I have always loved railroads, especially riding them. I also love to look at model railroads, with tiny trains busy running through tiny rail stations and tiny villages and landscapes. One of my early memories is being entranced by the giant locomotives at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, and being frustrated at not being allowed to climb on board this engineer’s heaven. At one period of time, I rode the B&O Railroad to work, which later became the MARC System. I took my son on rides on the commuter train, and we visited the Railroad Store at Union Station in Washington, DC.
As with other subjects in this website, I am currently restricting myself to the Washigton, DC area. This does not, however, limit me too much in this area, where there is a lot of railroad activity and railroad history. I am dividing Railroad World into four parts:
B&O Railroad Museum — I first discovered railroad museums at the B&O Railroad Museum, located in Baltimore, MD. The B&O Museum is quite well known, and it also has a Facebook page, and unlike my experience at the Smithsonian, kids (and I) are able to climb into the cabs of locomotives and scramble about inside cabooses. It was originally called the Baltimore and Ohio Transportation Museum when it opened in 1953, it has been called one of the most significant collections of railroad treasures, including its collection of 19th century locomotives.
Gaithersburg Community Museum — Gaithersburg, Maryland has had a B&O Railroad Station since 1884, designed by the famous Ephraim Francis Baldwin, who designed so many of the neo-Victorian train stations in Maryland. This two building complex included a Station Building and a Freight Building, which were purchased by Gaithersburg and refurbished in the 1980s. The Freight House is now repurposed as the Gaithersburg Community Museum, dedicated to preserving and teaching about Gaithersburg history, including railroad history. Just outside the Freight House is rolling stock (railroad cars on tracks), which are maintained as part of the museum experience both for adults and their children.
Fairfax Station Railroad Museum — Another local railroad museum is in Virginia, called the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum. I have not had a chance to visit it yet, but it is on my to-do list. This museum was originally a railroad center of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad established in 1854, which played an important role during the Civil War.
Everyday Rides — I love riding trains, especially old-time steam locomotives. In the past, I occasionally had to commute to meetings in Philadelphia and New York City, and always rode the Amtrak train, because I could get a regular seat that was as good or better than first class on a plane. Also, if you would like to ride into Washington, DC, then you might be interested in riding the MARC commuter train down to Union Station, from which you can catch the Metro to most attractions. But, I’m not talking here about riding a train to get somewhere, but rather just for the experience of riding history.
Trolley Museum — One exciting opportunity is the National Capital Trolley Museum, where you can ride a variety of trolley cars around a wooded area. I actually remember the one that ran in the Washington, DC area, and riding it again is so nostalgic. The National Capital Trolley Museum is quite well know locally. Also, it has a Facebook page.
Old-time Rides — The B&O Museum also features an opportunity to ride the rails, called the Mile One Express. I have not yet ridden this train, but it sounds like fun.
There are also three other railroad rides somewhat further afield. They are:
- the Walkersville Southern Railroad, which offers train rides, dinner trains and private charters out of Walkersville, MD, riding through the historic Monocacy Valley;
- the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in West Virginia;
- and the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania.
I’m not a kid anymore, but something about riding the kids train brings out the kid in me … 🙂
Here I was riding the kids train in Wheaton Regional Park.
I am always intrigued by model railroads running through realistic scenery and railway stations. They can be bewitching to your imagination. One of the leading local railroad modelers is the Baltimore Society of Model Engineers, which formed in 1932, and which features some spectacular layouts. They feature monthly open houses to promote model railroading.
My friend Howard is active in the Sykesville modeling club, known as the Sykesville and Patapsco Railway. Howard has a current project of creating a model of a Civil War era iron furnace, which helped to denude the lands all around Sykesville at the time. Also, Howard’s son Sol is active in a modelers blog-site known as the Newport Central: An adventure in Urban N Scale.
Among my favorite games to play are the “Ticket to Ride” series by Alan R. Moon, in which each player tries to build the biggest and best rail system while blocking opponents’ routes. You can get an American version, several European versions, Asian versions, etc.. Below is a picture of Ticket to Ride in action … you can almost feel the palpable tension and excitement as railroad empires come alive.
Here, my friends Howard and Susan, who are Ticket to Ride railroad moguls, plot their strategies to dominate Asian rails.