Officials hope child-scale train will be big draw for young visitors

Former park ride on schedule for town's holiday open house

October 12, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville, the town that hopes to build tourism on its river and railroad ties, has recently acquired an attraction for its youngest residents and visitors.

The town, overlooking the Patapsco River near the Carroll and Howard border, now owns a small train that can take about 20 riders on a short trip.

"This could be an educational tool for us," Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said. "It is another way to create attractions. Children can visit pieces of town history."

The town expects to have the 51-year-old, one-time amusement park ride on track for its Christmas Open House, which has drawn as many as 1,000 visitors.

"The train is in the maintenance shop and ready to go," said Matthew H. Cand- land, town manager.

The train adds more flavor to a town hoping to trade on its history. Sykesville has a municipal museum at the Gatehouse, formerly the entry to Springfield Hospital Center, and is working to restore a one-room wooden schoolhouse, once the only classroom for African-American students in South Carroll.

"According to our Main Street master plan, we are supposed to create attractions for downtown," said Candland. "Whatever we can do to bring people downtown is a good thing."

Members of the Sykesville and Patapsco Railway model train club found the small locomotive and four cars at a shopping mall in Harrisburg, Pa. They advised the town to get on board.

"We have been keeping an eye out for trains like this," said Candland. "We actually got to test drive this one."

After a little dickering, the town settled on the $9,500 purchase price for 300 feet of track and a G-12 model, manufactured in 1948 by the Miniature Train Co., which is no longer in business.

"These rides were big stuff in the '40s and '50s," said Candland.

The engine is powered by a golf-cart motor. It may not be powerful, but the locomotive is strong enough to haul little passengers around the track, said Candland.

The mayor envisions school field trips that will include stops at the Gatehouse, the schoolhouse and a railroad tower, which will soon be reconstructed on Main Street. The trips could end with a train ride, he said.

Short and circular route

Unless Sykesville can locate more track, the rides will be short and circular, probably on a grassy spot along Sandosky Road that may be renamed Railroad Park.

A contractor has volunteered to grade the area to ensure smooth passage. More track could mean a more scenic trip, possibly down Sandosky to Main Street.

"My kids will love it," said Herman, father of four.

The metal train is in good condition, but the town may repaint it to reflect a more local flavor, said Candland.

"It is now maroon, the color of the Pennsylvania Rail Road," he said. "Sometime in the future, we would like to paint it blue and yellow, the old B & O colors."

Railroad history

Baltimore and Ohio passenger trains passed for years through town on routes connecting Western Maryland to major cities.

The Chessie system still uses those tracks to transport freight. Residents can set their clocks by the train whistles.

Sykesville owns two full-size railroad cars and a caboose, which the model railway club uses for displays.

It has also restored its train station into Baldwin's, a restaurant allowing diners a view of the river and the rails.

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