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2002 Bike Through History


June 19 at the Mason-Dixon Line north of Freeland


July 3 at Sparks


July 10 at Monkton

Articles about the Bike Through History program in 2002 appearing in the Bull Sheet


Feature included in the issue of July 2002:

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

The Northern Central Railroad Trail is my very favorite biking and hiking haunt. Since the earliest days of its existence, I have faithfully nurtured its presence with frequent pilgrimages along its entire length. The pages of this publication from as far back as 1986 will attest to my love for this local treasure. So it would be almost a non-event to report on yet another adventure upon the trail... except that (for me) this particular episode was sort of a first.

The date was Wednesday, June 19, 2002, and the event was an evening park-sponsored bike ride (called "Bike Through History") north from Freeland, Maryland, into Pennsylvania. The program is not new. Organized bike trips have been in the offing for a number of years - they had simply not found their way into my particular schedule. But now retired (a great advantage) I decided to partake of this feature to see if I could learn anything new (I did) and to share in communal fellowship with others who hold dear the virtues of biking as a source of adventure. No preregistration was required (but it was suggested that I call ahead to make sure, if the weather was iffy), and I simply presented myself (and bike) at the designated assembly point for the ride. It was now 6 P.M.; the event would take about two and one-half hours from the time we departed.

Brenda, a naturalist for the Gunpowder Falls State Park, met us at the Freeland parking area. Following introductions, she dutifully checked everyone's tires for proper inflation. (An under-inflated tire can make biking mighty rough.) My tires were OK, but some of the others needed air, which was provided. She then asked everyone if they had a couple of dollars for Italian Ice, to be purchased at our northern destination if desired. Then she gave a brief history lesson on the Northern Central.

Yes, the weather was a little "iffy" that day. The distant sounds of thunder could be heard from the direction we would be going - but they abated as quickly as they appeared, and the skies were mostly clear by the time we were set to leave.

Brenda told us that our first stop would be at the Mason-Dixon Line, an uphill ride of about 12 minutes, and off we went with a group (at that point) of 15 participants (but three had decided to leave earlier, to get a head start). Not everyone kept the same pace, but all 15 of us arrived at the first stop within a of couple minutes of the others. It was here that Brenda gave a brief narrative on the history of the Mason-Dixon Line, complete with pictures of some of the granite stones (imported from England) that punctuate the line along its length. Most folks think of the Mason-Dixon Line as separating Maryland from Pennsylvania (which it does), but the line actually begins at the southwestern corner of Delaware to separate that state from Maryland as well.

On the trail, it is at the Mason-Dixon Line that large signs depict artwork depicting features of Maryland's and Pennsylvania's respective portions (Monkton Station and Sparks Bank Nature Center in Maryland, and New Freedom and Hanover Junction stations in Pennsylvania) along with notices of current events, etc., applying to the trail on both sides of the line. Being a perfectionist, I queried Brenda if indeed the signs are positioned on the exact location of the state line. No, they aren't. The state line is located about 50 feet north of the signs, the precise location being marked by a metal pole from the railroad days.

Our next stop, about ten minutes north of the Mason-Dixon Line, was at a location in New Freedom where there was once an interlocking tower. She had a photo of the tower, too, with proof that this was its location by the presence of houses in the background that are still there today. This had been where steam helper engines would dwell to await their next assignment. The flames from the engine's fire box would cast a flickering light against the houses near the track, and from this phenomenon the nickname "Flickerville" was coined to the neighborhood.

Coincidentally, all of the Liberty Limited Dinner Train equipment has been removed from New Freedom. All that remains now are about four cabin cars. (The Dinner Train ended service in September 2001.)

From Flickerville, we moved on (now it was downgrade) to the town of Railroad, stopping within the park setting of this quaint town adorned with historic buildings. It was here that Brenda told of historical accounts of President Lincoln's travel upon the line en route to deliver his Gettysburg Address (promising to render his speech to us later in the trip), and of the journey of his funeral train a year and a half later.

Next it was on to our final stop at Glen Rock. But to the regret of those who yearned for Italian Ice, it was learned that the eatery's machine was out of service. It seems they recently changed locations, to a spot across the street, and things were not ready to resume serving this reputed delicacy. It was here that we joined up with the three who had biked on ahead of us, and for this one-time occasion we had our full complement of 18 participants.

Following our 25-minute stop (and with some in the party having left early for the return ride) we made our way back up the grade to New Freedom. Brenda had cautioned us earlier that the grade to New Freedom (in both directions) could be a tad bit trying at times, and to this she suggested that the bikers might get solace by saying, "helper engine, helper engine," in rhythm as we pedaled. I tried it. Golly, by saying it in a certain way, it resembles the chugging of a steam engine assaulting the same grade.

The waning rays of sunlight shone against the distant clouds as we assembled on the steps of New Freedom station, and it was here that Brenda recited Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. These time-honored words had been delivered in a speech of a mere two minutes, she noted, and never before or since has such a powerful message been given. Brenda serves the Maryland park system as a naturalist, but her role that evening as historian served the program fittingly.

South of New Freedom (just beyond Flickerville), as the old rail line reached its highest elevation, the trail enters an extremely shaded area with large trees from the sides of a long cut overhanging the trail in a surrealistic, tunnel-like manner. Sunlight is greatly obscured here on the brightest of days, and at this moment, with the sun having already set, the area was dark enough to appreciate having a light. Ten minutes later, by now nearly nine o'clock, we arrived back in Freeland.

Most of the participants were "regulars" to Bike Through History, a Wednesday evening program segmenting the entire length of the trail in Maryland (plus the above portion in Pennsylvania) which will continue until August 7.

Feature included in the issue of August 2002:

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

As reported in the July issue on the thrills and camaraderie of the Northern Central Railroad Trail's Wednesday evening biking adventures, there was still more to come. Since that date (June 19) I have been a regular participant - missing but one outing (for which I had a good excuse; I was preparing for mailing the July issue of the Bull Sheet). This, then, will get things up to date on four of the adventures that followed:

July 3 was without doubt the worst of a sultry, sticky, downright miserable day for doing anything out of doors (much less biking). The temperature that day reached a high of 99 degrees in Sparks (the origin point), with unbearable humidity and a code red alert for air quality. I pondered even attending at all, but I called the park office and they said that the trip had not been canceled, so I set about to make the coming encounter as pleasant as possible. I bought some cooling pads which folks can use to relieve headaches, etc. (they were of no help at all), and an ice collar that can be cooled in the freezer ahead of time and then wrapped around the neck (it helped a little). But as things developed, a simple hand towel was all that was needed, and speedy movement along the shaded trail kept enough air circulating to make the ride refreshing in spite of the conditions.

Eleven participants met at Sparks for the trip to White Hall. But we were delayed by the presence of a video crew from Maryland Public Television who were using the occasion to tape some footage about the trail for an upcoming episode called "Outdoors Maryland." They asked us to stage our departure from Sparks by looking straight ahead (not at the camera), and then we had to wait about 10 minutes while they interviewed Brenda, our leader (twice, because they messed up the first one). You know how those TV people are; they do things on their own agenda.

Once Brenda caught back up to us (by now we were at Glencoe), she gave us some history of the place (at one time was the site of a tourist resort and is also the home of Oldfields School). A number of communities along the Northern Central line were at one time destinations for folks from the city who went there by train for rest and relaxation at hotels to escape the heat and enjoy the fresh country air. Farmers in the area sometimes rented rooms for this purpose as well.

Next we stopped at Corbett, a quiet community (much more so now than it was when it served as a local rail center) where we were welcomed by a local cat (somewhat chubby) which reputedly welcomes all who care to stop in Corbett for more than a minute. This was followed by a stop in Monkton (where I had lived ages 5-18), and Brenda gave us a lesson on the heritage of My Lady's Manor, of which Monkton is a part.

At our destination of White Hall the agenda called for a stop at a local snowball stand, but it had closed for the day. So no snowballs this time, and we returned non-stop to Sparks, arriving just before dark.

July 10 was a day more suited for biking, and there were about 20 in attendance. The event began at Monkton; we entered the 104-year-old train station (now a trail visitor center) where we were shown displays, artifacts and photos. Then it was on to White Hall, arriving before closing time at the snowball stand, and we were greeted by some geese which roam the lawn behind the stand and by some of the owners' family of kittens and a dog.

Stopping next at Parkton (once a busy railroad facility and northern terminal of the famed Parkton Local), Brenda told us some more history. She recounted a story she had heard of a local Civil War era undertaker who so proudly practiced the new art of embalming that he kept his first embalmed corpse in his house for several months - until the health department came and insisted that he make a burial. Well, that's the story, anyway.

Next we went on to our destination of Bentley Springs. This was a stop on the railroad that was created by a local resort owner who demonstrated his need for train service by building its station. The railroad complied by making it a stop, and folks from the city came here (as they did to a number of other towns along the line, as previously mentioned) to enjoy the pleasures of being in the country. We then returned non-stop to Monkton, a trip that took us about 50 minutes.

On July 17 we went from White Hall to Freeland. Brenda, as a park naturalist, was more within her realm on this particular outing (not to be too repetitive on history dialogues) as she devoted most of her initial lecture time to the habitat of the beaver. She passed around a beaver skull and a chewed-upon example of a beaver's handiwork. Later we stopped at a recently felled tree (a red oak) next to the trail not far from a dam the critters had been making. The beaver population in the area is on the increase, I'm told. Brenda explained that beavers absolutely must chew wood to keep their teeth in shape, lest their teeth will become so large that they will be unable to eat.

At Bentley Springs, Brenda explained that the sycamore tree (plentiful in the area) is actually the largest tree by volume in North America. Historically, early settlers found some sycamore trees so huge that they could carve out the trunk for use as a temporary family home while a more livable dwelling could be built. To demonstrate the circumference of a not-uncommon sycamore in the early eastern woodland, nine of us stood in a circle at arm's length to form a circumference of about 48 feet. It is told, too, that at one time a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi River without ever having to touch the ground.

On our return trip back to White Hall, non-stop and all downhill, I was having such a wonderful time enjoying the fruits of brisk travel upon the trail until a rather cataclysmic event near the end when my bike light fell off. Oops! I stopped to retrieve the pieces, and found all of the parts except for the crystal. (I've since gotten another light.)

July 24 was one of those iffy days - not too hot but with a forecast maybe of rain. I called the park office and was told that the event was still on, and I duly met ahead of time at Freeland for a repeat of the trip we had made to Glen Rock on June 19. I was met by Brenda (I being the first guest to arrive) and she gave me the disturbing news that the event had to be canceled. Oh, no! She had already gone through two storms while driving to the site from her home in Kingsville, and she had heard thunder off in the distance after she arrived in Freeland. But as others arrived, seven of us decided to go it alone, sans Brenda, although we tried to convince her to join us unofficially. So off we went, observing basically the same itinerary those of us who had attended the June 19 event remembered, I volunteering to give some of the historical input along the way. We made it to Glen Rock and back, a duration of two hours... and there was no rain.