Monday, December 3, 2012

Birthdays and Rumble-Grumble

...from a photographer's notebook

     The Old Station at Point of Rocks                                          ©2012 Steve Ember       

Birthdays and trains have been delightfully and inextricably intertwined for me since childhood.

Back then, the days between the Friday after Thanksgiving and December 3 were a prelude of delicious anticipation of my approaching birthday. On that Friday, my Mom would take me downtown to “go shopping.”

Baltimore back then had several downtown department stores, two of which we were particularly fond of. The experience would always involve “luncheon” in the Tea Room of Hochschild’s Department store, at the corner of Howard and Lexington Streets. Well, it was actually Hochschild-Kohn’s Department Store, named after its two founders, but Baltimoreans always seemed to find it easier just to say Hochschild’s, with that uniquely diphthong-y “ay-oh” that characterizes the speech of certain area residents... So, if a native Baltimorean old enough to remember the store ever comes up to you and talks about gaoin’ daontaon to shop at “Hayshuls,” you now kna-ow whut they’re talkin’ about.

Hayshuls, err, Hochschild’s was one of those Grande Dame department stores that were more common back then, as you might imagine from the above reference to luncheon in the Tea Room. Yes, the ladies wore white gloves and actually dressed up. And, of course, like any self-respecting Grande Dame department store, Hochschild’s had a “Toy Town.” Indeed, every Holiday Season, they threw a Toytown Parade on the main shopping thoroughfare of Harrid, oops, Howard Street.

OK, before I turn into Henry Higgins and reprimand myself for lapsing into Bawlmerese, I promise I shall write the rest of this in textbook English.

After luncheon, Mom and I would make a cursory survey of Hochschild’s Toy Town, before going to the real Temple of Temptation, the Toy Department of the neighboring Hutzler’s department store, where, every year, there was an elaborate Lionel Trains layout, with multiple electric trains, passenger and freight, steam, diesel, and electric speeding through mountain and town, triggering electric crossing gates, block signals, and lumber mills, all to the delight and delectation of  an excited lad with his own near-elaborate Lionel layout at home.

The point of the exercise was to determine which locomotive, passenger car, freight car, or rotating beacon the lad might hope to be presented with after the birthday candles were lit on the Fiske’s pumpkin pie (another reference to the charm of Baltimore for people of a certain age) at the end of his birthday dinner.

And, oh yes, that special Friday would also include stops at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Building at Baltimore and Charles to enjoy its annual electric train display…and then over to Taubman’s big downtown hardware store. Back then, it was not uncommon to find Lionel Trains sold in hardware stores, as well as in the department stores.

And, there it was – a tradition so deeply ingrained that it had to continue around my birthdays ever since, whether with model trains or the real thing.

So, this year, on the day before my birthday, it seemed the natural thing to do, to commune with some rumble-grumble and sniff the fine aroma of diesel exhaust in the fresh air. With a bunch of cameras, I set out for the railroad destinations of Brunswick and Point of Rocks in Frederick County, Maryland, along the C&O canal and Potomac River, just a short distance from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Lots of rumble-grumble-sniff-sniff-click-whirr at Brunswick, where a huge herd of CSX diesels rumble-grumble while awaiting their freight hauling assignments. Brunswick is also a staging point for Maryland’s MARC commuter trains on the Brunswick line.

But the charm spot for a railroad romantic would have to be nearby Point of Rocks, with its iconic nineteenth century B&O-built station, sitting at a wye where two historically rich main lines join on their way west.

Those two main lines originally belonged to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first railroad in the United States, now a part of CSX Transportation.

The station, designed by E. Francis Baldwin, and built by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1873, was photographed last evening. On this drizzly, misty Sunday evening, the westbound Amtrak Capitol Limited from Washington has just streaked by, on the (former B&O) Metropolitan Division in foreground, on its way to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, about 15 minutes from here, and onward to Chicago.

At the moment, there is nothing to mark the Amtrak streamliner’s passage but the faint aroma of diesel exhaust lingering in the misty air. And, being a Sunday, the Capitol Limited is the only passenger train that will be seen here, as the MARC commuter trains sleep on weekends.

Soon, however, the rumble-grumble of a CSX freight will begin to intensify as it approaches on the “Old Main” from the direction of Baltimore. The Old Main, while it once carried local passenger trains, is now used exclusively for freight.

Point of Rocks station now sits forlornly closed to the public, but nonetheless proudly iconic of the great B&O Railroad. By “forlornly closed,” I simply mean one cannot step inside to inhale the history of its ticket counters and waiting room; the station continues to serve as a stop for the daily procession of MARC trains carrying commuters into Washington and back.

But as I edited yesterday’s photos of the station, between trains, I could almost see it in the Forties or Fifties, when its waiting room and ticket counters were open, and imagine perhaps a steam-powered local train that had meandered on down from Baltimore via the “Old Main,” hissing steam and chuffing coal smoke at the platform to the left of the station while passengers disembarked.

And on one of the near platforms, behind its elegant blue, gray, and gold EMD diesels, still new and shiny, the “real” Capitol Limited, up from Washington, taking on passengers for Chicago and intermediate points. The original Capitol Limited was an all First Class train, a true B&O flagship, with real cut flowers, real silverware, real carafes of mountain spring water, and real food in the dining car. And a dome car! Running just behind it was its “second section,” the not-too-shabby streamlined all-coach Columbian. The Columbian even had economy sleeper compartments for long distance travelers, the newly introduced Slumber-Coach.

Ahh, the B&O…and do I hear a diesel’s horn as the Columbian blows for a nearby crossing as it approaches Point of Rocks?

Or is it just my birthday playing tricks?

By the way, a note for railroad purists: No, I’m not sure if steam-powered locals and the Capitol Limited ever met up at this converging point. But wouldn’t it be a neat project for a model railroad?

If you’d like to see this image in higher definition, please follow this link to it on my Foto-Community pages.

©2012 Steve Ember

P.S.: With a big thank you to fellow train-lover Bill Schafer, I thought this vintage B&O artwork would nicely compliment the "missing imagery" of this nostalgic ramble.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home