mr. B explained to me the subject of Bridge Ratings and how they varied over the various divisions. That was why the 'ready track' at Benwood Terminal contained such a variety of power.

Benwood Yard itself was a very busy terminal. Long coal trains would come in from the south - the West Virginia coal fields, heading for the lakes; long tank car trains would arrive from the down-river chemical factories; Columbus and Cincinnati trains of box cars loaded with miscellaneous merchandise traffic would be dumped into the yard to be switched; trains from Pittsburgh contained steel products of all forms to be integrated to outbound traffic from this point, meshed in with the empty coal hoppers returning from the lakes; this was a busy, busy place.

Immediately adjacent to the Benwood Yard was the Benwood works of the Wheeling Steel Corp. where the principal product was pipe. Carloads of pipe came out of that facility every day; every train leaving Benwood yard carried some.

Switching of Benwood Yard was a 24-hour operation. My request to tour the yard operation was declined based on the safety factor. In fact, when I tried to return to some of the yard areas at a later date to photograph some of the locomotives, I was stopped, asked to leave and told "not to come back."

My desire to learn more about railroad operation centered more on the station area. There were four station tracks, from a double track system from the Benwood Yard area with a single track leaving for Pittsburgh. All track movements were handled by an interlocking tower, 'WR,' located in the station track area. I started to spend as much time as I could on the station platform which was easily accessible from one of the city's streets on the east end of the station. In fact, the main track from Wheeling in an easterly direction, to Pittsburgh, ran right up the center of 17th street. When the B&O police began to notice I was on the station platform quite a bit, trying to take pictures, I was again asked to leave and advised not to come back or I would be arrested for trespassing. As stated before, all passenger trains had their power swapped, so I retreated to curb side on 17th street and observed the cut offs and hook ups. There, I was on city property and could not be asked to leave. Got to know a few of the carmen, "car knockers," and they, while waiting for a train to arrive, would chat, answering my seemingly unending barrage of questions. So often, the switching of the station tracks would occur directly in front of my curb side perch - just plain loved it!

Seventeenth Street was only about 8 or 10 blocks long. At the extreme end of the street the railroad right of way took off on its own. At this location was a track-side signal which puzzled me until one of my friends explained its meaning and referred me to the signal section in the Book of Rules. That signal, so it was explained, was actually controlled from a machine located in Washington, Pennsylvania, about 32 miles north and the system was called CTC, Centralized Traffic Control. This signal was the first signal on the Pittsburgh Division. While the switching of the Wheeling station tracks would occur, that signal would display two horizontal red indications. When a train was scheduled to leave Wheeling for Pittsburgh - that signal switched to two vertical green lights with a white light overhead - I would be in my glory, the adrenaline flowed! I could not get enough information about the B&O.

Mr. Bloecher would call me if any problems or derailments occurred in or close to Wheeling. One time he told me about the derailment of a large Mallet engine on the Pittsburgh line. I got a friend to take me there. Seeing one of these big boys on its side - Wow.

The PRR had a single line into Wheeling along the river, coming directly from the north and Pittsburgh. There was one passenger train, several cars and a Pullman, arriving every morning. About 4:30 PM, that train departed Wheeling for Pittsburgh with the sleeping car for New York. Often, I would try to meet the morning train as I became good friends with the regular Fireman. One day, I asked to see the cab of his locomotive, a 'K-4.' Ended up riding it to PRR's turntable and small roundhouse in Benwood. This friend shared with me a copy of a PRR Employees Timetable, other railroad material and a PRR trainman's lantern. However, it was the B&O that really held my interest. Adjacent to the B&O's station was a small yard, called Hempfield Yard. Here, for the first time, I saw box cars that were being used to handle new automobiles. These cars had either 'end doors' or extra wide side doors and the interior included a device called an "Evans Auto Loader." I think that each car could carry three automobiles. It was interesting to see the local auto dealer's personnel unload these autos. The yard itself had ramp platforms to accommodate the unloading of numerous gondolas and flat cars.

Passenger trains fascinated me the most. At home, I had a schedule of all passenger trains on the Wheeling-Pittsburgh line hung on my wall with the approximate times they should be blowing for the Mt. de Chantel grade crossing. I do remember several times, while I would be studying and not remembering if I had heard a certain train or not. I would call the Station Master at the Wheeling station and ask if such a train had departed or arrived on time. After several such calls, I was dubbed a "train nut" and told that I should not call any more.

The activities at the station were very busy at certain times of the day. A train might arrive from Pittsburgh - its power cut-off - a new locomotive would be attached so that train could continue on when ready. Often immediately adjacent was another train, awaiting for possible connecting passengers; its destination different. Soon, the two trains would depart for their respective cities.

In intermediate times, passenger cars would be brought to or taken from the station for servicing at the Passenger Car Yard, several miles away. That yard was adjacent to a city street so I could observe activities without "trespassing."

Wheeling Station itself was a beautiful three-storied brick and stone building, built about 1908 or 1909. Division offices occupied the upper two floors. My friend, Mr. Bloecher, and the Division Engineer's office were on the second floor. Since the building had stairs at each end of the building, I visited often. The Chief Clerk, a Mr. Perry, had two daughters in my high school, so I was warmly greeted each time I stopped by. I believe I always had several questions to ask; always got answers.

Passengers entered the station on the ground level into a large waiting room with a very high ceiling. In one corner was the Station Master's Office, the occupant always visible in his smart dark uniform and proper formal cap with the words "STATION MASTER" boldly displayed above the bill. As a train was announced, his presence was at or close to the door leading to the short aisle directly beyond the station proper that ran beneath the four-track viaduct with the large iron gates leading up to the track level. All passengers had to climb up steps to catch their trains. A Gate Man would be on hand to direct passengers; particularly when two trains would be departing within minutes of each other.

As mentioned before, Wheeling was quite a hub for the B&O. In the late 1930s, the passenger station had 24 arrivals and departures each day including 8 terminations and originations. Trains moved between Wheeling and Pittsburgh; between Wheeling and Parkersburg and Huntington; Grafton; Cleveland; Columbus and Cincinnati; Newark, Willard and Chicago. There were night sleeping cars from Wheeling for Washington, Chicago, Cincinnati and even Charleston (via C&O at Huntington).

Mail and Express station trucks were constantly being loaded and unloaded at the east end of the station tracks where the street provided easy access. Most trains being handled at this station had both mail and express cars in their consist.

For the last year of the 30s and the first year of the 40s, I was working for the Wheeling Steel Corp. as a traveling auditor. My office was on the south side of the 13th floor of the tallest building in town with an unobstructed view of the Wheeling station, 6 blocks away, and the tracks leading to the station from the west and Benwood Junction. Since all trains en route to Pittsburgh had to travel through the station, I continued my early habit of recording all train movements when I was in town. When auditing books at the Wheeling Steel's Benwood Works operation, I would work in a building adjacent to the main track between Benwood Jct. and Wheeling station where I was fully aware of all traffic between those two points.

Then came 1941-42: L. Byrne Waterman became Lyman B.-private, U. S. Army. I was drafted, going first to Clarksburg, West Virginia (over the B&O's old main line), for the pre-induction physical; then later, from Wheeling to Cincinnati (via Columbus). So my closeness with B&O and Wheeling came to an end.

Unfortunately, so many of my B&O collectables, timetables, lanterns, flags, books and much printed materials, etc., were given away by my family in my absence. They thought, I guess, that I would have other thoughts and interests when I returned.

Of course - in 1950, I entered the service of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a graduate Civil Engineer and retired in 1981 - 31 years later.

Epilogue . . .

In September, 2002, I heard about an up-coming meeting scheduled in Wheeling to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the B&O RR entering that city in 1852. I remembered the 100th anniversary of such an event; the railroad in Wheeling was still very active at that time. I knew that since then there had been some downgrading. What was there now? I had to go.

West Virginia Northern Community College, with its main campus in the former B&O passenger station, was one of the sponsors of the two-day 150th Anniversary Celebration. At the initial reception, the college, in the former waiting room of the passenger station, hosted an exhibit of artifacts and photographs from the college Alumni's B&O collection as well as a post card collection from a private source. A local railroad historian provided a slide presentation, outlining a short version of the events leading up to and the completion of the rail connection, December 1852.

On the following day, John Hankey, formerly of the B&ORR Museum, gave a short talk on the anniversary - what it meant, asking the question, "Why celebrate 150 years. What place did the B&O have in American history?" One of the big assets of this new rail connection was the elimination of the difficulty of getting from the seacoast to the Ohio River. Traffic over the National Road could only move at the rate of 4 to 6 mph. People lived very frugally; had few luxuries; worked primarily for survival. Now people started to look beyond their own property lines. People in the east began to think that other parts of the country were a part of the same country. The whole concept of travel changed - Wheeling to Baltimore - "Overnight." Amazing! The railroad opened this giant "can of worms" - offered many solutions as well as problems. The railroad became a "tool" opening up the plains, the prairies, areas totally unknown; removed restrictions for travel. Within a little more than a decade, Federal troops were being sent by rail from the east coast into Wheeling; loaded on riverboats and sent south to southern areas of conflict.

One of the anticipated highlights of this anniversary celebration was a scheduled bus tour to places that were important to the railroad in its early days. The tour went out to the area of Roseby's Rock. Recent rains had flooded the creek so actual driving to the rock itself was not possible but the rock could be seen from the road. The tour returned to the point where the Old Main Line tied in with the Ohio River Branch near Moundsville. While the switch and tracks had been removed, the old right-of-way was clearly defined, evidence of the point where the Ohio River had been initially reached. Within a few miles north was the beginning of the once flourishing Benwood Junction Yard.

Today, there are but a couple of tracks, only for receiving long trains, principally coal from southern West Virginia, where CSXT power is cut off and power of the W&LE takes over for movement to the lakes. W&LE has purchased the Benwood-Bellaire railroad bridge as all CSXT (B&O) train movements in this area have ceased.

Benwood Yard no longer has any engine facilities, car facilities, or a coal tipple. All yard offices are gone except a small concrete block yard office handling radio and communication equipment. The rest of this once thriving yard area is covered with weeds, brush and small trees. Nothing exists; even the Wheeling Steel Corp. furnaces, rolling mill and its steel making facilities are gone. Benwood has apparently become strictly an interchange facility for lake coal and the return point of empty hoppers for southern West Virginia. No through trains from Newark and Columbus - the line abandoned; no service even into Wheeling proper or on to Pittsburgh as these lines have been abandoned and dismantled. The only rail connection is south to the river line to New Martinsville and beyond to Huntington or to the Short Line via Brooklyn Junction.

Wheeling's passenger business ceased in June, 1961. The passenger station was closed in October, 1961. In 1976, the property was purchased for the West Virginia Northern Community College. The adjoining track area and overhead viaduct supporting the station tracks were removed in the latter part of 1980.

In walking around the outside of the station, I found it very sad. The entire viaduct and elevated tracks of the former station were all gone. A short drive up 17th street - the street once containing the main line tracks to Pittsburgh - brought back fond memories. The tracks in the street were gone; the signal tower that once stood at the end of the street and provided train protection to eastbound trains to the Pittsburgh Division was no longer there.

Within the former station, the college has made some very interesting changes. In the former waiting room area with its high ceiling, two floors have been added providing additional classrooms and labs. The interior of the building had been painted and is warm and inviting. The area immediately adjacent to the front of the building has been changed into a nice park plaza. Years ago, there was a row of buildings that faced 16th Street, one building being the city's central bus station. That row of structures is now gone. A fine improvement.

Perhaps the saddest part of my anniversary attendance was that I saw only two references to the name "THE BALTIMORE & OHIO RAILROAD COMPANY." One place was on a bronze building plate immediately adjacent to the front door of the college and, if one looked carefully, the second was in the chiseled cap stone above the central doorway.

Thoughts traveled back to the many friends who aided, encouraged and supported me before and during my association with the railroad. The one man who really did so much and stood out more than anyone else was Mr. T. J. Bloecher. His friends called him Ted or Teddy, but he was always Mr. Bloecher to me. His almost weekly Sunday evening sessions, in my younger days in Wheeling, kept alive, at first, the challenges of a Civil Engineering career. The satisfaction of accomplishment, a reflection on his own personal life in which he attended night school for ten years to acquire his Engineering Degree while working for the Erie Railroad in New York City, along with the thoughts of working in engineering were the thoughts of relating that line of work to a railroad career. Yes, he instilled in me the "engineering bug"; then slowly nurtured the thought of changing a very enjoyable hobby into a life-long profession.

In 1950, after I had received my degree in Civil Engineering, it was Mr. Bloecher, still employed by the B&O but now in Baltimore, who again became a mentor, adviser, counselor and still the perfect gentleman. Our then every-so-often chats, advice when asked, provided a great guide with a mature approach, based on his many years of dedicated service to his railroad. In my book, he was a great man, a sincere friend and to whom I owe so much. While he is no longer with us, I will never forget him for all he did for me.

In thinking back to those early days in Wheeling in the 1930s and then, years later, after my 31-year service career with this great company, I found that that old passion, those old interests, those old desires that were instilled in me some 70 plus years before, have not gone away. They are still there; but my old railroad in Wheeling is gone.