Back Issues


Main Page

December 1998


Hyndman Tower Closes

For nearly a century, the interlocking tower at Hyndman, Pennsylvania, has stood as a sentinel to a traditional way of railroading, giving witness to the movement of people and goods along a vital corridor of commerce. And it did its thing the old fashioned way: with mechanical switches that were moved using a system of levers and pipelines. It was one of only about eight towers left in the country still using such appliances. On November 24, the tower closed.

Located at the base of the former B&O's Sand Patch grade, 12 miles west of Cumberland, it was here that most of the heavy freight trains added helper engines for their westward assault toward the summit of the Alleghenies. The tower's presence well into the 1990's was somewhat of an anomaly, especially for the simplicity of its operation which, toward the end, only included two sets of crossovers between two main tracks, and their associated signals. By all accounts, the tower could have easily been closed two or three decades ago, but it wasn't.

Had you been here in the early 1980's, you would have witnessed the country's last stronghold of Morse code communication between towers. Until 1984, a Morse wire still extended along a cluster of towers some 64 miles between Viaduct Junction, Maryland, and Confluence, Pennsylvania, which was optionally used by the cadre of veteran operators whose tenure on the railroad had included the days when such communication was still required. Voice communication between towers had been available since the middle of the century, but the veterans who knew Morse code invariably preferred to use it, to keep the tradition alive, and because it is more precise. A flood in 1984 took out the Morse wire through Hyndman, and it was not replaced, but the wire was still used west of Sand Patch for another three years.

Interlocking towers once dotted the landscape, and five-mile spacing was not uncommon. For example, in 1928 there were seven towers westward from Viaduct Junction to Sand Patch, a 32-mile stretch, Hyndman the third in the cluster which also included Mount Savage Junction, Foley, Philson and Manila. Of these, only Sand Patch remains open today. According to the book "Sand Patch - Clash of the Titans," by Charles S. Roberts (1993, Barnard Roberts & Co., Baltimore), Hyndman Tower opened in 1901 with 20 levers, and expanded to 32 levers in 1918. According to tower historian Jon Roma, editor of the newsletter "Home Signal," the tower was equipped with a "Style A" mechanical frame, the type having its locking bed below the floor of the operating area, in this case the first floor of the two-story building. A frame structure, the tower originally had the hallmark "fishscale" overhang immediately beneath its second-floor windows, typical of towers of the period, but the fishscale overhang was removed in later years when siding was applied.

Hyndman Tower lost its status as a mechanical interlocking on November 14 when its plant was taken out of service for a signal suspension while signal forces performed their cutover work. On November 18 the signal suspension ended, and control was transferred to the "CM" train dispatcher in Jacksonville, Florida. By then, the very interlocking Hyndman Tower had controlled no longer existed; new crossovers representing the name of "Hyndman" are now located about a mile east of the tower's location. Veteran B&O operator Donald Puhalla was the last to serve at Hyndman Tower. At 5:46 p.m. on November 24, he turned out the light, locked the door, and left. It was all over.

CSXT Marks Completion of Expansion Project in Indiana and Ohio

CSXT conducted a golden spike ceremony on November 20 at Willow Creek, Indiana, marking the completion of its $220-million capacity-expansion project in Indiana and Ohio. More than 100 route miles were added and another 250 route miles of existing track were upgraded as part of the project.


CSXT Deletes Mid-Atlantic Service Lane

CSXT has announced it will only add three new service lanes as part of the Conrail integration, not four. Deleted was the Mid-Atlantic Service Lane. On split date, the Baltimore Service Lane will expand to include all Conrail Philadelphia operations, and the new Albany Service Lane will expand its scope to include Northern New Jersey. The other new service lanes are Great Lakes and Indianapolis.


Union Pacific Opens Locomotive Facility in Oregon

Union Pacific opened a new $32-million locomotive service and repair facility at Hinkle, Oregon, on November 23. The 100,000-square-foot facility has a 12-locomotive capacity inside its main building for maintenance and repair, and 10 locomotives at a time can be fueled on its outside service track.


Burlington Northern Santa Fe Begins Use of Signal Comparator on Engines

Burlington Northern Santa Fe has begun a pilot program using a device called a Positive Signal Comparator. It is a 6-by-8-inch box, located on both the conductor's and engineer's desktop, and requires input from both individuals to record the wayside signals they observe. Any discrepancy will result in an alert which, if the discrepancy is not corrected within 25 seconds, will cause a penalty brake application. The device will also warn of upcoming speed restrictions.


High-Speed Rail Program Slated for New York State

Amtrak and the State of New York have agreed to a new high-speed rail program that will invest up to $185-million in the state's rail system over the next five years. Included is construction of a second set of tracks between Albany and Schenectady and refurbishing five Turboliners capable of speeds up to 125 miles per hour.


Amtrak to Expand its Albany Station

Amtrak has announced plans to extensively expand its Albany/Rensselaer station, its ninth busiest on the system, in a $41-million project expected to take two years to complete.


Amtrak Passenger Revenue Exceeds $1-Billion for First Time

Amtrak experienced its largest ridership increase in a decade, with passenger revenue exceeding $1-billion for the first time ever, in the fiscal year ending September 30.


Two Rail Unions Agree to Merge

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the United Transportation Union have announced plans to merge, subject to a vote by their members.


Mike Gilden Retires - Agent at Gaithersburg, Maryland

Veteran B&O tower operator and ticket agent Mike Gilden has retired. His last tour of duty was as agent at the MARC station at Gaithersburg, Maryland.


Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic No. 58 Steams Again

[From a Wilmington & Western news release] . . . . . After being stored and cold for 37 years, No. 58 steams again after an 11-month overhaul. Built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1907, originally for the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic, the 0-6-0 locomotive, with 54-inch drivers and a sloped back tender, steamed on the Wilmington & Western Railroad in Wilmington, Delaware. No. 58 had been on display for over 10 years in Avondale, Pennsylvania. In December 1997 the locomotive was donated to the Wilmington & Western and moved on its own wheels to the railroad's Marshallton shops in January 1998. The rebuilding of No. 58 to active service has been the shop's top priority since 4-4-0 No. 98 was taken out of service this past spring for firebox and boiler work. During No. 58's career, the locomotive also worked for the Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast as No. 27; the U.S. Army as No. 6961; the Virginia Blue Ridge as No. 4; and the Valley Forge Scenic Railroad as No. 300. While the locomotive was with the Army, it was rebuilt and received a firebox and boiler, and is in very good shape now. All of the moving parts have been kept greased and all openings were sealed during its years on display. During the locomotive's overhaul, everything was removed, repaired and repiped, with no major problems found. The boiler and firebox are in good shape, with many years of service still to come. On November 11, 1998, the locomotive moved under its own power for the first time since 1961. And on Sunday, November 15, No. 58 was on display at the W&W's Greenbank station while diesel No. 114 pulled the W&W's excursion train. The Wilmington & Western operated two SW1's and PRR Doodlebug No. 4662 this past season. After a few more dry runs to "de-bug" No. 58, the locomotive is expected to power the Santa Claus trains this month. For further information call the W&W at 302-998-1930., or write to P.O. Box 5787, Wilmington, Delaware 19808-0787. Donations are also accepted and volunteers needed to restore No. 98 back to operating condition.

An Evening at "THE B&O"

[By Allen Brougham]

For all intents and purposes, the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore is actually the B&O. With its active presence at its first terminal, and operation over its first mile of track (with genuine B&O equipment), no further reference is really needed. And this moniker is not lost by the museum itself, either. A recent issue of its publication, Roundhouse Review, simply stated, "On Exhibit at the B&O," to announce a forthcoming interpretive display.

So it was with much interest early last month that I attended the B&O's annual meeting, the first time I had done so, which was preceded by a reception in the lounge car Leonard J. Buxton. I duly noted something of special significance, at least to me, that the late Leonard Buxton was the son of a B&O tower operator. Indeed, Brook Leonard Buxton, the operator, worked at HX Tower at Halethorpe, Maryland, from the time it opened in 1917 until 1941, when he retired (and then he returned to work because of the war, retiring again in 1946). And his tenure at HX Tower included duty during the 1927 Fair of the Iron Horse, which took place just across the tracks from the tower. Now, for those who don't already know the rest of the story, I served as operator at HX Tower its final ten years of life, working there the evening it closed in 1985.

"Amenities" at the reception were to include hors d'oeuvres. But to my surprise there appeared a hot and cold buffet that could easily pass for an entire meal. Such sumptuous goodies were there that I inquired of one of the guests, who happens to be a doctor, if he by chance had his cholesterol meter with him. "Oh, there's never any cholesterol when you eat on a train," said he, adding that railroad equipment could somehow draw all of the cholesterol out of food, yet preserve its favor. "So feel free to eat the steak on your next Amtrak adventure," saying that he'd be doing the same on his next adventure as well. Later I checked with a friend who had once worked for Amtrak as a chef. He had heard the same thing. "It must be something in the wheels." he guessed.

The agenda for the evening, in addition to the annual meeting which followed, was two-fold: first to meet the B&O's new chairman of the board, and then to open a new exhibit, "Miniature Marvels." James J. Brady, former secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, is now chairman at the museum. He replaces Richard Leatherwood, who resigned after ten years with the museum in order to allow others "to take the throttle" of the organization.

About the time I finished my fifth helping from the buffet table, a most gracious couple happened past and introduced themselves. They were Paul and Tat Reistrup. Paul Reistrup is CSXT's vice president - passenger integration. No stranger to the B&O Railroad, he was its director of passenger services for both it and the C&O in the mid-1960's. Later, he was president of Amtrak.

The display "Miniature Marvels," which will be on display in the roundhouse throughout 1999, is an extensive collection featuring builders, patent and prototype models; toy trains; live steam; and scale models, both scratch-built and manufactured, illustrating the chronology of each from the early 19th century to the present day. The exhibits of old Lionel trains brought back a number of memories; I still lament allowing my mother to donate to a church rummage sale several circa-1920's trainsets from a family collection when it was considered I had "outgrown" the stuff when I left home to serve in the Navy. (Ouch!)

The annual meeting was held on the turntable. Key speakers outlined the year's success, most notably the nine-day visit by Thomas the Tank Engine this past summer. This event, attended by about 29,000 people, nearly a quarter the museum's typical attendance for an entire year, underscored the opportunity to make something available for everyone at the museum. Thomas will return next year; the dates are July 21 through 25.

For all the joy and happiness a visit to the B&O provides, there was a note of sadness that night. Just five days earlier, a Baltimore police helicopter crashed into the fence next to the museum entrance, killing its flight officer, Barry Wood. John Ott, the museum's executive director, praised the efforts of B&O staff and volunteers who helped extinguish the flames that resulted from the crash. Outside of the fence, floral tributes marked the crash site. The day following the meeting, the chopper's flight officer was laid to rest.


Biking the Western Maryland Rail Trail

[By Allen Brougham]

Continuing this year's fall biking season (which began just after Labor Day on the Capital Crescent Trail), I was joined by Gilbert Elmond the 13th of October as we tackled the newly-opened Western Maryland Rail Trail beginning at Big Pool Junction and ending at Hancock, Maryland. It was a mild day with the leaves just beginning to show their autumnal splendor. The Western Maryland Rail Trail utilizes the former roadbed of the Western Maryland Railway. The property was acquired in 1990 by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources from CSX Transportation, which had abandoned the line several years earlier. Total acquisition was 20.35 miles, of which 10 and one-half miles are now in service with a newly-paved surface, easy for biking. Herein answers a question I had pondered of why a new trail would be planned which so closely parallels the C&O Canal towpath between the same two points. There are two answers, in fact: the first is that the towpath (which I had biked three years ago) is soft surfaced, a little bumpy, muddy at times, more suitable for hiking (or on a horse); and the second reason (which I learned from a user who regularly hikes both) is that the towpath is more inhabited by mosquitoes through warmer months of the year. Moreover, a paved surface (which the towpath could not be, lest it wouldn't reflect its proper heritage) is more accessible to the physically challenged. Anyway, the rail line was a ready corridor; had it not been acquired for this specific purpose when it was, it might not have been available later. The eastern terminus of the trail is located just off Interstate 70, a short distance west of Fort Frederick State Park. It has a paved parking lot (which a sign says closes at dark). At this point the trail is next to the active CSXT line (the Lurgan Subdivision) which the railroad retained east from Cherry Run and Big Pool after it had abandoned the portion west from Big Pool toward Cumberland. Just west of this point the railroad bends and crosses the Potomac River into West Virginia. About a half of a mile west of the trail's beginning we found an interesting, albeit new, artifact. It was a tunnel. A road had spanned the tracks here on a narrow bridge, and in its endeavor to improve the road, the state had thoughtfully replicated a typical railroad tunnel, although somewhat in miniature, to replace the bridge. Points of interest along the trail are marked with signs, many with historic photos or sketches depicting life along the railroad and canal. Included are shots of the depot and train order office at Big Pool Junction, and the waiting shelter and school at Millstone. Another point of interest, easily missed were it not for a trail sign next to it, is a 19th century cemetery tucked away within the trees. For much of the way we had the trail entirely to ourselves. We only encountered one other person until we reached the outskirts of Hancock, leisurely making our way making stops whenever we saw something of interest. The western terminus (for now) of the trail is near the town center of Hancock, directly next to a rewatered portion of the C&O Canal. There are plans eventually to extend the Western Maryland Rail Trail another ten miles west to Sideling Hill, depending upon funding. The western extension has the potential of being even more tranquil than the current portion, much of which directly parallels Interstate 70 and can be rather noisy from the traffic.