Miller Tower Closes
CSXT's (x-B&O) Miller (R) Interlocking Tower at Cherry Run, West Virginia, has closed. Its door was locked shortly after 11PM on Sunday, September 24. Twenty-five people were in attendance at a closing ceremony which included the singing of the hymn "Bless this House" (modified to fit the occasion), a benediction by a clergyman, a reading of the final entry on the tower's train sheet, a recessional for operators from the past who were there in spirit, a final sounding of the tower's horn, and musical accompaniment by a guitarist and a drummer. Principal participants in the ceremony included Allen Brougham (operator), Paul Swain (operator), Marvin Duvall (retired operator), Michael Koch (pastor), Tom Kraemer (CSXT locomotive engineer, guitarist), and Mario Hendricks (drummer). Until its switches were removed a week earlier, Miller had a mechanical interlocking, one of only six such interlocking systems in the country by which switches are thrown using levers connected to pipelines. The tower's closing was part of a 60-mile signal improvement project on CSXT's Cumberland Subdivision extending from Harpers Ferry to Orleans Road, West Virginia, with the installation of "electro-code," making its intervening interlocking towers obsolete. Miller was the first tower to be retired by the project; the others are Martinsburg (NA), West Cumbo (W), and Hancock (HO). The project is slated to be completed in late summer of 2001. The next tower to be closed is West Cumbo, near Hedgesville, West Virginia, which should occur in late November. Martinsburg and Hancock are slated to be closed in May and July of 2001 respectively.
Cherry Run is New Control Point Replacing Miller Tower
CSXT has adopted the name "Cherry Run" as the new control point replacing the former interlocking at Miller Tower. The new switches are located one-half mile east of Miller Tower.
Roundhouse Authority Wants Miller Tower for Historical Display
The Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority is negotiating with CSXT for acquisition of Miller Tower for removal of the structure to the roundhouse facility at Martinsburg for restoration and historical display focusing upon railroad operations within the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.
Remembering Miller Tower
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
IT'S BEEN FUN!
Yes, it has been fun! I doubt that anyone who served here wouldn't agree that duty at this place was (mostly) a genuine pleasure. Sure, it had its share of hectic moments (all towers do), but in the final analysis, the sense of achievement made everything worthwhile.
It was just shy of eight years ago that I made my presence upon the scene. My previous duty station had closed (as had two duty stations before that), and I ventured upon Miller as the ultimate dream - sequestered within the scenic Potomac River Valley, a half a mile from the nearest civilization, in company with nature, and an interlocking plant using antique armstrong levers connected to rods to move the switches. What could be better than that!
There were some hardships to endure. Twice we got flooded out by the waters of the fickle river, and the several blizzards we saw will long be remembered for the isolation of the place and the hilly, twisting roads leading to it. On a couple of occasions I had to ride a train to reach the tower - because the roads were impassable - once getting stranded there for 30 hours. On that occasion, I finally left the tower in style, aboard Amtrak's Capitol Limited...
These and other memories form the legacy as I have seen it. But I had only been there for eight years. The station itself had been there for about a century. The true legacy of Miller Tower belongs to all who served there, especially those whose tenure encompassed the "glory years" of hard core railroading. But more on this later...
It is an anomaly that the tower remained so long as it did. Indeed, there had been serious talk of its demise decades ago. But much more of an anomaly is that a "cluster" of towers still existed with offices spaced an average of just six miles apart. Four towers comprised this particular cluster - now there are three.
The decision to go ahead with the project was reached late last year. The design segment began in late February, with construction beginning in April. The first signal (Seaboard-style) was placed into position at the new Cherry Run control point on June 22 (but not yet in service). Construction of the new 45-MPH switches and frogs was basically complete (but not yet in service) as of July 13. The new westbound 4-track signal bridge was installed on August 9. The cutover segment began on September 15, with retirement of the mechanical switches at Miller completed the morning of September 17. The last move with signals at Miller that day was at 8:55 A.M. by operator Danny Unger. It was at this point that Miller ceased to exist as an electro-mechanical interlocking, one of only six remaining in the country.
Beginning September 18, technicians tested the new circuitry while trains operated through the area under verbal block authority and permission from a switch tender. Then, on September 21, about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, the new control point at Cherry Run was placed into service.
Operators remained on duty at Miller, assisting as needed, but there were few duties to perform.
On Sunday, September 24, it was all over. The tower closed following second-shift. I was there to close it.
Miller Tower, may it rest in peace.
The railroad through the area - its original line from Baltimore to Wheeling - was opened to Cumberland in 1842. There was reportedly a staffed interlocking office at Miller (Millers) in 1900, or earlier, but the tower as we know it today was probably not constructed until 1910-1912. Research has revealed that the installation replaced the earlier facility at or near the same location, a 13'5" X 24'9" structure housing a 36-lever Saxby & Farmer machine with 20 working levers. The earliest days of an interlocking at that location are supported by construction of the Cherry Run Valley Railroad line - placed into service in December 1903 - between Cherry Run and the connection with the Cumberland Valley Railroad at Berkeley, near Martinsburg. That line eventually became the low-grade freight line, between Miller and West Cumbo, still regularly used today as a bypass route to avoid the heavier grades of the original line over North Mountain.
Miller Tower (circa-1910-1912) had been constructed to a standard plan drawn by the B&O's office of architect for a frame tower structure size 15 X 21 feet, with six windows on its front and back, four windows on its west side, and three windows and a door on its east side. The B&O annual report for the year ending June 30, 1910, includes a cost item for "extension of track, and interlocking" at Cherry Run and Miller. According to an ICC valuation report issued in 1919, the tower was built and in service in 1913. But according to a B&O signal pricing publication, the date is listed as 1912. The B&O annual report for the year ending June 30, 1912, includes the cost item for "water and fuel stations" at Miller, West Virginia, but not specifically for the interlocking itself.
The new tower had a 40-lever Union style #52 electro-mechanical machine, including 36 working levers and four spares. This was replaced in 1952 by a 20-lever interlocking machine. Oil lamps were in use at the facility until 1929, and running water was introduced to the building in 1955.
The building was expanded to the back in 1936 in order to house signal relay equipment on the second floor. There had been a flood that year, with water reaching the bottom of the second floor, and this heralded the need to keep sensitive equipment out of harm's way. Subsequent floods - notably in 1972, 1985 and 1996 - which reached into the first floor area, confirmed the wisdom of that decision.
The interlocking was located at the west end of Cherry Run yard, a major interchange point between the B&O and the Western Maryland. According to early track charts, there were at one time 10 yard tracks in Cherry Run yard, plus some stub-end tracks. At the tower there were three mainline tracks and one yard lead for a total of four tracks in front of the tower, and two penstocks within or near the limits of the interlocking. The penstocks were supplied by two 55' concrete water reservoir tanks on the hill across the tracks from the tower. The penstocks and tanks were retired in 1955, but the concrete tanks are still there.
The third main track west of Miller was placed into service circa-1916 to relieve congestion along one of the busiest segments of the B&O system, with the outside tracks being signaled in one direction and the inside track being signaled in both directions. The June 11, 1927, issue of Railway Age lauded the success of this arrangement, and quoted the figure of 104 trains in a single day - 31 passenger and 73 freight - on December 20, 1926. This is over double the volume of the current era, although trains are now longer, and there are only two passengers trains (Amtrak) each day. In later years the third track west of Miller was removed, but the remaining tracks were then signaled in both directions.
The location of Cherry Run yard, which is no longer there, necessitated construction of Miller upon a curve, not the ideal place for a functioning interlocking. The new control point - now called Cherry Run - is situated on tangent track, in the area of the former yard and Cherry Run station.
About a mile east of Miller (or a half a mile east of Cherry Run) is the bridge to the former Western Maryland Railway at Big Pool, Maryland. The bridge served as the connection point to the WM. The WM line west of Big Pool toward Cumberland is now torn up (a portion of which is now a biking trail), but about three or four trains a day still use the bridge to and from Hagerstown.
This is a list compiled from contemporary accounts of operators who have worked at the tower. This list is NOT complete. Regrettably, many of the operators who served in the early years of the office will have to remain unnamed. Nobody left with us today knows who they were, and records are unavailable...
- Frank Albright
- Garland Anderson
- Marvin Avey
- Allen Brougham
- Nina Browder
- Melvin Butts
- Sam Butts
- Dick Campbell
- Harold Campbell
- Charlie Courtney
- Doug Courtney
- Charlie Creamer
- Chester Davison
- Rick Dawson
- Scott Dawson
- Marvin Duvall
- Cindy Edwards
- Jimmy Edwards
- Pete French
- Walter French
- Don Gall
- Debby Haddix
- Shorty Hansrote
- Bud Hersh
- Kit Holihan
- Don Hoover
- Albert Householder
- Leon Hovermale
- Tony Johnson
- Peggy Keefauver
- Rick Keefauver
- Harry Keesecker
- Bea Kline
- Ranota Koontz
- Larry Lee
- Whitney Lewis
- Dick Long
- Bill Lowry
- Gordon Lutz
- Clarence Mallett
- Herbert McBee
- Raymond McBee
- Blane McCullough
- Harold McCullough
- Sam McCullough
- Kim McCumbee
- Vic McPeak
- Debbie Mentzer
- Cliff Miller
- Floyd Munson
- Ed Novotnik
- Quentin Peer
- Emory Pentoney
- Oscar Rasche
- Denny Redd
- Elfred Ridgeway
- Hoppy Ridgeway
- Lou Ridgeway
- George Ryan
- Doris Sharar
- Kenny Silvious
- Conway Slinkman
- George Speis
- Bill Squires
- Ginger Stanley
- Paul Swain
- Danny Unger
- Jim Vargo
- Brenda Weller
- Dick Wilson
THE 29 SONG:
The feature "Eight Hours at Miller Tower," which first appeared in the Bull Sheet in January 1996, introduced the 29 Song, as sung to the tune of "Here Comes Santa Claus." The lyrics were rather bland, however, and Dale Jacobson of Beltsville, Maryland, wrote new words to the song (below), which I used ever since... Yes, I actually DID sing this song each day!
- Here comes twenty-nine,
- Here comes twenty-nine,
- Westbound down the line;
- Here comes twenty-nine,
- Here comes twenty-nine,
- Looking mighty fine.
- All the people look so happy,
- See their faces shine;
- Cares unravel,
- When you travel,
- On Amtrak twenty-nine.
REX OF MILLER TOWER:
Of all my cherished memories of the place, there is one which lives on...
He appeared at the tower during a snowstorm in February 1994. He wore no collar. He stayed... and he stayed... and he stayed...
He was a very friendly dog, and he soon claimed the top landing just outside the tower door as his "post." There, from his lofty perch, Rex (the name I gave him) could keep an eye on all that happened, and he made himself a committee of one to welcome all who came to his adopted domain. And what a thrill it was each day to arrive at the tower to his friendly greeting. He would show his delight at my arrival by the tones of an especially happy bark, and by placing his front paws (mud and all) high against the door of my car (and then against me when I got out).
Rex's bountiful appetite was satisfied by gifts of food, and an old rug was brought in for his resting comfort.
It was concluded that Rex was probably a rather young dog, perhaps not yet fully grown, definitely of the "hound" variety. He would no doubt make a good hunter; his talents as a watchdog were already being shown.
About a week after Rex's arrival, some photos of him were taken and affixed to posters explaining his plight. They were displayed at convenience stores in the area. We wanted to find his owner. There was no response - not even a nibble. (No pun intended.) We also looked for lost and found notices in the paper. Nothing! So after four weeks of his presence at the tower, I took Rex home with me...
The first order of business on his first day home was a bath. (He didn't mind it.) This was followed by lessons on what a leash was all about. Next was a visit to the... VET.
Once wormed, inoculated and neutered, he came back home. I introduced him to my other dog, Penny, and they got along great. (Penny has since died).
Six and one-half years later, Rex is still just as frisky, and silly (and sometimes naughty) as he ever was. He's definitely a member of the family - and I'll always remember... he came from MILLER TOWER...
A BEAR CAME FOR A VISIT:
The black bear is the official animal of West Virginia. And one actually paid us a visit about a year ago. Brenda Weller, having just finished second shift, got the honor of seeing it near the foot of the tower steps as she was leaving to go home at 11 o'clock. Neither felt in the mood for socializing, however, and the bear quickly scampered off to, presumably, whence he came.
WRECK ON THE LOW GRADE:
No feature about Miller Tower would really be complete without mention of the infamous head-on collision that occurred early New Years Day, 1957. It happened on the low grade freight line (number 4 track) at a sharp curve in an isolated section of Berkeley County, West Virginia, killing three crewmen and injuring six others.
Much of the blame for the accident was upon two of the operators at Miller Tower for their failure to protect a train moving against the current of traffic.
Number 4 track, at the time of the accident, was signaled for eastward moves only. A westward move could be made, but to do so, proper protection was needed to assure that no eastward trains would enter that section of track.
Protection consisted of applying locking devices to opposing signals and switches at the exiting end of the track involved, the display of a red train order signal, and the issuance of a right-of-track train order from the dispatcher addressed to any trains moving in the direction (in this case eastward) that would conflict with the move being made.
According to the Interstate Commerce Commission report on the incident, the second-shift operator at Miller Tower did copy the order, but he failed to provide the required blocking protection, and he did not display the red train order signal. Moreover, he did not make a written transfer of the order to the third-shift operator, but the third-shift operator (who entered the office as the order was being transmitted) said he understood the order, and that he would attend to the red train order signal.
Meanwhile, the operator at the tower at West Cumbo, who copied the same train order addressed to the westward train involved, and then getting a clearance form to accompany the order, routed the train onto number 4 track, and delivered its copies of the order... "Extra 6498 West has right over opposing trains on No 4 four track West Cumbo to Miller." (In those days, the track number was written both numerically and spelled out.)
The third-shift operator at Miller became distracted with other activities, and overlooked the situation involving the opposing train. An eastbound train was approaching, and he got the dispatcher's permission to route that train onto number 4 track. (For this, the dispatcher was to be held accountable as well; he, too, had overlooked the situation.)
Notwithstanding the absence of a red train order signal being displayed at Miller, the eastward train might have gotten at least some protection by the wayside signals had it not been for the location of the westward train at the moment in which the eastward train passed its last signal prior to the collision. In this instance, the last signal it passed informed the crew that there were no trains between there and the next signal it would encounter. But after the eastward train passed that signal, the westward train (which had no signals at all) entered that particular section of track.
Regrettably, the error was not discovered until after the eastward train had cleared onto number 4 track at Miller. With radios not yet available for communication to trains, there was no way to tell the crews to stop. A desperate effort was made to call employees living near the track, to ask them to run out and flag either or both of the trains, but the effort failed. Finally, a call was made to the local rescue squad to respond to the accident... before it even happened.
The dispatcher and both of the operators involved were dismissed from the railroad. The dispatcher and the third-shift operator were later rehired. Both of the operators have since died. The dispatcher completed his career with the railroad and retired a number of years ago.
Interestingly, number 4 track was still signaled exclusively for eastward moves until just before Miller Tower closed. Now, as part of the ongoing signal improvement project, it is signaled in both directions.
Retired operator Melvin Butts, 75, will never forget October 14, 1954. He was working at Miller Tower when a train destined to the Western Maryland Railway picked a switch in front of the tower, derailing 54 loads of coal. The cars piled up alongside the building, taking out the steps. He was unhurt, but he was trapped for a while in the tower. Later, he was rescued through a window with a ladder.
A FINAL TRIBUTE - THE CLOSING CEREMONY:
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2000... It had been my requested honor to be the operator to close Miller Tower. For this, I am grateful to our regional superintendent of operations improvement, Pat Meriwether, who granted my request. Indeed, I cherish that honor. But in a real sense, any honors that can be bestowed belong mostly to the many people who worked long and hard through the station's earliest years, under difficult conditions. The life and times at the tower were not so easy then; they had no air-conditioning, no running water, had coal to shovel to keep warm, and had to endure the continuous aftermath of soot and smoke from passing trains. Moreover, operators in those days had a six-day work week, not five. It is they who first built the tower's legacy, and it was they who were there in spirit on its final day to participate in the recessional just before the door got locked.
The final shift was one of camaraderie and remembrance. It was a cloudy day with intermittent drizzle, which somehow seemed appropriate to the occasion. It may have been the saddest day, but it was the happiest day as well. There were few duties to perform - our switches were gone, we did not even have to keep times on the train sheet, and the written transfer simply said "no duties." I merely watched the trains as they passed, and shared some final assistance with the operator at WB Tower in assuming our former clerical calling functions.
Many friends stopped by to pay homage in the final hours; most stayed for the final tribute. I set up a C.D. player on the outside lower platform and played selections by Johann Christian Bach as a prelude. Then, shortly before the ceremony was to begin, I assembled everyone in the compound area, and introduced special guests. They included Paul Swain (operator), Marvin Duvall (retired operator), Tom Kraemer (CSXT engineer, guitarist), Mario Hendricks (drummer), and Michael Koch (clergyman). I then introduced Tim Yates, architect for the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority, who shared with us their plans to move the tower to Martinsburg for restoration and display at the roundhouse complex.
A preliminary ceremony began with the singing of the hymn "Bless This House," as rearranged to fit the occasion. Then, with guitar accompaniment, everyone ventured silently into the tower for a final visit -- Paul, Marvin and Michael remaining with me as the others returned to the compound.
The final ceremony opened with a ten-second drum-roll. I then gave a brief greeting from the top platform. Michael offered his benediction. I gave a reading of my final entry on the train sheet. With guitar accompaniment, we had a three-minute recessional for those who were there in spirit to exit the tower. Paul, Marvin and Michael followed with their descent. Then another ten-second drum-roll. Finally, alone in the tower, I adjusted the shades, sounded the tower horn for the last time, turned out the lights, walked out onto the landing, closed and locked the door, and descended. It was all over...
- SONG BLESS THIS HOUSE:
- May H. Brahe
- Original words by Helen Taylor
- Modified for ceremony by Allen Brougham
- Bless this house, O Lord, we pray,
- Make it safe by night and day;
- Bless these walls so firm and stout;
- Keeping want and trouble out;
- Bless the roof and chimney tall,
- Let thy peace lie over all;
- Bless this door that it may prove,
- A peace and love, sure and true.
- Bless these windows shining bright,
- Letting in God's heavenly light;
- Bless the history of this place,
- Keeping the railroad running safe;
- Bless the folk who worked within;
- Keep them pure and free from sin;
- Bless us all that we may be,
- Fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee.
- Bless this tower, standing tall,
- With memories we share with all;
- Bless the levers standing there,
- Their work now finished, with a prayer;
- Bless this time in history now,
- Remembering it always, this we vow;
- Bless the ones who share this song,
- And keep us all in health, and strong.
- Reverend Michael Koch
- Pastor, Abiding Presence Lutheran Church
- Beltsville, Maryland
- Lord God Almighty,
You are the creator of all things. You have given us each work to do and we have found great satisfaction in our work and identity from our vocation. We give thanks for the work at Miller Tower. We give you thanks for over 100 years of faithful tower operators. For they have worked conscientiously and safely. They have worked 24 hours per day, seven days per week for many years. They have endured flood and storm, but also were permitted to observe the beauty of this river valley.
Our God, we also remember those who have maintained this railroad plant. For their faithfulness and resourcefulness in maintaining an old machine, we give thanks for signal maintainers and track crews.
Lord, it is well that we stop at times of change and mark those passages with ceremony, as we are doing tonight. It is the end of one thing and the beginning of something new. But you, O Lord, are timeless - the same yesterday, today and forever. Be with us now in the changes of life and go with us to new places, for you are the author and preserver of this world.
O God, give each of us a safe way home this evening. Amen.
- GUITAR SOLOS:
- Thomas K. Kraemer, guitarist
- Silent visitation into tower:
- Various pieces from the Baroque era
- "Spanish Ballad" by Romanza
FINAL TRAIN SHEET ENTRY:
Allen Brougham, operator
- The legacy of Miller Tower belongs to all who have served here.
- Miller Tower, may it rest in peace.
ATTENDING CLOSING CEREMONY:
From the guest book...
- T. K. Kraemer
- Gordy Bjoraker
- R.R. Rob Brzostowski
- Brian M. Stitcher
- Gilbert Elmond
- Mark Ryman
- Chris Eads
- Anthony Isaac
- Jeff Patelski
- Kevin Mutch
- Mike Clough 49ER
- Pete Grosso Jr.
- Matt Foltz, President Chessie System H.S.
- Matt "The Z Man" Adams
- Vic Stone
- Bobby Miller
- Allen Kreinik
- Paul M. Swain
- Mario Hendricks
- Michael Koch
- Tim Yates
- Keith S. Yoder
- M. P. Welsh
- M. T. Duvall
- Allen Brougham
- Michael Welsh
- John Hankey
- Jon Roma
- B&O Railroad Museum Library
- (The names of operators working at Miller Tower were furnished from memory by numerous employees, both active and retired.)
Miller Tower's switch & signal control was removed on Sunday, September 17. The last move with signals was 8:55 A.M. by operator Danny Unger. According to tower historian Jon Roma, there are now only five (5) mechanical (lever & rod) operated interlocking plants remaining in the U.S. They are...
- Brighton Park Junction, Chicago, Illinois
- Grasselli, Indiana
- Hancock, West Virginia
- Ridgely, Springfield, Illinois
- West Keyser, West Virginia
ADDITIONAL READING FROM BACK ISSUES:
Towers: CSX's Living Relics (video review) - February 1995
A Change of Pace (working third-shift) - April 1995
Eight Hours at Miller Tower - January 1996
Capitol Limited Stops at Miller Tower - February 1996
And Then Came the Flood - February 1996
Five Years at Miller Tower - October 1997
Kitty of Miller Tower - January 2000
Cumberland Sub Towers Nearing their End - May 2000