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December 2004

B&O Museum Reopens

[By Allen Brougham]

The B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore reopened to the public on November 13 following a 21-month reconstruction project resulting from the collapse of its roundhouse roof in February 2003. Over 6,000 visitors filed through the museum on its first day.

I missed the first day, as I had to work (PTI duties), but I did attend the following day. Also, I had gotten a sneak preview three days prior to the opening at a gala reception that was held for members in the roundhouse.

For me, it was quite an emotional event to look up upon the awesome ceiling as I entered the roundhouse for the first time. I'm sure I share with others a greater sense of appreciation for this monumental treasure than I ever had before.

During Presidents' Day 2003, a record snowstorm - officially 28.2 inches as recorded at BWI Airport - swept through Maryland dumping a tremendous amount of heavy snow upon the roof of the roundhouse. What resulted was a partial collapse of the roof, damaging some of the railroad locomotives and artifacts. Nobody was in the building at the time. The collapse caused the museum to close to the public. It also caused the cancellation of the Fair of the Iron Horse Festival of Trains that was scheduled for that summer to commemorate the 175th anniversary of American railroading.

The museum staff, along with teams of architects, engineers and construction crews, worked diligently following the collapse to rebuild, restore and reopen the facility. By September of last year, structural engineers discovered that the clerestory upper roof - which had not collapsed - did not have the structural integrity to meet building code standards, and it was decided to replace that portion of the roof as well. This added about six months to the reconstruction effort.

As work to replace the roof was ongoing, some other changes were being made as well. With an eye to making everything more accessible to the public - particularly to the physically challenged - the entire first floor of the Mount Clare Station and Annex buildings was reconfigured. No longer will there be separate entries for the disabled - everyone is accommodated the same way. There is now a new entrance door, lobby and orientation center. Visitors then pass through a 'tunnel' (no imagination is needed here - it has the look and feel of a railroad tunnel), where they emerge into a room replete with displays from which they may head in any of three directions. They may continue to the left to the exhibit area of models and (one of my favorites) the room full of railroad clocks. To the right is the gift shop, somewhat larger than it was before. These features may be visited at will - the tunnel also serves as the exit - and entry into the roundhouse itself is the same as it was before.

Most of the exhibits that were in the roundhouse when the roof collapsed are still on display. Some of the exhibits still show the damage that resulted - these are displayed within glassed-in enclosures with signage describing the damage and the estimated cost of restoration. Indeed, it is fitting that these artifacts are displayed - rather than removed from view - as the damage inflicted is now very much a part of their history.

The outside area is a very special treat. In the Activity Yard between the roundhouse and the pavilion is the museum's G-scale train layout. It runs in the rain, too, I am told. As for the HO-scale layout, it is now situated in one of the passenger cars. What fun it must have been to put all this together! The layout models scenes in and around Baltimore - with a little bit of imagination needed. Visitors enter at one end of the car (from a high-level platform) and exit at the other; the display is behind glass to give everyone a close-up look.

But the biggest attraction is the train ride. Two MARC coaches along with round-end observation car number 1 were in use on this particular Sunday. Conductor Owen Stedding put his lungs to the test with a most resounding 'All Aboard' to the delight of the 115 (by my count) passengers who attended the trip I joined. The train reverses from the complex along the 'First Mile' to a point just shy of the historic Carrollton Viaduct, and then heads back, for a ride altogether of about 20 minutes. I would estimate that about half of the folks on board (mostly the kids) were probably riding a train for their very first time. Daily train rides are being offered in December, weekends only in January, and none at all in February and March.

Back in the roundhouse, Chief Curator Ed Williams gave a slide presentation on the roof collapse and the reconstruction effort that followed. As calamitous as the roof collapse was, it could have been a lot worse, he explained. In fact, there might not have even been a museum left at all save for some quick thinking and a heroic effort by Steve Johnson, the building manager, who was the first staff member to respond to the complex following the initial collapse. It seems that the water, gas and electrical lines got severed in the process, and the potential of an explosion from leaking gas could - in a worst case scenario - have taken six city blocks along with it. In spite of imminent danger, and encouragement that he immediately leave the scene, he took the time to go to the boiler room to turn off the affected lines. Steve Johnson was the hero of the day, and countless thousands will have him to thank for saving the museum, its collection, and possibly even the neighborhood as well.

It may very well be said that the collapse of the roundhouse roof did offer some unique challenges, and these resulted in things being even better than they were before. Disasters do have a way of offering silver linings! But the best is yet to come...

Memorial Day weekend 2005 is slated to be the museum's GRAND Reopening. At that time it will unveil more than 50,000 square feet of additional exhibit space. Included will be a new restoration facility, a new living history center, a new family activity area, a new 'Roads to Rails' exhibit, and the opening of the North Passenger Car Shop. And along the way newly restored equipment will be offered for display.

Things are really looking up at the B&O Railroad Museum. It is truly a world-class facility.

The museum is open weekdays from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M., Saturdays from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., and Sundays from 12 noon to 5 P.M. It is closed on major holidays, and hours may vary seasonally. In the event of inclement weather, call 410-752-2490.


Remembering J. J. Young

[By Allen Brougham]

I was saddened within the past couple of days to learn of the passing of noted rail photographer J.J. Young. He was surely a legend in his time - a true connoisseur of the art. He died at his home in Charleston, West Virginia, on November 27 at the age of 76.

It was in Binghamton, New York, that I and a couple of my railfanning buddies first had the honor of meeting J.J. Young. But interestingly, none of us knew at the time who he really was. It's not that none of us knew of the name - it's just that we did not make the connection when he introduced himself simply as John Young. It is, after all, not an uncommon name.

Here is what happened: The three of us (the others were Mike Welsh and Vince Hammel) had left from Baltimore early in the morning of March 31, 1983. We intended to spend some time in Scranton and Binghamton. We may have stopped in Scranton - this I do not remember, although we did stop there on other visits to the area later on - but it was Binghamton that became so permanently etched in my mind on this occasion.

None of us had railfanned in Binghamton before, but instinctively we followed the D&H line running east of the city, stopping at a grade crossing which appeared to be a good place to set up. It must have been a good place, as in short order a car drove up, and out stepped two gents who offered to make the rest of the day's adventure a huge success. "Just follow us," we were told, and after a particular eastbounder had passed, we were led on one of the most exacting and thrilling chases we had ever experienced.

Indeed, in hurriedly negotiating a number of the back roads, we were afforded the ability to leapfrog the train to a number of locations, often arriving just in the nick of time to hurry from our cars to get our shots, as the train made its graceful ascent of Belden Hill. That train, as I recall, had an extremely colorful assortment of neat looking power, something these gents knew would offer the greatest photographic yield (to us and to them) as could be available anywhere in the area at that particular time. It was very, very productive!

The coincidental meeting of these fellows was fortuitous, to say the least, as they even offered to accompany us in the two days of our visit that followed. So John Young and Elwood Belknap became our personal tour guides. Elwood, as I recall, was a rather quiet person. He was the one who did the driving whenever we followed behind them in our car from one place to the next, or on a chase. He really knew the roads and how to make the best time when such was of the essence. John did most of the talking when we were all together, doing so in a loud and resounding voice as though he were a natural born tour leader. While he did tell us that he taught photography at a college in Binghamton, he did not tell us of his legendary talents so widely presented in books and magazines beginning in the 1940's of the B&O - particularly the EM-1 locomotives - and other lines. Indeed, we were in the presence of a distinguished master, and we didn't know it. To us, he and Elwood were just a couple of fellow railfans we happened to meet along the way.

We planned a second trip to Binghamton for January 1984. We even called John to see if he would be interested in joining up with us - which he and Elwood did. In the meantime, Mike Welsh had done some pondering: Was it simply coincidence, or might John Young and J.J. Young be one and the same? I was with Mike when we called John upon our arrival in Binghamton. Mike asked him, in a subtle sort of way, if John had ever had experienced the thrill of photographing B&O EM-1's. Yes he had, and lots of them. And yes, he admitted, he did use the name of J.J. Young professionally.

I've since met a number of others who have had the honor of knowing J.J. Young. Many met him in the same way as we. A true gentleman, always gracious and helpful to others, and humble enough to be simply one of the gang!

J.J. Young, second from left, while three of us from Baltimore were on a railfanning mission in Binghamton, New York, April 1983. Others in the photo are Elwood Belknap, Vince Hammel and Mike Welsh. I took the photo.


STB Approves Lease of CSX Line in Virginia to Buckingham Branch

The Surface Transportation Board has approved the lease by the Buckingham Branch Railroad of CSXT's Piedmont, Washington and North Mountain subdivisions in Virginia. Buckingham Branch plans to implement operations by December 20, according to news reports. Amtrak's Cardinal uses the portion of the line between Orange and Clifton Forge.


Restoration Begins on Seattle's King Street Station

Restoration has begun on Seattle's King Street Station. According to the National Association of Railroad Passengers, non-historic features of the ceiling and ticket counters will be removed and replaced with more historically-accurate fixtures. Completion is slated for summer of 2005.


Florida Voters Defeat High-Speed Rail Proposal

Florida voters have defeated a $2.3-billion proposal to build a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa. The network was eventually planned to connect with Miami.


Amtrak Over-the-Road Train Performance

How the host carriers compare - November 2004

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

The survey was conducted using randomly selected examples from each of the host carriers between November 1 and November 26. It is offered as a guide to how the host carriers compare with the others.

The figures (minutes of delay per 1,000 train miles) for the seven major host carriers in November were as follows: