A wonderful day on the rails

September 10, 2006|By Barbara Haddock Taylor | Barbara Haddock Taylor,Sun Staff

On a glorious Friday in August, I was treated to a ride on the restored train and steam locomotive on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. The 1916 steam locomotive makes an impressive first appearance, rounding the bend at the Cumberland station, chugging and belching smoke and steam.

It's easy to see how the locomotive earned the nickname "Mountain Thunder." The whistle screeches; the ground rumbles, and the littlest passengers squeal with delight at the approaching giant.

Conductor Richard Markle, a railroad veteran for 60 years, greets passengers with his signature "All aboard!" He has a special touch with younger visitors, smiling and making them feel welcome. Even after decades with various railroads (and a failed attempt at retirement) he appreciates the magic that trains inspire. I was touched by his interaction with first-time riders Paul Klemmer, 5, and his little brother James, 2, of Lansdale, Pa., as they boarded the train.

Engine 734 heaves its way out of the station, climbs past Wills Mountain, chugs around Helmstetter's Curve, lumbers through Brush Tunnel and winds around beautiful Woodcock Hollow on its 16-mile journey to Frostburg.

It's a thrill to ride in the stifling, roaring locomotive with engineer Ray Larson and fireman Donnie Shaw, who feeds the greedy engine shovel after shovel of dusty coal.

At the Frostburg station, the train is rotated in dramatic fashion on a huge turntable. As passengers mill about at the station, the locomotive waits patiently, breathing and heaving, beating a steady pulse from long ago, ready for the ride home. "All aboard!"

More photos and sound are available at baltimoresun.com.

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