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June 1999


Amtrak to Begin Oklahoma City/Fort Worth Service June 15

Amtrak will begin service June 15 between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. The new train, which is funded by the State of Oklahoma, returns Amtrak service to the state for the first time in 20 years. School children in Oklahoma have been invited to help name the train.


BNSF to Reduce Workforce, Cut Capital Expenditures

Burlington Northern Santa Fe has announced a seven percent reduction of its salaried workforce to become effective by the end of the second quarter. About 400 positions will be affected. In addition, about 1000 "scheduled" positions have been identified for elimination. The company also plans to reduce 1999 cash capital expenditures by $100-million, according to a BNSF report.


Union Pacific to Run Unit Grain Service into Mexico

Union Pacific will soon become the first railroad to run a unit shuttle grain train across the Mexican border and into the interior. Until now, unit trains could not be used in Mexico because customers did not have the track capacity to receive them. CBC Arancia has added trackage at its facility in San Juan Del Rio, near Mexico City, enabling UP to move a 75-car unit train through the Eagle Pass gateway and return. Plans are to run 12 trains by the end of June, then to run one continuous-cycle train between the Midwest and Mexico, according to a UP report.


Norfolk Southern to Join North American Container System Program

Norfolk Southern has announced it will join as a participant in the North American Container System. Other participants include CSX Intermodal, Canadian National, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Kansas City Southern. The NACS program, established in 1996, is designed to facilitate the free interchange of 48-foot domestic containers between member railroads without restrictions. In the near future, 53-foot containers will be added to the fleet.


U.S. to Fund Baltimore/Washington Maglev Study

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced funding for a feasibility study for a magnetic levitation train between Baltimore and Washington. If constructed, it is estimated that trains could be operated between the two cities in as few as 16 minutes.


Tourist Train Proposed for Shenandoah Valley

The Shenandoah Rail Initiative, based in Strasburg, Virginia, has proposed operating a tourist train in the Shenandoah Valley. A route for the train has not been determined, but one proposal would include linking Strasburg and Harrisonburg, in the vicinity of several Civil War battlefields, along the Norfolk Southern.


Funding Sought for RF&P Caboose

The Chesapeake Division Railroad Enthusiasts is appealing to the public for funding to restore its former RF&P caboose 923, now located on the Walkersville Southern Railroad. Donations are tax-deductible, and may be sent to Chesapeake Division RRE (Attn: RF&P 923 Renovation), P.O. Box 397, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20884-0397.


Biking the Northern Central Railroad Trail

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

There is no trail so near and dear to my heart as the Northern Central Railroad Trail. Yes, I've biked this trail a number of times before, and I've duly reported doing so several times within the honored pages of this publication. Still, I need only the slightest excuse to revisit my favorite haunt; this time to observe the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the end of service of the good old Parkton Local. (That was Saturday, June 27, 1959.)

The Parkton Local ran between Baltimore and Parkton, a distance of 28.8 miles, and served my hometown of Monkton. In fact, it was for this very train that my family decided to settle in Monkton in 1946 following the second World War - a time when few people had automobiles - and my father needed the convenience of train service to commute to work in Baltimore. I was five years old at the time. Years later I commuted on the train (occasionally) between Monkton and Cockeysville while attending the fourth through sixth grades at Cockeysville Elementary School. Then, during my junior and senior years of high school, I used the train regularly to commute to school in Baltimore.

In many respects, the Parkton Local made me into a railfan. That, and the other trains moving through Monkton, supplied me with a regular dose of fantasy during those glory years of growing up in the country. But more on this later....

The date was May 4, 1999. I began my nostalgic journey at Ashland, the southern end of the NCR Trail. Sounds of geese could be heard off in the distance - the beginning of slackwater for the Loch Raven Reservoir....

Ashland is an old town with a stately stone townhouse building next to what was once the railroad. I recall how in my high school days, along with some others my own age, we would stand on the rear platform of the train going home in the afternoon, and discard shreds of newspaper into the air to see the snowflake effect within the train's turbulent wake as we sped through this very spot. That is, if the train did not stop in Ashland on that particular day, which it rarely did. Somehow, I guess, our mischief of cluttering up the town with our daily assault of newspaper shreds (which we procured from papers left behind by commuters and tore them into the little pieces before reaching Ashland) was meant to get back at the place for not generating passengers for our beloved train.

But some days we'd take a different approach. Instead of shredding the newspapers into little pieces, we would wad a whole newspaper, bind it with fishing line, and drop the wad onto the tracks while one of us held onto the line, playing it out until the bouncing paper was maybe a couple of hundred feet behind the train, until the paper disintegrated.

But on one occasion a certain individual (not I) was holding the line when the bouncing newspaper snagged in the right-of-way, causing the line to play out with sudden and rapid force, resulting in surface wounds to his hand. This put an end to the bouncing newspaper idea, but not to some of the other mischief we dreamed up....

I biked my way north about a quarter of a mile, and then noticed an anomalous addition to the trail supplied by the ever attentive park personnel. There, on the approach to the crossing at Paper Mill Road, was a whistle post. Not an original whistle post, mind you (although in some places original posts do remain), but a wooden reproduction. But wait! Here's where the anomaly comes in. Paper Mill Road (at least in the time frame represented by my tenure in the Parkton Local days) did not cross the railroad at grade, rather the road spanned the tracks on a narrow truss bridge. (Consequently, there was not a whistle post). This particular bridge (which is no longer there) was the focus of a stunt we would perform during the apple growing season. Ammunition in the form of a fallen apple would be obtained from beneath a tree during our stop in Cockeysville, and just before the rear of the train got to the Paper Mill Road bridge, one of us would give the apple a hefty heave upwards with the intent that it would loft completely over the bridge and down on the other side. We hoped someday to be accurate enough to catch the apple when it came back down, but we never did....

Continuing north a short distance is an old lime kiln, just off the right of way, dating from the late 1800's. Just further north is the concrete span, the width of three tracks, over the Gunpowder Falls. This was the northern point of a long siding that once existed south from here toward Ashland. The siding came off the double-track main line just north of the bridge, a rather curious arrangement since the bridge itself could easily have been constructed so much less expensively with the narrowed width of two tracks if the siding had begun just south of the bridge rather than just to its north. I often wondered about this, and I never learned the answer. Though no doubt solidly built in the beginning, the facade around its arches has somewhat deteriorated, and the low arches above the water on the upstream side has always been a catch basin for debris.

Between a point just north of here and the town of Phoenix can be barely seen, for those who take the time to look, an earlier alignment of the right of way that once hugged the bank of the Gunpowder for about half a mile until replaced by a straighter, higher alignment to avoid the frequency of inundation. At Phoenix can be seen the concrete foundation of the waiting shelter that had stood in later years of Parkton Local service.

Between Phoenix and Sparks I extensively dawdled, at one point stopping to examine water dripping down rocks, much as it no doubt did in railroad days - the gentle dripping into a pool impounded by a berm of soot and ballast.

At Sparks I stopped once again, this time to reflect on a number of memories of the place from my first through third grades of elementary school, just over the hill from the Sparks crossing. I recalled how twice each day my school bus had taken me over this same crossing, protected then by a warning bell and a watchman with a red flag and sign. There had been a station here, too, now long since gone, and some of the up-line students used to take the train to school since many of the country roads back then were not suitable for a school bus. "Walkers and train people," said the teacher as at closing time she would dismiss these students before dismissing those of us who were to go home by bus. I never took the train to school at Sparks, since there was a bus to Monkton (an ancient relic, driven by Mr. Foster, with seats along the sides and down the middle)...

There had been a store and some houses in Sparks that are no longer there, but the old bank building remains which is now a nature center for the Gunpowder Falls State Park. It was closed on this particular day (a Tuesday) and may not always be open on weekends either; a sign on the door reads, "If nature center is not open during scheduled hours it is due to a lack of volunteers."

The next stop on the line was Glencoe. I dawdled here, too. Remnants of the old passenger platform remain next to the spot of the long-removed station. This had been the end of double-track in my high school years. It was here that an agent-operator had been on duty in the depot to control the single switch and deliver train orders when needed.

The Northern Central was officially an east-west route through this area, according to the timetable, not north and south as seen on the map. By moving north, as I was doing on my bike, I was actually going west using the standard designated by the PRR. Likely this was due to the preponderance of trains on the line fulfilling east-west schedules. Its premier train, for example, was the famous Liberty Limited, which ran between Washington and Chicago.

The eastbound home signal for Glencoe is still in place. In fact, many of the signal poles of the line still remain - some in reasonably good condition - some in not so good condition, partially toppled and overgrown.

Corbett, the next stop on the line, is little changed from my Parkton Local days. Its station is gone, but the park has maintained the old crossing protection signs, and kept them freshly painted. Corbett was the next community east of Monkton, about a mile, but trains blowing for the Corbett crossing could be heard more clearly at my house than could be heard from the Monkton crossing because of the hills and the echo-effect along the Gunpowder Valley.

About 500 yards west of Corbett the railroad emerged from a cut and crossed a bridge spanning the Gunpowder Falls. It was here, particularly in the winter with no leaves on the trees, that from the third-floor window of my house I used to see the trains. I can recall the sound of westbounders, moving upgrade with the full thrust of their lashup of diesel E units pulling a string of varnish as they crossed this bridge. I can also recall the sound of eastbounders as they would start blowing for Corbett Road as they crossed this same bridge going the other way....

I was nearly two hours into my trip, having gone only six miles, when I reached this bridge on my bike. Geese were honking in the falls below as if on cue heralding my arrival. There is a bench on the bridge, a faded marker reading in memory of F. Warren Hawkins. I stopped to rest - and reflect. If I were to trace the roots of my interest in trains to one specific place that transcended the influence of any other single place, then this was it. This was The Place! I had long ago vowed to return here whenever I wanted, and now, once again, I had. The distant memories played in my mind the melody of those trains emerging from the cut with their blend of music. But there were no trains today - just peace! I took the rare occasion to pen some of the words for my manuscript from this very spot - rather than to wait until later when I could perhaps forget the thoughts of the moment.

I suppose I could have spent hours here, and possibly I would have, but there was a threat of rain, so I only stayed about 30 minutes. But before I ventured on, I walked over to the spot just south (or east) of the bridge that had once been the site of an interlocking tower. I'm told it was most likely built in the period 1887 to 1891, and remained in service until about the end of the first World War. It controlled an interlocking which included a siding extending from that point east through Corbett. Interestingly, until a decade ago, I never knew the tower had ever existed. It was then, when I learned that a tower (call letters MK) had been there, that I concluded (perhaps) the enchantment of "The Place" and its worthy heritage of once having a tower may have had something to do in guiding my direction toward eventually becoming an interlocking tower operator (albeit for a different railroad) by profession. Who knows?

I pondered, too, the similarities of "The Place," and its long-ago tower, to Miller Tower (where I now serve) of the former B&O. Both are along a river, both have geese and other wildlife, and both serve or served rather simplified interlocking plants. (And presumably, MK Tower had armstrong levers, as does Miller!) Well, so much for comparisons....

I then peddled up to Monkton and turned back. My non-stop trip back to Ashland took me all of 38 minutes - compared to 15 minutes from an old schedule of the Parkton Local...

My next adventure on the Northern Central Railroad Trail began in Monkton heading north (or west). The date, just a week later, was May 11. I was joined this time by Gilbert Elmond, who had biked with me on several earlier adventures, but not the one I took from Ashland to Monkton. Having missed that portion, I explained to him that had he covered that portion with me, it may have taken us a month and a day, since I'd want to stop every 100 feet to recount a particular memory. But since we were heading north, and no longer on the turf of my particular haunt on the Parkton Local (I had only been on the local north of Monkton, I believe, three times), we could keep an acceptable pace with the potential of actually achieving a reasonable amount of mileage. Indeed, I had only covered about a third of the trail's distance the previous week, and we wanted to cover the rest.

So it was as we proceeded north, stopping first at the one-time community of Pleasant Valley, just around the bend from Monkton. Once a prosperous soapstone mining town, all that's structurally left of it today is the crumbled remains of a single stone house next to the tracks. I had known the gent who once lived here, though - a fellow named Rollie, who did odd jobs around the store in Monkton when I was growing up. His presence I most remember perched upon a wheelbarrow in front of the store waiting for the train and its daily delivery of newspapers and mail - a very kindly gent indeed.

The next community was Blue Mount, a place our family stayed for about a month one summer while the house in Monkton was being renovated. Notable artifacts of Blue Mount include the bridge deck to an old spur line off the main track to a quarry in White Hall, rails still in the main track crossing at Blue Mount Road, and the old enclosed small waiting room now removed to private property within sight of the crossing.

The town of White Hall, which once had separate passenger and freight depots, now has a park maintenance office in a former feed store. We stopped in and chatted with the rangers, explaining our purpose that day in riding the trail to observe the 40th anniversary of the end of Parkton Local service, an event that was observed rather extensively by the staff upon the 30th anniversary, but apparently not widely noticed on the occasion of the 40th....

At Parkton we attempted to locate the precise site of the old Parkton station. The site is now overgrown with trees. The station's final vestige of public life was the gathering of passengers next to the train on its last day of operation, the accommodating Pennsy then allowing passengers to ride into Baltimore one last time on the train's return equipment move. I was there. So was my father. Together we rode the train back to Monkton, thereupon being the last Parkton Local passengers to detrain at Monkton....

Gilbert and I continued north on the trail, stopping briefly at various points of interest. New to the trail (since my last biking trip through the spot) is a large display sign at the state line - a commendable joint effort by the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania to highlight features of their respective portions of the trail.

North of this point the trail is called the York County Heritage Rail/Trail. Both it and the NCR Trail are of the same crush-and-run surface, suitable to both bikes and horses. Presently it extends north to Hanover Junction, but the portion north of Hanover Junction (according to word I just received from Rich Hafer, who owns the Reading caboose stationed at New Freedom) is now under construction to York with expected completion by September. That's great! (Count on this: I'll be there to ride it once it opens.)

Our final stop was New Freedom, and an obligatory crab cake sandwich at LaMotte's Restaurant.

Returning to Monkton, it's upgrade for about half a mile from New Freedom, and then it's mostly downhill from there. (Once again, I always try and plan my biking trips with the easiest grades on the return portion.)

Our speed run back to Monkton (with one rest stop at Parkton) took us 48 minutes, which compares to 30 minutes by a through local train between the same points in a 1922 Pennsy timetable. But Gilbert (who still needed to collect mileage from Monkton to Ashland) continued on to Ashland, and I drove on down from Monkton to meet him. End of adventure....