Remembering the Parkton Local
By Frank A. Wrabel
[Published in the June 2004 issue of the Bull Sheet]
The Parkton Local . . . the name is not easily recognized today by the joggers and cyclists who ply this former rail roadbed in northern Baltimore County or the Light Rail commuters who read the morning newspaper on the way to work between Hunt Valley and Baltimore City. This was not the case 40 years ago when the Pennsylvania Railroad discontinued Baltimore's most famous commuter train. For nearly 100 years the PRR and its predecessor, the Northern Central Railway, served Baltimore and Baltimore County with reliable and economical rail service. In contemporary America, few commuters have warm feelings about the public transportation they use daily. But at one time, quality rail commuter service was a prerequisite for fashionable real estate development and an integral part of the good life in the suburbs that was a goal for aspiring middle and upper middle class families. The saying along several of the popular routes was, "No matter what side of the tracks you live on, they are the RIGHT side" and the Parkton Local service, on the former Northern Central Railway, was in this class. Although to some the name represented a single train, the Parkton Local actually referred to a series of commuter trains. The closest one of these trains came to actually receiving an individual name was the nickname "Ruxton Rocket" that circulated briefly in the twilight of the service. Outrage and sorrow were the emotions of the day, June 27, 1959, when motor car No. 4666 operating as the Parkton Local called on stops like Mt. Washington, Ruxton, Riderwood and Lutherville for the last time.
For Baltimoreans, this outpouring of affection for a Pennsylvania Railroad train was out of character. In Baltimore, the "Birthplace of American Railroading," business leaders favored the matronly Baltimore & Ohio. More importantly, both the PRR and the B&O aggressively competed for the many of the same routes. Proud Marylanders took offense at the way the PRR entered the city and then continued to out maneuver the B&O on most fronts. To actively rally around the "outsider" was unthinkable. But the Parkton Local service was special. There was no competition, until automobiles and buses, to serve these passengers and this service reached some of Baltimore's most beautiful suburban communities. Residents of some of the more affluent towns along the line were also the "power elite" of Baltimore's business sector. And when times were flush, the astute PRR lavished significant sums of money on the stations, right of way and equipment making this service reliable and distinctive. In short, it was important to have these individuals as friends to increase traffic, help with financing or pass critical legislation irrespective of minimal profits, in good years, or deficits toward the end.
The route's rich history, including its later-day Philadelphia based management, played an important role in the fabric of the area. Baltimoreans were and are history conscious and the Northern Central Railway offered a rich, if sometimes traumatic, heritage. In this instance, Baltimore's historical orientation was well placed. The Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad, the predecessor of the Northern Central Railway, was one of the country's earliest railroads. This Baltimore based line was chartered less than one year after the B&O to satisfy Baltimore's ambition of tapping traffic from central Pennsylvania that was being routed to Philadelphia. Additionally, the B & S offered commercial promise to York, PA, which felt isolated from main transportation routes within the Commonwealth. The line's northward push was characterized by legal battles and struggles with new technology, producing several operating identities to fulfill its goal of reaching the Susquehanna River at Wrightsville, PA, in 1838. In 1854 the B&S merged with affiliates to form the Northern Central Railway. The potential of this unified rail route that extended from Baltimore northward to Harrisburg and Sunbury did not escape the attention of John Edgar Thompson of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Under Thompson's leadership, the PRR was building a network of strategic routes that would eventually dominate eastern railroading. In 1860 Thompson began to purchase large blocks of NCR stock that were eventually transferred to the PRR corporate account. The hostilities of the Civil War prevented the PRR from making any significant improvements to their newly acquired property, but by 1868 the men from Philadelphia began to double track the mainline and replace or add passenger and freight stations along the route. NCR's hodgepodge of ancient locomotives and cars were gradually replaced with standard and efficient PRR products from the Altoona Shops. By the 1870s, the unreliable nature of the former NCR service and scruffy appearance of its physical plant gave way to an efficient and attractive transportation company. The mainline became a busy feeder linking Washington and Baltimore with points north and west of Harrisburg. Control of the NCR also helped the PRR expand its presence in Maryland with addition of the Baltimore & Potomac and Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad, forming an important link in what would later become the Northeast Corridor. The volume oriented PRR naturally focused on this "long haul" traffic but the local passenger service along the NCR was also significantly improved.
The PRR was proficient at developing suburban rail service. Most railroads offered some form of local passenger train, or "accommodation" from their inception. In the Victorian age, however, the PRR clearly led the way in transforming the primitive local passenger business into a reliable and often elaborate transportation experience. To make this service profitable, the PRR would buy land or join forces with local real estate companies to buy land and build fashionable residential communities along selected rail routes. In common with many of its 19th century achievements, the PRR's timing was flawless. The populace in most eastern cities wanted to escape the congestion, heat and sanitation problems that were becoming part of urban life. More importantly the industrial revolution, that PRR served so extensively, produced a new level of wealth and an entire economic class. Individuals of this class readily purchased homes in along the PRR routes that radiated from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and, to a lesser extent, Baltimore. The apex of this process occurred along the PRR "Main Line" in western Philadelphia suburbs.
The PRR was not able to duplicate that same level of economic and social impact along the NCR. The Baltimore to Harrisburg line was a strategic east-west route (east-west refers to the timetable direction as opposed to the actual north-south orientation of the route) and essential to compete with the B & O but it would never achieve the importance of the PRR mainline in western Philadelphia. Additionally, Baltimoreans did not possess the strong drive that their contemporaries in Philadelphia exhibited, to abandon urban life. More importantly, Baltimore's wealth was controlled by a smaller group of individuals and the economic boom, a product of the industrial revolution, never really matured in "The Monumental City." Most influential residents also harbored serious misgivings about out of town interests amassing large tracts of Maryland land. This ill will largely stemmed from the long-standing Baltimore and Philadelphia trade rivalry and PRR's continuing aggression toward the B&O. To diffuse this hostility, the PRR attempted to create the illusion that NCR was somewhat independent and managed locally by Marylanders. The PRR was also casual about removing NCR identification from locomotives, rolling stock and property. Admittedly, legal constraints were the primary reason for leaving the NCR name stand but this also helped to appease the critical Marylanders. In the end opposition would dissipate to a degree however, local developers would build the communities and the PRR would construct the appropriate station structures.
The PRR/NCR based its Local service on a former B&S schedule that dated from at least 1851. At that time a train operating on a "commuter" schedule originated in York, PA, each morning at 4:45 AM and arrived at Relay (later, Hollins), MD, at 7:55 AM. A train left Owings Mills, on the Green Spring Branch at 5:45 and arrived at Relay at 7:50 AM to make a connection with the train from York. The train from York was scheduled to arrive in Baltimore at 8:45 AM. In reverse, the westbound train departed from Baltimore at 4:00 PM, arrived at Relay at 4:45 PM, the Green Spring Branch train arrived at Owings Mills at 6:30 PM and as opposed to York, the mainline train terminated at Columbia, PA at 9:20 PM.
In 1859 the NCR built a turntable at Parkton, MD, 28.8 miles west of the road's Calvert Station in Baltimore. This facility was used to turn local passenger trains and later on, the helper locomotives that assisted through trains up the New Freedom Hill, between mileposts 29 and 37. Later, an out door car repair yard and a drafting office, for the track department, were added. Parkton's status as a railroad town was established and the NCR eventually employed over 100 individuals on a full or part time basis at that location. In 1903 the mainline was relocated and a "wye" for turning trains replaced the turntable. From Baltimore to Parkton, the various communities along the way offered revenue in the form of agriculture, industry, mining and quarrying. This route also traversed some of the loveliest scenery in Maryland, which lent itself to attractive residential development. The PRR continued to use Parkton as the logical termination point for the local and proceeded to upgrade the service and route between 1868 and 1870.
The PRR established three principal schedules along the NCR route: Baltimore to Parkton (28.8 miles), Baltimore to Cockeysville (14.9 miles) and Baltimore to Hollins on the mainline, continuing on the Green Spring Branch to Green Spring Junction (15.6 miles). The base terminal for this service was the former NCR Calvert Station, built in 1850, near the heart of Baltimore's commercial center. Additionally several through trains made selected local stops serving towns like Walker, Bentley Springs, Freeland and Oakland in Maryland, immediately to the west of Parkton. To make this service distinctive, the PRR rebuilt or replaced virtually all of the original B&S or NCR structures. Despite the obstacles in Maryland, the PRR attempted to exploit the potential of the beautiful countryside and recreate the suburban success it obtained in western Philadelphia. New stations were established at Mt. Washington, Ruxton, Sherwood (later Riderwood) and Lutherville. Gradually the four locations blossomed into fashionable Victorian summer communities and later, year around estates for the elite. All four of these stations featured formal gardens with flowering plants from PRR nurseries. Although the PRR failed to increase the number of these landmark communities, other new stops such as Clyburn (private estate), Brightside, and Lake were added to the timetable.
A brief sketch of selected communities provides insight to the Parkton Local market. Both Mt. Washington (1854) and Lutherville (1852) were two of the earliest planned communities in the Nation. These carefully laid out communities later served as models for Ruxton and Sherwood. Texas and Cockeysville were quarry towns although the former had at least 50 lime kilns and the latter also featured a mixture of smaller commercial enterprises. Cockeysville marble was the preferred material for Baltimore builders and is most commonly associated with Baltimore's 'white marble steps' that were part of the entrance to the majority of the City's row houses. More importantly, this marble was also used to construct the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Ashland was home to a rather extensive iron works and Phoenix featured a large cotton mill. Woodberry also featured a cotton mill along with Poole and Hunt Machine Works (1853), various manufacturing firms, and coal yard and warehouse facilities. Finally, small mining operations were established at Bare Hills (chrome and later, copper) and at Timonium (iron ore).
The Parkton Local served two distinct markets: the developing industrial and suburban region that extended from Baltimore to Cockeysville, including the Green Spring Branch, and the agricultural communities west of Cockeysville. This distinction was so pronounced that the PRR established a 'wye' for turning trains at Cockeysville to serve locals that terminated at that point. The "Cockeysville Accommodations" actually outnumbered the Parkton trains for almost 20 years. Generally, the station houses west of Cockeysville were more modest than their counterparts to the to the east. Notable exceptions could be found at Sparks and after 1903, in Parkton. The former was a modest, less ornate version of the elaborate station at Strafford, PA, on the PRR Mainline. The PRR, nevertheless, upgraded these rural stops whenever possible. And in common with the more elaborate stations closer to Baltimore, most were located on the eastbound side of the double tracked mainline. Shelter sheds or unprotected platforms were standard fixtures on the westbound side.
Although the same level of engineering standards was utilized on the Green Spring Branch, that route retained a character of its own. Contrasting with the mainline, the Branch remained a single-track operation, with passing sidings, for its entire life. The Branch extended 8.3 miles from the mainline directly west to Owings Mills (later, Green Spring Junction and still later, 'Kirk' on the Western Maryland Railway). Originally, the struggling Baltimore & Susquehanna built this route as mainline, when political foes placed barriers on the direct route to the north via York. In 1835 the legal barriers were resolved and the B&S halted construction on the Branch and continued building the route that became the mainline between Baltimore, York and Harrisburg. From 1834 to 1858 the Branch reverted to a horse car operation but in 1857 the Western Maryland Railway leased the route to enter Baltimore. The lease ended in 1874 and the line was then operated by the NCR. The Branch served an agriculturally rich valley that was dotted with expansive and exclusive estates. Traffic consisted of the normal LCL, limited carload deliveries (coal and lumber) milk pick-ups and light local passenger traffic. Station facilities, reflecting the light traffic density of the line, were mostly frame construction and few had living quarters for the station agent. The architectural diversity and charm offset what the stations lacked in size. Stations like Lystra (1899) and Eccleston (1900) were one-room designs that featured chalet or cottage exteriors embellished with rustic log and custom siding combinations. The most elaborate station on the line was Brooklandville. Originally slightly more than a rural flag stop, Brooklandville received a classic Tudor station in 1906. The comfort of one of its passengers, Mrs. William Plunkett Stewart, the former Eliza F. Cassatt - daughter of PRR president A. J. Cassatt - was PRR's motivation for erecting this elaborate structure.
Romance aside, the PRR's structured approach to delivering transportation was apparent to even the casual observer. The railroad seldom combined the block office that controlled traffic, with passenger or freight facilities. Instead the PRR located individual signal towers at strategic points to govern traffic. The most picturesque towers featured a square first floor room that was topped by an octagon shaped second story. The other principal design was a more conventional version of a two-story signal tower. A pair of telegraphic call letters appeared on each side of each tower in white on a black background. At night kerosene lamps illuminated the letters as an aide to enginemen that had to identify each location from the cab of a speeding locomotive. Call letters served as a form of shorthand for identifying individual locations: FA for the state fairgrounds at Timonium, V for Cockeysville, POX for Phoenix and MK for Monkton. Water facilities were frequent and strategically placed to protect all classes of traffic that moved over the NCR. Between Baltimore and Parkton, the PRR established standpipes at Hollins, Cockeysville, Ashland and Parkton. In 1903 PRR also constructed a large reservoir at Parkton, on the hill behind the passenger station.
When it came to operating personnel the PRR maintained a more regimented posture since the consistent discharge of responsibilities guaranteed safe and efficient operation. At times, however, this 'hard nosed' attitude seemed extreme. Employees were reprimanded for 'serious' infractions such as failing to secure the broom in the locomotive cab and failing to reverse the walkover seats in the coaches at the end of the run. Employees received one week off without pay for each offense. To check the performance of all personnel 'spotters' were stationed along the NCR to inspect passing trains. The Ruxton station, with its commodious shelter shed and tranquil surroundings, was a popular location for these "spotters." Common offenses included heavy black smoke, dirty equipment, baggage standing on the open vestibule of a coach and dirty or unlit marked lamps. Station structures, grounds and the right of way did not escape this scrutiny and freshly painted buildings, trimmed lawns and razor sharp ballast were the rule. This demanding environment and the struggle between management and labor produced a highly competent but often impersonal work force. Fortunately, most of this conflict never completely dominated the accommodating nature of trainmen on the Parkton Local.
Management's constant focus on improving equipment, however, was respected by veteran enginemen who could recall an earlier time of older, unreliable motive power and rolling stock. Locomotives and passenger cars were frequently refurbished or replaced with serviceable units that had been downgraded from mainline service. The thrifty and mechanically competent PRR squeezed every cent out its equipment and locomotives from other PRR affiliates often finished out their days in Parkton Local service. In several instances, the PRR transferred standard D class 4-4-0 locomotives from the Philadelphia & Erie to Baltimore for service on the NCR. Daily riders took notice of engine numbers as the railroad became an integral part of their daily lives and passengers would comment, for instance, if train No. 100 would arrive without locomotive No. 131 on the point. By the end of the 19th century, the dark green locomotives that hauled highly varnished Tuscan red passenger cars, trimmed in gold leaf, were respected servants to the discriminating passengers along the NCR.
The quality and frequency of service can be judged by a schedule from 1893 that featured eight Parkton Locals, four in each direction, 26 Cockeysville Locals, 13 in each direction and 18 Green Spring Branch Locals, nine in each direction. In 1911 the Parkton Locals had been reduced to six, Cockeysville Locals increased to 28 and the Green Spring Branch scheduled remained unchanged. Additionally, many of the through trains between Baltimore, York and Harrisburg provided semi-local service to selected communities.
If the passengers were favorably impressed with the new equipment and schedules, the corporate identification of the line was another matter. As the PRR acquired a greater financial interest in the property, the NCR name began to fade. This was more pronounced after 1900 when the NCR locomotives were renumbered from the 3100 series to the 4100 series. In this process, the NCR lettering disappeared from the sides of the tender and was replaced with standard PRR identification. Since the PRR would never completely own the NCR, the line's equipment remained segregated for valuation purposes and a small 'NCR' was painted on the rear of the cab, under the roof and out of the public eye. The NCR name completely disappeared from view in 1914 when the PRR acquired 80% of the road's stock and negotiated a lease for an astonishing 999 years. To loyal Marylanders, however, the line would always be the Northern Central.
The climax of capital expenditures on the NCR occurred between 1902 and 1906 during the administration of PRR's most dynamic president, Alexander Johnson Cassatt. His expansionistic management approach transformed the PRR into the "Standard Railroad of the World." The road's engineering standards were the highest and the NCR would reap the benefits of this exciting era. Heavier rail was installed, bridges were replaced and curves were eased where clearances were the most restrictive. Despite this expense and attention, the NCR remained a tortuous piece of railroad, with maximum speed west of Cockeysville ranging from 30 to 40 MPH. The size of motive power increased and the lighter D class locomotives were replaced by the graceful E class. Freight power also increased in size and power as classes F1, F3 and H6 were replaced by the H8 and H9 locomotives. Often this new power would be placed in service before all the upgrades to the track and roadbed were completed. The newer locomotives and longer trains they hauled played havoc with the older, lighter rail and the roadbed along the NCR. The older rail would also break under the heavier axle loadings and the sharp curves proved to be too much for the longer freight trains composed of basically wooden car construction. Minor derailments became so frequent that the PRR assigned a wreck train with crane to Parkton with the instructions that the crane would be 'hot' at all times. This wreck train was a fixture in the Parkton yards for almost twenty years. Gradually the upgrades were completed and the derailments tapered off. Through it all, however, commuters of that era experienced numerous delays and had glimpses of railroad scenes that management wanted to conceal.
More memorable products of this era were the substantial stations that were built after the turn of the century. The PRR would often solicit at least three proposals for a station at a key location and this approach produced two of the finest stations on the NCR. The PRR selected the nationally prominent architectural firm of Furness and Evans to design the new stations for Sherwood (later Riderwood) and Parkton. Frank Furness was also responsible for many memorable PRR and Philadelphia & Reading Railway stations in the Philadelphia area. That firm's dominance was secured when they received the commission for the Broad Street Station addition of 1892-1893. Sherwood and Parkton were similar although the former was larger and the latter featured a taller roofline. Since the finest building materials such as custom brick, cut stone and seasoned lumber were used in the construction of these structures, they outclassed surrounding buildings in each town. Other stations were upgraded and all the platforms were paved with herringbone pattern brick, composite stone block or packed cinders supported by a wooden frame. Gradually stations were electrified (they were usually the first structures in most towns to feature this new innovation) and Dietz kerosene platform lamps were replaced by "approach activated" electric lights mounted on ornate curved lampposts that became a PRR trademark. The magic of the platform lamps going on and off, based on rail traffic fascinated youths along the route. Marylanders generally approved of these new structures to the degree that they thought the mighty PRR designed them specifically for their communities. In truth the new stations of that era, as well as several from the 1880 1890 period, were standard PRR designs that were slightly altered for each location. The NCR stations that had similar counterparts in distant locations included Melvale (Rosemont, PA), Garrison Forest (Bright, P&E Line), Ruxton (Jeannette and Mt. Joy, PA), Timonium (Wawa, PA and Snow Hill, MD) and Parkton (West Laurel, PA). Some locations including Cockeysville and White Hall came close to receiving new stations but pressing economic priorities and shifting corporate policy prevailed. Both locations were not selectively snubbed, however, since the magnificent replacement for the venerable Calvert Station was also shelved.
The proposed replacement for Calvert Station was to be the capstone for the second phase of the pre-World War I improvement program (1908-1918) on the NCR. This program included plans for easing the grade at six key locations and relocating portions of the mainline up to one-quarter mile from the existing centerline to lessen the degree of curves. Grade crossing elimination was also a priority since the NCR, along with other PRR lines in Maryland, experienced a huge influx of traffic from 1900-1914. By way of example, in 1916 the PRR operated 34 through passenger trains over the NCR line. This included four Parkton Locals, seven Cockeysville Locals and eight Green Spring Branch Locals. With the through and local freight trains added, the total number of trains swelled to almost 50. The impact of this traffic climaxed in 1918 when the PRR achieved unwanted notoriety for 12 deaths in one day from three separate grade crossing accidents in the Baltimore area. Newspaper columnists quickly pointed out that the suburbs along the PRR could be more dangerous than the battlefields in Europe. Eventually dangerous grade crossings at Melvale, Bare Hills, Cockeysville, Parkton and many private road crossings were eliminated. In addition to the right of way, passenger equipment took a quantum leap forward when the PRR introduced steel P54 class suburban coaches on the Parkton Local. By 1918 most of the Parkton Local trains featured these steel "dreadnoughts of the rails" and the older wooden stock was stored for peak periods. If the car bodies were state of the art, the heating systems were strictly 19th century coal stoves, similar to those in cabin cars, were located in one corner of each car.
Without question, the most exciting and expensive portion of this program was the proposed electrification of the NCR and the new Calvert Station. The PRR was "electrically focused" since the completion of the Hudson River Tunnels and the electrification of the Paoli line. Electrification on the NCR promised to reduce air pollution in and around Baltimore and would focus on two classes of traffic: the long haul, east-west passenger trains and the locals that originated or terminated at Cockeysville. Apparently passengers to and from Parkton would have had to change to steam hauled trains at Cockeysville. For this service the P54 coaches would have been motorized for service between Calvert Station and Cockeysville. To support this service the PRR planned a large locomotive servicing facility at Ashland, to the west of Cockeysville, that featured a roundhouse, turntable and ready tracks for 30 locomotives. The proposed design for Calvert Station was visionary. Originally presented in 1911 as a facility for steam hauled trains, the design was modified in 1915 to accommodate electrification. The PRR proposed extending the NCR line from Calvert and Franklin streets to Calvert and Lexington streets. A new combination station and multi-story office building was planned for the intersection of these two streets (this site was eventually occupied by the Court Square Building). This proposal would have required a massive land acquisition and condemnation process and had this project started earlier, closer to the turn of the century, it may have become a reality. In the context of the times however, the timing was awful since increased regulation, labor unrest, inflation and the government control of the railroads during World War I created chaos. The ultimate blow to many of components of this improvement plan was the gradual decrease in local passenger traffic. Economic historians point to 1915 as the turning point but traditionally, even in its prime, local passenger service was only marginally profitable. The relatively new forms of competition from the automobile and extended local streetcar lines only aggravated the problem. By the time the turmoil of 1917-1920 subsided, PRR management began to aggressively analyze the actual expense of the Parkton Local service.
This analytical process coupled with the prosperity of the 1925-1929 period produced many conflicting messages concerning the Parkton Local and the future of the NCR route in general. In 1922 the PRR proposed closing Calvert Station and operating all Parkton Local trains out of Union Station (later known as Pennsylvania Station Baltimore). The outcry from angry commuters forced the PRR to abandon this plan; other cost cutting measures, such as closing Calvert Station on Sundays, were studied. To temporarily appease the public, PRR repainted Calvert Station in 1927 in what the newspapers described as "an attractive cream and brown scheme." Later, PRR conceded to the wishes of its patrons and drafted plans for a modest, one-story replacement for Calvert Station, as part of the Baltimore Improvement program of 1929-1932. Unfortunately, like the more elaborate station plan from 1918, this station was never built. Trimming underutilized weekday and weekend service was an option that was also vigorously pursued. In another move to reduce costs, the PRR initiated regularly scheduled gas electric motor car service on the Green Spring Branch locals. The car, No. 4643 built by Brill, was introduced in October of 1926 and was moderately successful. Encouraged by this modest test, PRR anticipated replacing several steam hauled trains with gas electric cars on the Parkton Local schedule. The final challenge to traditional rail service was an early attempt at "coordinated mass transportation" in the form of a PRR owned motor coach route. Management selected the route that paralleled the NCR between Baltimore, York and Harrisburg with the intent of supplanting several underutilized mid-day steam runs. The nature and tone of all this activity forecast that all future "improvements" would promote efficiency or more severely, corporate downsizing.
While local service started its downward slide, through service suffered a serious blow that would ultimately compromise the future of the NCR. In the early 1920s PRR concluded that rerouting heavy freight trains over the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch, to the north, was more efficient than the projected upgrades to the hilly and curvaceous NCR. Despite the additional mileage (over forty miles) PRR began shifting heavy freight traffic to the "Port Road." Though not apparent at the time, this transfer left the NCR with the traffic that would erode the fastest: long haul, overnight passenger trains and local passenger and freight trains. Ironically the massive grade crossing elimination projects along the NCR were completed just in time for the shift of traffic. This is not to suggest that NCR became a weed covered branch overnight. The volume of traffic was substantial enough to warrant replacing block signals with the first mainline installation of position light signals, cab signals and automatic train stop devices in 1925 and 1926. Initially 50 locomotives of various classes were equipped for this service. Once again, however, there was a downside for many of the communities along the line. The introduction of the position light signal eliminated the need for 13 block stations along the route. This downsizing forced many veteran employees out of steady employment on the eve of the worst economic disaster in our Nation's history.
Most commuters were unaware of this conflict, and for those that were the slightest bit interested in rail transportation, the NCR was still a great show. In addition to the Parkton Locals the local way freight, powered by a hefty H8 or H9, would meander up the line daily to New Freedom PA before turning and returning to Baltimore. Despite the migration of traffic to the C & PD, PRR continued to dispatch several long perishable and general merchandise trains over the NCR. These trains frequently required as many as five locomotives, three on the front and two on the rear pushing, to conquer the New Freedom Hill. The pounding of these locomotives was so severe that the vibration cracked plaster in the houses that were located close to the right of way. Long distance passenger train, to points north and west of Harrisburg, occupied a greater role in the scheme of operations. Several popular name trains of the era, the "Spirit of St. Louis," the "Rainbow," the "Pennsylvania Limited" and the "Gotham Limited" added diversity to the timecard that was an extension of the PRR's "big red subway" image. By far the railroad event of the day was the passage of trains 58/59, the "Liberty Limited." The PRR conceived this run in 1923 (named the "Washington-Broadway Limited" until 1925) to compete with B & O's "Capitol Limited" serving the Washington, Baltimore and Chicago markets. In the prosperous times of the late 1920s the PRR spared no expense at making this train second to only the premier "Broadway Limited," offering passengers maid service, a barbershop, a manicurist and a train secretary. Trains 58/59, in common with other feature trains of that era, were strictly Pullman car operations. Senior residents along the line recall the drama that was played out each evening as two class K4 locomotives tackled the stiff grades with the 14 car "Liberty Limited." Between the locomotive cab and the tender one could catch a glimpse of the fireman stoking the firebox "with the rhythmic swing of his shovel" as styled by contemporary PRR publicists. On board, distinguished passengers enjoyed the elegance of the lounge car, fine meals in the dining car and the view of twilight from the large windows of the observation car. As the limited disappeared in the distance under a cloud of dust and smoke, the observation car's brass railing adorned with a large keystone shaped train sign and flapping awning, offset by two glowing red marker lamps left an unforgettable image of luxury transportation in motion.
Like a severe hangover from a long and wild party, the Great Depression descended on virtually every aspect of the NCR. The Parkton Local would survive; however the brunt of severe belt tightening would be borne by the Green Spring Branch and Cockeysville locals. The Green Spring Branch service was first to go on August 14, 1933. A report by T. L. Grady, Assistant to the Superintendent of Passenger Transportation, revealed the hopelessness of the situation: 1933 revenue per mile was 1.9 cents compared to operating expense of 90.3 cents. To add insult to injury, the nearly new, gas electric motor car No. 4643 was destroyed in a fire in 1935. The Cockeysville service hung on until October of 1935 when that too was withdrawn. The 'wye' for turning the trains remained to serve the industries that developed toward the west end of the 'wye' and once a year (for about one month), to turn locomotives that hauled trains to the races and state fair in Timonium. Irrespective of the hard times, the excursion trains to the races and the fair remained popular diversions and a source of revenue for the struggling NCR. For this service, the PRR would stage four or five trains in Calvert Station, dispatching each as they were filled. When traffic demanded, this would be repeated several times a day. At Timonium the cars would be uncoupled and stored at the virtually unused Timonium Yard, a remnant from the traffic crush of 1918, and the locomotives would be turned at Cockeysville.
Throughout that troublesome decade, the PRR would continue to make operating and maintenance changes to the NCR equipment, schedules and maintenance of way. The timetable revealed the effects of the lean years. In 1921 the NCR boasted 10 Parkton Locals, five in each direction; eight Cockeysville Locals, four in each direction; and 12 Green Spring Branch Locals, six in each direction. By 1937 the schedule had been reduced to 10 Parkton Locals, five in each direction. Motive power swaps became frequent and many of the former NCR 4100 series engines left the property to serve other PRR divisions. Occasionally they would return and then leave again for service on the Long Island Rail Road or the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. In place of the 4100 series, PRR assigned E5 locomotive No. 6538 and No. 1750 and E6 locomotive No. 92 and No. 13. The depression also lessened the need for some of the older, long distance coaches of the P70 class and they too were briefly assigned to the NCR in the early 1930s. The gas electric cars, introduced in 1926, would never completely replace the steam hauled trains since several of these runs regularly required three or four coaches. Additionally, the expanded use of gas electric cars would never really materialize since the PRR had a surplus of older steam power to deploy. Clearly, the PRR was not going to lavish scarce cash on a marginal operation when hundreds of serviceable steam locomotives sat idle at various yards throughout its vast system. From 1930 on, however, PRR rotated gas electric car Nos. 4657, 4662, 4667 and 4666 on several lightly patronized Parkton Local schedules. Between 1929 and 1933 as the K2 passenger locomotives were released from mainline service, due to the final delivery of K4 locomotives and the New York to Philadelphia electrification program, they were assigned to the NCR to protect mid-day through service and the Parkton Local service. The arrival of the K2 locomotives allowed the PRR to retire several of the aging D16sb locomotives from the Local's motive power pool. Although PRR could rationalize this move, the sight of a large, mainline express locomotive hauling a two-car train of short, P54 suburban coaches looked out of place.
Sadly, there was a dark side to the operation of the class K2 locomotives on the NCR. On the night of June 7, 1934, K2 No. 1387 left Calvert Station at 7:25 PM with train No. 8009. This train was advertised as a Cockeysville Local, however the PRR was actually operating this two car consist from that point to Parkton as an extra train. Although revenue passengers were not supposed to ride beyond Cockeysville, the accommodating crew made an ill-fated exception since the train's only passenger was the daughter of a veteran NCR trackman. The Local made the run up the line faster than the posted schedule since many of the stations were listed as flag stops and potential passengers were non-existent. At approximately 8:20 PM (almost the scheduled arrival time in Cockeysville) the locomotive, tender and the lead coach plunged off the bridge that spans the Little Gunpowder River, just east of the Graystone station, the last stop before Parkton. The coach crushed the engineer T. F. Bossom and the fireman J. A. Blauser and as steam lines ruptured, their bodies were also severely scalded. The lone passenger, Miss Margaret Frederick of Parkton, survived the crash although she was seriously injured by debris and scalded since the coach came to rest adjacent to the ruptured steam lines. She was extracted from the wreckage but later died shortly after arriving at a Baltimore hospital. The second car, with the conductor, trainman and brakeman, remained on the bridge and came to rest several feet from the Graystone station. Given the fact that the train made what would seem to be an exceptionally fast journey to Graystone, one might conclude that speed was a factor. But the only explanation the public heard was a statement from Superintendent G. M. Smith, which said in part: "Something happened to the tender and it spread the rails, throwing the locomotive and the first coach off the track." Veteran employees had their own theory and that centered on the trailing truck of the locomotive. Apparently enginemen had complained about the instability of the K2 class and they believed that the trailing truck was the problem. Additionally, when these locomotives came in for inspection, machinists were finding cracks in the truck frames caused by fatigue. No employee would publicly advance these theories at the time and face probable unemployment in the midst of the Great Depression. In retrospect all of this seems odd since the K2 class served the PRR for many years on other divisions, however the K2 class of locomotives left the Baltimore Division shortly after this incident. Unlike the unfortunate victims of that horrible night, No. 1387 was repaired and returned to service on other divisions of the PRR, ending its days on the Cumberland Valley line in 1949.
The appearance of the property gradually deteriorated, as deferred maintenance became the watchword for the era and in fact, the rest of PRR's corporate existence. Regular maintenance was suspended and repairs and painting were done only to stabilize a structure. Stations looked dreary as paint peeled and platforms began to decompose. Some ticket offices were only open on a part time basis and others were vacant as PRR closed ticket offices in light density locations, forcing passengers to purchase transportation from the conductor. Waiting rooms at these locations were left unlocked 24 hours a day and the depot stoves were serviced regularly to serve the remaining passengers. The Hollins Station, at the junction of the Green Spring Branch, was an early victim of this move to leave stations vacant and unsecured. On February 3, 1933, the station burned to the ground after loiterers started a fire in the waiting room. Despite the historic loss, the PRR was not troubled about the incident since the ticket office had been closed since 1927. Calvert Station's trainshed also disappeared in 1939. The structure deteriorated to the point that removal was the only sensible action to take. The removal left an ugly scar on the rear of the station but by that time, few cared. Commuters of course cared more about the unprotected platforms that were left in the aftermath. Despite various economic hardships of the 1930s, the PRR continued to maintain the Toluidine red and gold station signs since the colors were an integral part of its corporate identity. Additionally, the sign's warm colors were a reminder of a more prosperous and happier era for the company and the Nation. A reversal of sorts took place toward the end of the decade as the PRR initiated a clean up campaign to prepare the property for the special train that carried King George VI from Suspension Bridge, New York, to Washington D. C., on June 8, 1939. After a lapse of two years, a more modest clean up effort groomed the property for another special train that carried the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Timonium on October 14, 1941.
The changes that were thrust on the PRR with the start of World War II proved to be a mixed blessing for the NCR. Gas rationing forced many to use the train once again and traffic in and out of Timonium became more regular since the Army occupied the fairgrounds year around for the duration of the war. The PRR was really in a bind since the deferred maintenance practices of the 1930s left the property in less than perfect condition. The road also experienced a severe equipment shortage due to its strategic routes serving military installations and the dramatic increase in traffic. To satisfy this demand the PRR converted a number of boxcars into coaches. These did not compare favorably with even the road's older passenger coaches since these converts offered patrons straight back, walkover seats and kerosene lamps. On December 12, 1942, the Baltimore Sun announced that the PRR was going to introduce one car, No. 6850, on the Parkton Local to release a conventional coach for duty elsewhere. Although the passengers were willing to support the war effort by riding the train once more, their patriotism stopped short of accepting this crude and rough riding replacement. The convert was removed from the Parkton service and temporarily served in Baltimore Washington commuter service before the PRR assigned it to troop train service. By the end of the war the NCR stations and right of way looked weary and worn. The turn of the century architecture contrasted with emerging tastes and styles. The overgrown shrubbery and long, overhanging eves cast dark shadows on the exterior walls that projected a gloomy image.
With the return of peace, the PRR struggled to regain momentum. This was no easy task since it had to battle increased competition, rebuilding a worn out plant and introducing new technology in the form of the diesel locomotive. All this would have been challenging for the most aggressive executives but the PRR also had difficulty in that area. It possessed a competent, aging staff that knew traditional railroading but generally had difficulty adjusting to new technology and traffic patterns. Younger and more aggressive executives occupied a greater number of key positions each year but this conflict between the two groups added to the overall turmoil within the company and forecast inconsistency regarding the proposed multi-million dollar improvement program. Normally, a company's centennial is marked with the appropriate celebration of past achievements and a bold look to the future. Conservative good taste marked PRR's centennial in 1946 but the bold look to the future was somewhat clouded since the railroad posted its first operating loss. Initially, the PRR could cover this operating loss with additional income from other investments and later, the sale of real estate. Additionally, the large and self-sufficient plant, once the envy of railroad managers throughout the world, was now becoming a liability due to changing demographics and traffic patterns. All of these events in far-off Philadelphia would forever alter the Parkton Local service and to a larger degree, the NCR route.
Nevertheless the multi-million dollar improvement program started auspiciously and offered a degree of promise to a ravaged corporation. Management knew that it had a massive job ahead of them and attempted to prioritize each accordingly. The major stumbling block was the enormity of the task compared to declining revenue patterns. Worse yet, PRR felt that it was never fully compensated for its heroic effort on the home front. Servicemen and patrons of course maintained the opinion that the PRR reaped every benefit from the great surge in traffic. Eventually the program would trickle down to the Parkton Local and NCR line in the form of renovated stations, diesel electric motive power and rebuilt passenger equipment.
These capital expenditures finally addressed the need to replace the aging Calvert Station. This time, however, promoting the Parkton Local and passenger comfort were clearly not priorities. Instead, PRR wisely chose to increase freight revenues by selling the city block that the station occupied to a commercial enterprise, the Baltimore Sunpapers that offered consistent carload freight. After swapping space in a number of PRR owned warehouses, the PRR finally rebuilt the front portion of the former NCR freight "Shed A" one block to the north, to serve as the new Calvert Station. A new ticket office and waiting room were built within the south, or Centre Street side of this building. Commuters once again were protected from inclement weather since this former freight shed featured a generous roof span that approximated the size of the shed at the original station. Additionally, the Parkton Local trains also shared space in this 1865 structure with the Railway Express Agency. This conversion was capital intensive since a number of freight forwarders were relocated and the elevated streetcar line that towered over the PRR's street trackage, was rebuilt. PRR hardly had time to see its investment in the local traction company depreciate since the Baltimore Transit Company closed the elevated structure in 1950; it was dismantled one year later. New Calvert Station opened to the public at 7:05 AM on November 24, 1947, with the departure of train No. 435, a Parkton Local. The Baltimore Sun, normally cool toward the PRR, felt that the new station was a vast improvement and stated that the PRR had more than fulfilled its promise to the City. Sadly, most Baltimoreans were indifferent to the closing of the venerable, 1850 structure. Former station agent Lee Woolston later compared his tenure in old Calvert Station to "working in a dilapidated castle". One exception was local railroad historian Norman J. Perrin. The late Mr. Perrin shared his knowledge of the property with a columnist, Carroll Dulaney, who in turn prepared a brief but fitting tribute to Calvert Station that appeared on April 4, 1948. To the sentimentally inclined, however, the memories of old Calvert and the Sunday "ice cream" trains to the county or the specials to the state fair would linger on. The PRR immediately closed the old station and cleared the property.
Suburban stations also received a much-needed face-lift. Stations at selected spots were repainted inside and out, new heating plants were installed and the roofs were replaced. PRR was not in the financial position to revive the extensive landscaping program of the 1900 period, however all station plots were trimmed back once again and the dead shrubbery was removed. PRR also focused on improving relations with customers and the remaining station agents were sent to Purdue University for a custom two-week sales course. PRR hoped that these efforts, though conservative, would at least stabilize the Parkton Local and more importantly, provide sales opportunities for its new "Blue Ribbon Fleet" of diesel-electric, streamlined passenger trains and its extensive network of freight transportation services.
The motive power and coaches on the Parkton Local would also benefit from this improvement program. The forty-year old E class locomotives and aging P54 suburban coaches looked like relics from another era. This image was reinforced when commuters would view the passing long distance trains that were diesel powered, partially streamlined and air-conditioned as they waited for the Parkton Local. Last of the celebrated E6 locomotives to serve the Parkton Local service was "lucky" No. 13. This engine was one of several steam locomotives that were converted to oil to serve the routes in Baltimore. By the end of 1951, the dieselization program had progressed to the point that the PRR could remove the steam locomotive from the Parkton Local. PRR selected an Alco ARS10s, sx (Builder's Model RS-1), No. 5906, to replace the famous E6 locomotive. When No. 5906 was serviced the PRR protected this run with a Baldwin product, class BS12a, ms (Builder's Model RS-12, bb) No. 8776, or an RS-3 road switcher. Motor car No 4657 with a coach and No. 4666 comprised the second and third train. By 1953 PRR closed the remaining water stations along the NCR and steam was a memory. The decrepit P54 suburban coaches, with coal stoves, were finally replaced with rebuilt, steam heated coaches of the P70 class. Five cars, Nos. 830, 1041, 1069, 3701 and 3365 were assigned to the Parkton Local service. Additionally, several P54 cars remained in standby service for a short period afterward. Due to the sharp curvature of the track within the new Calvert Station, PRR removed the diaphragms from each car and protected the exposed entrance at each end with chains. To the passenger's dismay, however, these replacements, like their predecessors, were not air-conditioned. These efforts stabilized the nucleus of Parkton Local riders; however they did not stimulate additional traffic.
If the railroad profession was undergoing severe changes, the genteel world that the Parkton Local was designed to serve was also changing. The railroad and the Local itself represented antique technology compared to the freedom that the private automobile and later, the interstate highway offered. Sadly, there was little hope for the Parkton Local in this new world. Acts of vandalism, unheard of in the past, plagued several stations along the line. High school and college students began partying in the unlocked waiting rooms at various stations. PRR wisely began locking these stations each evening after employees and local fire companies were called to extinguished minor fires. Vandals regularly used the position light signals, relay cases and the red and gold station signs as targets for rifle practice. The PRR discovered that vandalism had no geographic boundaries when several individuals between the Blue Mount and White Hall stations, mile posts 25 and 26 respectively, regularly took practice shots at passing trains. Despite the fact that railroad detectives labored for at least ten years with these reports, no arrests were made. Finally, although Baltimoreans were slow by national standards to leave the city row houses for individual houses in the suburbs, the transition was well underway by 1953. One might conclude that these new residents would have been potential passengers. While some were, the majority of the new suburbanites preferred their private automobile to a ride on the big red coaches. Worse yet, some of the children of these new residents were responsible for acts of vandalism.
By 1954 PRR management realized on a system-wide basis that corporate objectives would have to be revised in light of declining passenger and freight revenue. The multi-million dollar improvement program that was necessary to keep pace with competitors fell short of addressing many of the company's woes. The interim strategy focused on downsizing wherever possible and to improve the service that appeared to be viable. Long distance passenger service experienced the most tangible signs of this effort as special service inspectors were added to the regular crews of the "Blue Ribbon Fleet". The road also increased the maintenance and focused on strict on time performance for its best long distance trains. PRR modestly marketed the Parkton Local with an easy to read two-color brochure and timetable. Train crews assisted by demonstrating courtesy at all times and by occasionally adding extra service. Trainmen Carl Lawson and Russell Mellinger arranged to have newspapers delivered to the train each morning and distributed Christmas Cards thanking passengers for their continuing patronage. In this environment, PRR pursued every opportunity to reduce the capacity along the double tracked NCR route. The line was singled tracked from Wago Junction to York and Parkton in 1954 and flag stops were removed. This was easy since PRR was already reducing long distance, east-west passenger traffic; local passenger traffic of the West End was also discontinued. While PRR was focused on the long haul traffic problems and solutions, they were also anxious to reduce unprofitable local commuter service. The railroad realized that they were stuck with the commuter burden in large cities like Philadelphia and New York but they believed savings opportunities could be realized in Baltimore and along the NCR without a prolonged legal battle. When the modest marketing efforts failed to produce results, PRR pushed hard to discontinue the most underutilized Parkton Local service and in 1956, Sunday service was finally removed. The demise of the remaining Sunday train was a spiritual blow to many in remote areas since the migration of several religious denominations to the northern part of the county was still nearly 25 years off. PRR also looked at the large portfolio of NCR real estate as a primary source of income, to offset the losses, and accordingly sold off various non-essential parcels of land. Unfortunately complacency and politics frequently plagued this process and the final sale price was often well below the current market price for a comparable plot. Occasionally, the lure of cash was tempting enough to condemn a structure that was in service. One early example occurred when the National Biscuit Corporation was looking for a warehouse site and selected the Mt. Washington station property. PRR promptly removed the Victorian station and erected a modest shelter shed to serve commuters.
The NCR route, and to a lesser extent the Parkton Local stations, were like talented performers who labored long and hard for recognition. Ironically both achieved a form of stardom late in life although the circumstances that led to this were less than flattering. In the 1950s the PRR produced a series of safety films for selected groups of operating and maintenance personnel. These full-color productions were quite elaborate, and oddly outclassed the promotional films that the PRR produced for the general public. The volume conscious PRR did not want to tie up traffic on its main lines for the film crews so the operating department searched for "low density" lines for the detailed portions of these films. Armed with this requirement, management correctly believed that the reduced traffic level on the Harrisburg to Baltimore route made the NCR a natural for film directors. The film "Not By Chance" has two brief sequences that were filmed at the Timonium and Texas MD stations. The former shows a worker, in a staged dilemma, deciding whether to cross the tracks in front of a speeding passenger train. The clip at the Texas station features trackmen working in front of the stone station. This section is valuable since the Texas station eluded most photographers and was destroyed by fire a year after the film was released.
The year of 1957 was a pivotal point in PRR's corporate history. A national recession contributed to the PRR's mounting deficits and the company continued to sell off assets to cover the operating losses. PRR president James Symes underscored the company's problems by flatly stating "We are deteriorating badly." Clearly more drastic action was needed and the eastern railroads looked to mergers as a method of survival. While the Symes administration could not be blamed totally for the condition of the PRR, they were surely responsible for planning and promoting the most ill-conceived merger of that era. Rather than seeking a strong partner that would complement the PRR, Symes proposed merging PRR's primary competitor, the New York Central into the PRR, in effect killing the competition. "The PRR and NYC are like two peas in a pod," said Symes and unfortunately, regulators and the general public began to believe this folksy but shallow reasoning. Symes had reason to worry about the NYC and its president, Alfred E. Perlman. Although both roads shared many of the same problems, industry analysts generally gave Perlman's efforts higher marks, believing that the NYC might one day become the "Road to the Future." To save itself PRR had to stop the red ink quickly while forcing the NYC into this most unfavorable union. Clearly this proposed conglomerate would not tolerate Parkton Locals or anything like them.
The long distance passenger trains, local service and the NCR route itself would be early and easy targets for cost cutting. The long distance service was the first to be shaved. The extra effort that was put forth in 1954 and 1955 to upgrade service could not stop the decline in passenger revenues. Perhaps passengers and former servicemen recalled the terrible service during the war or a ride in one of those converted boxcars. Accordingly, in the fall of 1956 PRR eliminated or consolidated many of its name trains including those that featured a Baltimore and Washington section via the NCR route. Additional cost cutting measures included removing lounge cars and observation cars from many members of the former "Blue Ribbon Fleet." In this process, the "Liberty Limited" lost its feature train status and was finally withdrawn in April of 1957. The remaining long distance trains on the NCR route consisted of the "General," the "Penn Texas," the "Baltimore/Buffalo Day Express," the "Northern/Southern Express" and a Harrisburg-Baltimore mail run. Additionally, most of these trains were periodically combined between Harrisburg and Baltimore and Washington. In truth, PRR's "Washington to the West" service was really a distant second to the service that was offered by the B & O. With this reduction in traffic, the single tracking of the NCR advanced east from Parkton to Glencoe on July 10, 1957. At Glencoe, the PRR remodeled the passenger station to accommodate a block station.
Strangely enough, Glencoe also received the last new passenger structure on the NCR. PRR never bothered to erect a shelter shed for westbound passengers at Glencoe; however, a raging winter storm and executive privilege changed that. Beginning in 1956, the daughter of a PRR executive attended the Oldfields School at Glencoe. One Christmas, her father planned her route home to Philadelphia via the NCR west to Harrisburg and then east to the Main Line section of Philadelphia. The young lady, standing without protection from the elements, had an extended wait for train No. 549 in a worsening snow and ice storm. When the girl related the incident to her father, the official became enraged about the lack of suitable protection and the indifference of the station agent. Within weeks the bridge and building gang installed a modest shelter shed on the westbound platform. The dialog between the official and the station agent however has been lost with the passage of time.
Under the weight of continuing financial pressure, the railroad attempted to further downsize the Parkton Local service. In an odd cost cutting move, PRR considered using Glencoe as the base for one local train as opposed to Parkton. The PRR was confident that they would receive regulatory approval to make this switch to the degree that they actually listed the Baltimore to Glencoe service in the Chesapeake Region employee's timetable No. 4 of October 25, 1957. Apparently this was done in haste, without a complete operating analysis and the proper approval from the Public Service Commission, because a General Order revision was issued immediately after the timetable was distributed. By 1958 things went from bad to worse and PRR actively campaigned to remove all service. PRR was justified in seeking regulatory approval to remove these trains. Buses, offering greater flexibility with lower operating costs, were becoming an important part of Baltimore's transit picture. Additionally, the Interstate Highway Act proposed completing a divided highway between Baltimore and Harrisburg. Interstate 83 paralleled the NCR route and would later become the principal north end commuter feeder to the City. Although the suburbs were growing, PRR knew that commuter service would never be self-sustaining, let alone a source of profit. The railroad also feared that prolonged operation of the Local would also bring demands for new equipment, better stations and improved parking at stations. By the end of 1958, PRR claimed that the Local's deficit was $152,000. Critics charged that PRR inflated the costs of the Parkton Local service by failing to accurately segregate passenger and freight expenses. Perhaps or perhaps not, but clearly, this was a loosing proposition for the PRR.
During 1958 and 1959 commuters fought hard to keep the service by faithfully attending the Public Service Commission hearings. Several passengers appealed to fellow commuters to pay double fare as an attempt to convince the PRR they were serious about the Local. Apparently the passengers from Ruxton felt that the train needed a proper name, for emotional and legal purposes, and thus the "Ruxton Rocket" moniker was born. In the midst of this uncertainty, commuters had a surprise one summer morning. Apparently the regular equipment was unavailable, due to a freight derailment near Calvert Station, and PRR substituted one P85 stainless steel, air-conditioned coach from the prestigious "Congressional" consist. Could the PRR have had a change of heart and decided to make one, last ditch effort? Passenger's optimism rapidly evaporated when the conductor informed them that this car was only a temporary substitute and that, due to clearance problems with the coach, the train would terminate at Pennsylvania Station. From that point, passengers were forced to transfer to a city bus to continue the journey to downtown Baltimore. Throughout that year, the PRR continued to pursue its case. By this time Baltimore was becoming accustom to "train off" notices. The decade began with bad news when the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad, successor to the famous Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis interurban line, discontinued its passenger service on February 5, 1950. On August 31, 1954, the beloved Maryland & Pennsylvania (Ma & Pa) Railroad discontinued passenger service and then ended all operations south of Whiteford MD on June 11, 1958. The Western Maryland Railway also ended passenger service to Baltimore on June 7, 1957. All those who were fortunate enough to have used this service daily missed that road's personalized service and spotless equipment. Finally, the B & O discontinued all passenger service east of Baltimore on April 26, 1958. This was the only practical move for the B & O to make however; the end of the famous "Royal Blue Line" was a severe emotional blow to the City and the venerable line.
PRR was confident that it would be allowed to discontinue the Local and proceeded to demolish structures along the route. Early victims were the Sparks station and the Graystone shelter. Irrespective of the probable discontinuance of this popular service, commuters never lost their sense of humor. Service had dwindled to three eastbound runs to the City and commuters named these trains based on their departure time (from Parkton) in the morning and the type of passengers that patronized each. The 6:20 AM train, No. 522 was the "Workers," the 7:23 AM train, No. 524 the "Clerkers" and the 8:55 AM train, No. 526 the "Shirkers." The PRR finally received permission to discontinue all of the Parkton Local service and the date of Saturday, June 27, 1959, was established for the last run. The preceding day, PRR distributed letters to all regular commuters that formally announced the termination of service. John D. Morris, Superintendent of the Chesapeake Region said in part "The action to discontinue this service was not taken lightly or without due consideration of our long standing friends and customers." PRR's credibility was challenged however when Mr. Morris stated that " We are confident that you will find the (replacement) bus service comfortable and convenient." Seasoned commuters knew better. On June 27th train No. 527 with motor car No. 4666 and a P70 coach slowly made the trip up and down the line for the last time. Engineman Samuel Eaton and Conductor Donald Keeney were assigned to this historic run. The normal Saturday passenger count was inflated by the sentimentally inclined and members of various railroad groups from around the City. After completing the round trip, No. 4666 deadheaded to another assignment in New Jersey.
The removal of the Local allowed the PRR to single track the line from Glencoe east to Baltimore and this was completed in 1961. Between 1961 and 1964 PRR demolished most of the stations and shelter sheds. One of the saddest losses was the station at Parkton. In October of 1963 the Hereford and Maryland Line fire companies were allowed to start a blaze in the structure as a practice drill for firefighters. Stations at Woodberry, Lutherville and Cockeysville survived since the local freight agents used them on a part time basis. Several more, Monkton and Whitehall, were sold to private individuals for agricultural and commercial purposes. The late Edward F. McGarity, PRR agent at Mt. Washington and later Cockeysville, purchased the former Riderwood station for his residence in 1964. Positive thoughts about the former service and the rapid growth along the NCR prompted suburbanites to push for commuter rail service once more. Soon sympathetic editorial writers and civic planners began lobbying for the railroad and the State to utilize the line for commuter service once again. Of course nothing became of this rhetoric since the PRR was not interested and the State did not want to enter the railroad business at that time. Through service continued to decline with the removal of the "Penn Texas," the "Baltimore/Buffalo Day Express" and finally, in 1968, the "Northern/Southern Express" and the Harrisburg to Baltimore mail run, No. 554. Local freight service received a small shot in the arm when the Greater Baltimore Industrial Park at Hunt Valley, MD opened in 1966-67. To serve this complex PRR enlisted the help of the Eastern Railroad Builders to construct what was billed as the nation's longest industrial siding. This spur diverged from the mainline just below the Cockeysville station. By 1968 the NCR route was rather silent and sterile compared to the vibrant property that existed 25 years before.
On February 1, 1968, the NYC was finally merged into the PRR to form the ill-fated Penn Central Transportation Company. The new company had little use for unproductive lines like the NCR but the Penn Central had bigger battles to fight. By the time the company filed for bankruptcy on June 21, 1970 the remaining trains consisted of the "General" Nos. 548/549, one eastbound Truck Train and local freight B94/95. Amtrak removed the "General" on May 1, 1971, and Tropical Storm Agnes severed the line in several spots on June 23, 1972. The storm achieved the results that PRR/PC could never accomplish: the NCR through route was finally closed. Despite the chaos, PC continued to provide freight service and from Baltimore to Cockeysville and from Harrisburg to York.
The heaviest destruction occurred between Cockeysville and Grantley, east of York, PA. Pennsylvania lobbied long and hard to retain the former railroad line with the intent of restoring rail service to New Freedom, PA, near the Pennsylvania border. That dream of rail service was realized in 1983 and 1984 with the restoration of the right of way. Freight service between York and New Freedom commenced in January of 1985. Maryland, however, was not anxious to restore rail service from Cockeysville to the Pennsylvania State line. The State did not see a future for the line when they had other, more direct, freight routes available. More importantly, the northern end of the line was becoming the preferred address for a new generation of the well to do. Their vision of the good life did not include an occasional freight train thundering up the line, or worse, a steam excursion train replete with the noise, dirt and trailing curiosity seekers and rail buffs. The State eventually acquired title to the right of way in question as payment for back taxes and developed the line as a bike-hike trail between 1984 and 1990. The Northern Central Trail has become one of the State's most popular linear parks, although this popularity has a downside. With the almost constant stream of cyclists, hikers, joggers and nature lovers, many of the residents that fought the rail line now wonder if an occasional train would have been a better neighbor.
Penn Central, and later Conrail, continued to provide local freight service to the dwindling number of online shippers between Baltimore and Cockeysville. Unfortunately, the railroad did not want this carload traffic, and the irregular service frustrated the customers that remained. Gradually, the customers got the message and switched to trucks. The loss of traffic was apparent in the consist of B94/95: from a six day a week operation, averaging 20 to 30 cars per day in 1970 down to a five day a week operation of three to nine cars in 1980. Eventually, all the industries in the Greater Baltimore Industrial Park switched to trucks and much of the industrial siding fell into disuse. By the mid 1980s political pressure forced the State to reevaluate the commuter potential of the NCR line. The roads were becoming congested and the City of Baltimore wanted a greater range of employment opportunities for inner city residents. This process rapidly progressed and Conrail sold the line to Maryland in 1990. From that point the line was rebuilt as a light rail line, however Conrail retained trackage rights between 12:00 midnight and 6:00 AM to serve the LaFarge quarry at Texas, MD. The "Central Light Rail Line" opened for continuous use (it was used for selected ceremonial and special events from April 3rd) on May 17th, 1992. While the trains are well engineered and the concept has merit, the efficiency of the route was compromised in downtown Baltimore by the City's unwillingness to install priority traffic signals for the Light Rail Line. Additionally, rapid and often conflicting social change contrast sharply with the genteel nature of the former Parkton Local passengers and PRR train crews. To this new group of commuters, however, that life style is as remote as the well maintained steam locomotives and red coaches that served the route so faithfully many years ago. Troubles aside, the NCR portion of this route could be billed as America's most scenic light rail line.
Finding traces of the former Parkton Local equipment and structures is possible, but time has erased several survivors in recent years. Surprisingly, two of the former gas electric cars have not only survived, but have been restored to operating condition. Gas electric No. 4666 resides at the Black River & Western Railroad in New Jersey, and No. 4662 is part of the Wilmington & Western collection in Delaware. The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania displays a class PF wooden day coach, No. 3556 built in August of 1886 that was once used on the Parkton Local. According to local legend, the car was downgraded to work train service in Parkton and Baltimore. It was white lined and later discovered and restored as part of the PRR historical collection in 1939.
Structures are more plentiful but some of them face uncertain futures. Starting in Baltimore, the "new" Calvert Station (1865), at Calvert and Center Street, was remodeled as the Downtown Athletic Club. The structure was shortened during a street-widening project twenty years ago, however the general mass of the structure remains intact. Two of the finest stations on the Green Spring Branch, Brooklandville and Stevenson, have survived. The former is a private residence and the latter serves a commercial enterprise. The Riderwood station is a private residence and generally appears the same as it was in service. The former Lutherville station is also a private residence; however this station has been extensively restored. The Cockeysville passenger station was used as a freight office until 1971, however it became a victim of a bulldozer in June 1974 courtesy of Penn Central. Although several private individuals expressed an interest in purchasing the historic structure, the Penn Central bureaucracy felt that leveling the station was the most expedient way of handling the derelict. The Cockeysville freight station survives although it is worse for wear. The structure is owned by the Mass Transit Administration and is currently leased to a local fence company. In 1990 the MTA entertained the idea of restoring the structure but nothing ever materialized. Although this station never served passengers, it was the last freight agency on the NCR in Maryland, serving shippers from 1971 until 1975. Glencoe's original station is currently a private residence. The newer station and block office at Glencoe, discussed earlier, was dismantled shortly after the line was reduced to a single-track operation in 1961. The former Monkton Station has been professionally restored to its turn of the century appearance and serves as a base for the park ranger that is assigned to protect the Northern Central Trail. The shelter shed that served as the Blue Mount station is privately owned and has been stabilized but not extensively restored. Sadly, the White Hall station was the victim of arson in 1984. Individuals who travel to the region to inspect these facilities should remember to respect the privacy of the property owners.
These survivors are tangible reminders of the Parkton Local's long and honorable service to Baltimore and Baltimore County. The fact that the train battled many odds over the years and survived as long as it did reflects the PRR's concern for its customers and the long, difficult struggle all railroads faced when adjusting services in that highly regulated era. The train left behind a devoted band of passengers and a legacy that will endure. Few contemporary transportation agencies will be able to achieve that level of success.