Battered stock makes fine gift for rail museum

JACQUES KELLY

November 04, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

The train certainly did not look like a rich or glamorous gift -- a jTC string of battered diesel engines, old cabooses, a hopper, a flatcar and an ancient day coach.

Yet this gift of rail tonnage has a permanent home at the B&O Museum at Pratt and Poppleton streets in Southwest Baltimore.

Baltimore's newest acquisitions of its industrial history represent the workaday world of the 20th century American railroad.

Stored on museum tracks are the blackened hoppers that carried coal from Appalachian mines to the Port of Baltimore. A box car that shuttled from Locust Point to Pittsburgh. A workhorse diesel that trudged up and back from Philadelphia to Washington.

"As far as I can see, this is the largest single gift of equipment and rolling stock that a railroad museum has ever received," says John Ott, the B&O Museum's director. "In one gift, we picked up 18 pieces."

Train No. P99801 pulled into the museum's tracks on Tuesday. It was made up in Cumberland the day before and ran slowly along the Potomac River Valley, through Brunswick and Montgomery County, then College Park, St. Denis and Relay.

It made frequent stops so that regular revenue freight and commuter passenger trains could pass it. Then came the tedious job of uncoupling the string of cars and diesels and hostling them around the museum property in the Mount Clare and Pigtown neighborhoods.

"The thing that worked so well here was that we had the full cooperation of the railroad," Ott says.

In 1992, Jerry R. Davis, CSX chief operating officer, issued a memo that said, "There have been some unfortunate incidents in the recent past where items being processed for donation were scrapped in willful disregard of museum representatives. . . . This must not happen again."

So on each of the donated cars, a warning was stenciled in yellow safety paint: "DO NOT DISMANTLE -- Hold for shipment to B&O Museum via Locust Point."

For months, Ott's museum staff and volunteers had been putting together a wish-list for CSX Corp. officials in Jacksonville, Fla. When a rail buff or employee learned that a particularly old or desirable B&O coach was tucked away on some weedy West Virginia side track, its location was noted. When someone saw a certain diesel engine before it was sent to the crushers, the engine's number was jotted down.

The list that went to CSX included four cabooses, five diesel locomotives, a ballast-spreader, a pair each of box and hopper cars, a flatcar, a passenger car, a massive crane and its boom idler car.

"We identified some things the CSX didn't know they had left on the property," Ott says.

None of the pieces the museum requested was new. Most were 30 or 40 years old, equipment that CSX was getting ready to sell for scrap. The gifts are not fancy, either. No steam locomotives or sleek 1930s stainless steel observation cars in this mix.

A 250-ton B&O wrecking crane was part of the gift. It could lift the largest locomotives on the line when they jumped the tracks or were involved in wrecks.

The crane carries a boom so long that a flatcar accompanies this railroading behemoth.

Many of these rail cars were made or serviced at the Mount Clare shops, the B&O's once-sprawling plant that stretched along Pratt Street, six blocks due west of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"We wanted these pieces because they were all originally on the B&O, they all started out wearing the B&O colors and numbers before it was taken over and renamed CSX," Ott says.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, founded in Baltimore in 1827, was once the city's largest employer. Its machinists, welders and mechanics built the rolling stock that carried the B&O name from Baltimore through the Midwest.

The B&O merged with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad and became a part of the Chessie System before being made a component of the CSX Corp.

"These are the things we need to make the collection first-rate," Ott says.

The gift's value is difficult to calculate. What's the price for an old diesel switcher?

"There is no way to tell what old pieces of railroad equipment are worth. It's just what the museum market will bear," Ott says.

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