There are few places in Carroll County that don't have train tracks running through them.
From Sykesville to Taneytown, Mount Airy to Hampstead, Keymar to Woodbine and sites in between, the blast of a diesel horn can be heard for miles as trains rumble through crossings.
Railroading in Carroll has a colorful history. Stories abound about train wrecks, military troops passing through, fires, presidential visits and movie stars making films at stations.
The train was so important that Sykesville, in recent years, decided to focus on its railroading heritage as part of its downtown revitalization.
In the 1990s, Sykesville renovated Francis Baldwin's 1884 train station into Baldwin Station and Pub.
Behind the station on an unused line are a Pullman car and caboose. The Sykesville & Patapsco Railway Inc., a model railroad club, maintains a train layout in the Pullman.
Four years ago, a two-story interlocking tower was rebuilt by the old tracks. The town also boasts at least one model-train store among its shops. On Sandosky Road, the miniature Little Sykes Railroad offers rides for children.
Crossing above Spout Hill Road is the trestle from the Dinky Line that ran from Springfield Hospital to the main line by the station from 1908 to 1972.
The town also has an annual train festival, a day filled with activities ranging from workshops, Little Sykes rides and vendors to layouts, exhibits and music.
"Its railroad history is the town's greatest asset, and we've tried to preserve our rail history and tell its story," said Matthew H. Candland, town manager.
The B&O Railroad came to Sykesville in 1831, before the county was formed in 1837. Gradually, it continued west through Woodbine and Mount Airy and beyond.
Sykesville was a major stop on the line for passengers commuting to Baltimore and vacationers coming to town to stay at James Sykes' hotel.
"Sykesville was a horse stop for the first horse-drawn trains because it was half-way to Frederick," Candland said. "They'd stop and rest and water the horses."
The B&O made its last run to Mount Airy in 1950, according to files from the Historical Society of Carroll County.
Today, only CSX freight trains rumble through the county's southernmost points.
The Western Maryland Railway was formed in 1852. The line came to Westminster in 1861 and Union Bridge in 1862, and continued west to Keymar and beyond. A northwest line also went from Glyndon through Hampstead into Pennsylvania, rejoining the Westminster line at Highfield, Pa.
"The real impetus for the railroad was in Westminster, where the farmers and merchants wanted a rail line to get their products to Baltimore," said Bob Shives, a director for the Western Maryland Railway Historical Society.
Union Bridge was a hub of activity for the railroad for many years. The only repair and maintenance shops in the county, complete with turntable, were in the town.
The shops burned in a spectacular fire in the 1880s, but they were rebuilt. They were torn down in the 1950s, and maintenance was moved to Hagerstown, Shives said.
"Union Bridge was the terminus through the Civil War until 1868," Shives said. "During Gettysburg, lots of soldiers were put on a train and sent to the hospital in Baltimore. They stopped in Union Bridge. One section of the track is still called the Hospital Track."
The Western Maryland and B&O railroads were made subsidiaries of the Chessie System in 1973.
In 1968, Western Maryland Railway gave the newly formed railway historical society the 1902 Union Bridge freight station. The society restored the building and recently purchased the adjoining passenger station to add to its museum, Shives said.
The Union Bridge and Sykesville stations are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, besides the CSX trains that move through the county, Maryland Midland Railway operates a 67-mile short line, based in Union Bridge across Main Street from the original station.
Maryland Midland trains run east to west from Glyndon to Westminster, New Windsor, Union Bridge and Keymar to Highfield, Pa., and north to south from Taneytown to Walkersville.
Started by a group of retired railroad enthusiasts in 1974, the business didn't get off the ground as a freight delivery operation until 1986, after the founders realized they needed help managing the company.
Paul Denton, a railroad manager, was hired in mid-1986 and took Maryland Midland from a fledging company to one of the most successful short lines in the country. Denton is the firm's president and chief executive officer.
The company had more than $4 million in operating revenues in fiscal 2003, according to Maryland Midland's annual report.
Maryland Midland makes an average of three runs a day five days a week, and sometimes weekends, Denton said.
"Our schedule is determined by when the customer needs it," Denton said.
A search of railroad history reveals colorful, exciting and frightening stories.