My column several weeks ago about Thomas J. Greco and Karl D. Spence's recently published book, "Dining on the B&O: Recipes and Sidelights from a Bygone Age," brought a flood of mail, phone calls and e-mails from readers who fondly recalled their absolutely marvelous experiences of eating a meal in a railroad dining car as the ever-changing scenery slipped by the window.
I was hoping at least a couple of readers might offer a less-than-glowing review of the B&O's food - you know, two sides to a story - but not one complained, thus leaving the carrier's reputation of having prepared and served the best five-star dining car meals in the nation intact.
Twenty-five years ago, I got to know and write about George Fulton, a retired B&O chef, who began his career in 1943 as a "fourth cook" aboard the road's dining cars. This apprentice system meant that in addition to preparing vegetables, he was responsible for washing all the dishes, pots and pans.
I recalled him telling me that it wasn't uncommon to serve several hundred passengers at mealtime and that workdays often stretched to 12 or more hours.
Fulton later was promoted to chef and worked on the B&O's top trains such as the Capitol Limited, National Limited, and The Ambassador, and was recruited to cook on the presidential trains.
After 1960, he left the dining car service and cooked on the B&O's office cars, which transported company officials over the line and on special trains.
In a 1984 interview with The Baltimore Sun, Fulton said all meals were prepared to the passenger's individual order.
"We were out to make their meals aboard the B&O memorable, and if a passenger complained, which was seldom, he was given a new order," he said.
"I grew up in Cumberland and the big excitement was going to the B&O station a few evenings a week to see the Capitol Limited stop on its way from Washington to Chicago," wrote Louise Miller of Timonium.
"In later days, I traveled with my family to New York and Chicago, and was able to partake in the elegant meals and service," she wrote. "Upon returning from Europe in 1953 with my mother, I couldn't wait to board the B&O to have their crab cakes."
Stuart N. Rosenbaum, who lives in Owings Mills, is also a Cumberland native. He recalled in a letter the days when the B&O was a major presence in the "Queen City," with its huge shops and busy yards, and where the sound of throaty steam whistles and chugging engines was an everyday experience.
In recalling dining onboard the B&O, Rosenbaum wrote that the "whole experience was impeccable," and even half a century later, he remains a devoted fan of the railroad's famed B&O salad, which he has tried to duplicate.
I've got good news for him and others: The authors have included recipes for no less than seven salads plus various dressings, including "French Dressing, Baltimore and Ohio Style," "Baltimore and Ohio Cream Dressing" and Russian dressing.
"Our parents took us to Chicago World's Fair in 1933, and that was my first experience on an overnight train ride. It was on the Capitol Limited, which sometimes they ran in two sections," he wrote.
"Then the years to New York. The B&O dining car experience made the trip very pleasurable," he wrote. "Thanks for bringing back fond memories."
Retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas Ward worked as a B&O yard clerk at Camden Station during World War II.
His father, a B&O executive whose career began in 1899, was general supervisor of all B&O terminals.
"I'm the holder of a white pass - 'Good on all trains' - wrote Ward in an e-mail the other day, and because of his work, "experienced hundreds of meals on the old B&O diners."
"Yes, they were memorable," wrote the Bolton Hill resident. "May I add a few thoughts? The old B&O diners were 80 feet long, had a double-steel plating for sides, leaded glass windows, cooked on galleys with coal (I don't remember any charcoal), and had plenty of fresh deliveries en route. These 'heavies' with six wheel trucks were later replaced with lighter diners with four wheel trucks and a lesser decor."
Ward recalled the "diced grapefruit, specially iced, topping six plates on seven tablecloths (I think - only guessing - that the seven tablecloths were for two reasons: No.1, they prevented slippage. Often they were dampened down.) ...
"No. 2, instead of putting on a new tablecloth for every diner, the waiter would simply peel one off."
Dani Rice of Bradshaw, the granddaughter of a B&O engineer, frequently was taken with her sister on rail journeys to New York or Chicago for Christmas with her grandparents.
"We would have a roomette, and then eat, of course, in the dining car. We were expected to behave like little ladies," Rice recalled in an e-mail. "One hand in your lap, sit up straight, and always say 'please' and 'thank you.' It really was our introduction to fine dining.