THANKS to highway improvement, a new interstate west of the Chesapeake, the new bridge at Kent Narrows and elimination of bottlenecks east of the Bay Bridge, the trip to Ocean City has been cut to three hours -- 2 1/2 if you press it.
But well into the century, the way to go to the shore was longer and surely lovelier. You took the ferry out of Baltimore's Inner Harbor to Love Point on the northern tip of Kent Island or to Claiborne, south of Kent Island. There, you connected with the Baltimore, Chesapeake and Atlantic Railroad (BC&A, "Black Cinders & Ashes"). The "Ocean City Flyer" then took you to O.C.
The trip took about seven hours, but what hours they were: a rich indulgence of scenery, the civilized camaraderie of fellow travelers. It was more than a trip; it was a romance and an adventure.
There were three Love Point ferries, the Pittsburgh, the Philadelphia and the New Brunswick, but they were all known as "Smokey Joe." Robert Wilson, chief engineer of the Pittsburgh, once recalled, "I remember leaving Baltimore about 4 in the afternoon. The trip took about an hour and a half, and it was like an hour and a half picnic, and very often a crab feast, under the sun. Before you knew it, you were at Love Point and the train station.
The Ocean City Flyer didn't exactly fly by today's standards. It meandered through lush Eastern Shore farmlands, making the O.C. trip in some five hours.
Earlier in the century, the ferry took you to Claiborne. A 1908
map published in a Wicomico County newspaper showed stops in a slew of villages, some of which no longer exist: McDaniel, Harper, Riverside, Royal Oak, Kirkham, Bloomfield, Turner, Bethlehem, Preston, Ellwood, Rhodesdale, Barren Creek, Rock-a-walkin, Parsonsburg, Pittsville, New Hope, Whaleyville and St. Martin's. No wonder the trip took several hours!
Millard C. Fairbank, who lived in St. Michaels, recalled that the high point of a Sunday afternoon in his youth was the train's 90-second stop in town. "A crowd assembled at the station every Sunday evening, just to watch the Flyer go through."
The era came to an end in the early 1930s. "The refrigerated trucking industry was partly to blame," wrote Kenneth Patrick Folks. "They could haul fruits and vegetables faster than the train could. But a couple of wrecks figured in the demise, too. There was one at Dover Bridge and another at Gravely's Branch."
If that wasn't enough, a massive storm in August 1933 damaged much of the roadbed. Old Black Cinders & Ashes had come to the end of the line, though the ferries, of course, were to last 20 years until the opening of the Bay Bridge.
By the way, the Friday-through-Tuesday excursion ticket (all seven hours each way, including the boat and train ride) was $3.50. That's a dollar more than today's toll on the Bay Bridge.