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[This article was published in the May 2003 issue of the Bull Sheet]

A Ma & Pa Pilgrimage

By Allen Brougham


It was 15 years ago when rail historian Stewart Rhine organized an impromptu gathering of fellow enthusiasts to commemorate the anniversary of the end of an era. June 11, 1988, marked the precise date that Maryland & Pennsylvania "Extra-82" had set out 30 years earlier as the final run of operations from Baltimore on one of the nation's most unique shortlines. Stewart's 1951 Chevy led the way for a pilgrimage to Ma & Pa sites, using public roads as close as possible to the route of the twisting former right-of-way. I joined the group, too, but had to leave to go to work at mid-day. (See "A Sentimental Journey," Bull Sheet, July 1988.) The event was repeated five years later - this time with a gathering of 22 folks, more than five times the attendance of the earlier event - with Stewart's 1951 Chevy once again leading the way. (See "A Sentimental Journey," Bull Sheet, July 1993.) But again I had to split from the group at mid-day, this time to attend a wedding. In five more years the event was again repeated. But, oops, I was out of town that time (Amtraking), so I missed it altogether. Still, the plan was to stage the pilgrimage in five-year intervals. So I marked my 2003 calendar accordingly.

But a few things changed in the interim. For starters, Stewart no longer has the 1951 Chevy. Oh, it had served him well - even landing him and his car roles in a couple of movies - but he sold it a while back. Also, though 2003 does mark the immediate next five-year interval (or 45th anniversary), the pilgrimage has now developed into a semi-annual spring and fall event. Moreover, since June brings with it more of an abundance of foliage and underbrush along the parts of the right-of-way to be explored (not to mention the presence of snakes), it was decided to stage the spring event earlier than it had been in the past. No complaints here!

Such as it was on Sunday, April 13, as nine hardy folks assembled near the Pennsylvania state line for yet another "Sentimental Journey." Actually, it was the second day of a two-day event. While I was indisposed the day before (working my part-time job), I had covered much of that day's territory on the previous outings, and by attending just the Sunday portion I more or less picked up where I had left off. The other participants, all of whom had attended the Saturday event from as far away as Scotland, along with eight others, included Stewart, Greta Hittle, Greg Halpin, Rudy Fischer, Nanette Ferreri, Paul Kulishek, Norman Des and Joe Bower.

In two cars we departed, Stewart, Nanette and I in Greg's car - the rest in the lead car. The cars kept two-way radio contact with each other; Greg's GPS unit coming in handy in the process. Still, we made a wrong turn, eventually doubling back to our first stop - Minefield. The place got its name, not from a military purpose, but from a surface ore deposit. It once had a "carpenter gothic" waiting shelter, its site being pointed out from old photos of it adjacent to the still-extant grade.

Next we made our way to the village of Street. Here, from a lofty vantage point we could clearly see the former right-of-way as it had snaked its way from the south, but a rather deep cut in the village itself had been filled in to eliminate an overpass and, evidently, to shore up the bank behind a local car dealership. Just north of this point is the former general store, now a residence, but the station is no longer there.

Our next stop was Pylesville with a bridge abutment to a former girder bridge still clearly visible, and a fill just south of the of the abutment which we walked for about 300 feet upon a path of cinder ballast appearing almost as fresh as the day the rails were removed. Just north of this point we stopped once again, there being met in short order by a property owner attracted by our presence. He obligingly showed us the site of a creamery foundation along with some insights into the area's history he had researched in recent years. There had been talk of converting that portion of the right-of-way into a trail, he said (which he was not opposed to), but he added that the idea had been dropped due to the amount of incursion onto the line and the difficulty in creating alternate routes around them. This could change some day, but not for now.

Then it was on to Whiteford, stopping first at the old Staso spur south of town, site of a former mill which had been the southernmost point served by the Ma & Pa after the line was abandoned between there and Baltimore (it then being served to this point south from York). The spur had been in use until about 1965, according to Stewart, but rail was in place until as recently as 1988. In Whiteford itself, we paid a visit to the Whiteford station, a frame structure still standing that had been repainted by the Boy Scouts in 1980 and adorned with a sign that had been previously displayed at the station at Fallston (and repainted with the name of Whiteford).

Following a break for lunch, it was on to Cardiff, the northernmost location of the Ma & Pa in Maryland, parking upon the precise site of the right-of-way adjacent to the now-abandoned and flooded green marble Electric Quarry. From an industrial architectural point of view, the highlight of this stop was the quarry's massive, rusting boom crane supported by eight huge cables extending in all directions. This was a real treat!

Next we went to Delta, just north of the state line, the junction point of the original Maryland Central's Slate Hill branch. We parked next to the site of the old Delta station (destroyed by fire in 1969), and we hiked from here a short distance through a cut along the old Ma & Pa right-of-way to the Wye Trestle, one of only two major Ma & Pa wooden trestles still standing today. Crossing Scott Creek with two girder spans, Wye Trestle was quite visible through the still-mostly-barren trees. We spent the better part of an hour exploring the trestle from all directions. Actually there had once been two trestles at this location - consequently its name - with the two forming a wye to access both the line to York to the north, the Slate Hill branch to the east, and the line to Baltimore to the south. Abutments to the east leg remain, but only the trestle of the west (or south) leg remained in later years.

We then returned to our cars and made a pit stop in town at an eatery with a plaque saying, "On this site in 1897 nothing happened." This was followed by a visit to the site of a former turntable in the east part of town across a narrow street from a tiny slate building that had at one time been the town's jail. Next we went to Broad Street where a station (now a house) once served passengers at the junction of the Peach Bottom Railway and the Maryland Central. In fact, the house has a sign on its south side reading, "Peach Bottom Railway Company 1868," but the sign is probably not original.

Heading east adjacent to the former line to Peach Bottom (still showing as a railroad on Greg's GPS unit), we stopped at the site of the former Funkhouser Quarry. Silos and stacks remain at the site, and just over the hill the old quarry, now flooded by deep green-colored water with a backdrop of graffiti-painted rocks rising high above.

Our final stop was the "concrete bridge," a structure built in the final years of the Ma & Pa to access for purpose of construction the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant. While here, a couple of locals stopped by to ask what we were doing. Satisfied with our response that we were exploring the old right-of-way for historical research, they left. But they were being "vigilant."

The pilgrimage ended about eight hours after we had begun. It was a fun and eventful day!