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June 2005


Ralph Fisher Dies

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

Ralph Eugene Fisher, retired B&O tower operator, died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in White Marsh, Maryland, on May 16. He was 75.

Ralph, one of my colleagues on the railroad, had retired May 21, 1990, following 43 years of service. At the time of his retirement, he was the second-shift operator at the office known as 'RV Tower,' located next to the Riverside crew room and locomotive facility in Baltimore. A gala party to mark his retirement had been staged in an old observation car, an event that was openly advertised for about a month but kept secret from Ralph in order that it be a surprise.

Ralph was long known for his uplifting spirit, even under pressure, with a characteristic laugh and his hallmark expression, "Everything is lovely!"

My earliest remembrance of Ralph was in May 1970, just a few days after I had joined the railroad, while I was training on the sidewire position at Camden Station. I was instructed to call the operator at RV Tower to read a message for him to copy pertaining to a work train assignment of the following day. I was nervous over this, my opportunity to read a message to someone to be sure it was worded correctly, but Ralph, the operator with whom I was speaking, gave a patient response by repeating the message back to me exactly as I had given it, and told me that I had done a wonderful job. This was very reassuring. Several years later at Bay View Tower, where he was then assigned, I had the pleasure of training with him on that office's functions. I found him to be an extremely good instructor.

Born on February 4, 1930, in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, Ralph's father was a Pennsylvania Railroad tower operator working on the Middle Division. Following the second World War, his father transferred to PRR's Baltimore Division, and the family moved to Baltimore where Ralph joined the B&O in 1947 at the age of 17.

Ralph variously worked at Aikin, Aberdeen, Poplar, Singerly, Fort Meade Junction, Westport, Curtis Bay Junction, Brooklyn, Waverly, Riverside and Bay View towers. He was always an operator, and he enjoyed his career. At the time of his retirement, he said: "I loved it, and I don't think there's a better job anywhere."

He is survived by his wife Nettie, two daughters, five grandchildren and six great grandchildren. His brother Clair, a B&O train dispatcher with whom I had also worked, died in 1999.


Bee Tree Preserve

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

The members of the Towson Presbyterian Church did a wonderful thing back in the mid-1960's. For they acquired eight parcels of land - donated by a group of generous families - which today comprise 263 acres of ground in northern Baltimore County, Maryland. Now known as the Bee Tree Preserve (or Camp Beetree), the property borders a portion of the Northern Central Railroad Trail along Bee Tree Run just north of Bentley Springs.

Included in the preserve are grassy fields, wooded hillsides and wetlands. By making it a preserve, the property is free from urban development, and may be enjoyed in its pristine setting for hiking, camping, bird watching, horseback riding, scouting activities, and as a retreat for church functions.

The property is rich in history, too. During the Civil War, a Union picket camp was established upon a hill overlooking two railroad bridges spanning Bee Tree Run, in order to protect the bridges from attack. Today the picket camp site is forested, but little imagination is needed to picture the area as it appeared in the 1860's.

Last month I paid a visit to Bee Tree Preserve. It was May 15, and the church had arranged a Civil War encampment on the property. The event was staged near a pavilion next to a field about a quarter of a mile from the NCR Trail, just south of the ridge of the Union camp site. Also on hand for the event were members of a musical ensemble with period instruments playing tunes made famous by the Civil War.

Following a brief reenactment of Union soldiers firing toward an imaginary line of Confederates, I took the occasion to talk with one of the privates. He was saying how he prefers being a private - having demoted himself from being a sergeant in some earlier reenactments. In short order he recognized me as the editor of the Bull Sheet. With some prompting, I recognized him, too... John Davis, who in the early 1980's as a Baltimore County Police K-9 officer, had often stopped by HX Tower to visit with me while awaiting call for duties involving him and his dog. Yes, he would even bring his dog into the tower with him. John retired from the force about a decade ago.

The Towson Presbyterian Church welcomes visitors to the preserve, at no charge, but requires authorization to use its buildings or to be on the property after dark.

For further information call 410-823-6500.

NCR Trail at one of the two bridges spanning Bee Tree Run.. The Union picket camp was on the hill to the right.


84 Lumber Opens Facility in Brunswick, Md.

Constructed on site of former B&O railroad yard

84 Lumber held its ribbon cutting May 19 for a new store in Brunswick, Maryland, that was recently constructed on land once used by the B&O Railroad, about a quarter of a mile west of the MARC train station.

The 12,000 square foot store and warehouse sits on a 12 acre plot of what had been a portion of 'Mill Yard,' retired by the railroad about two decades ago. A siding has been constructed which will serve the facility from a CSX track - one of two still remaining from the old yard - located just west of the new store.

The Brunswick facility - a retail store serving contractors and homeowners - is the 478th location for the nationwide chain, and one of 20 stores opened by the company on the same day.

According to a news account, 84 Lumber opened with its first store in 1956 in the town of Eighty Four, Pennsylvania.


FRA Chooses ENSCO for Track Inspection Vehicles

[ENSCO Inc., 5-24-05] . . .

ENSCO, a technology firm, has been awarded a $9-million contract by the Federal Railroad Administration to design, engineer and test two vehicles for the agency's Automated Track Inspection Program (ATIP).

The contract awarded is to build two highly customized vehicles, which would employ ENSCO's latest rail safety innovations. ENSCO said its next two cars will incorporate not only the previous innovations seen in the its previous model, T2000, T-16 and T-18, but new technologies as well.


VRE to Buy 11 Bi-Level Cars

Virginia Railway Express has awarded a $109-million contract with Sumitomo Corporation of America to supply 11 bi-level passenger cars for delivery beginning in late 2006, with an option to purchase 50 additional cars. The cars will replace older single-level cars currently in the VRE fleet.


Turbo Project Abandoned in New York

The state of New York has abandoned its program to recondition turbo trainsets for the run from New York to Albany. Amtrak removed two of the sets from service and a third completed set last year, citing that they were unsuitable for service, and four unfinished train sets will not be completed following the state's settlement with the manufacturer to end the program, according to a news account.


Genesee & Wyoming Buying 14 Short Lines

Genesee & Wyoming has agreed to acquire the 14 short lines of Rail Management Corporation for $243-million cash and the assumption of $1.7-million in debt. GWI will operate the short lines through its Rail Link subsidiary.


FRA Implements 'National Rail Safety Action Plan'

The Federal Railroad Administration will redirect inspectors to safety hot spots, invest in new high-tech equipment to inspect track integrity, and accelerate research into the role fatigue plays in railroad accidents, according to a press release by the United Transportation Union. These new initiatives - to be known as the National Rail Safety Action Plan - were announced May 16 by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. He said the plan will help prevent train accidents caused by human error, improve the safety of hazmat shipments, minimize the dangers of crew fatigue, deploy state-of-the-art technologies to detect track defects, and focus inspectors on safety trouble spots.


Alaska Railroad Acquires Two Dome Cars

The Alaska Railroad has taken delivery of two bi-level dome passenger cars with outdoor viewing platforms from Colorado Railcar Inc. The cars will be assigned to the line's 'GoldStar Service' on the Denali Star, operating between Anchorage and Fairbanks.


Canadian National Forms 'CN WorldWide'

Canadian National has announced the formation of 'CN WorldWide,' a wholly owned subsidiary that will offer international freight forwarding services between Europe and North America. CN WorldWide will focus initially on shipments between Europe and Eastern Canada, including Ontario and Quebec, via the Port of Halifax, and later the United States, according to a company press release.