Friday, August 14, 2009


I've been reading Patapsco: Life Along Maryland's Historic River Valley (2008)--a collection of photos and interviews with longtime residents of Ellicott City, Oella, Elkridge, and Relay. It's a wonderful book, and perfectly suited for my interest in the local history of my adopted home. In the last interview of the book, Harold Hedeman of Avalon (adjacent to Relay) remembers:

I love trains--especially steam trains. Yeah, after the bridge went in, they had local trains that stopped at every station between Baltimore and Washington. Then they had an express train which was Relay, Laurel, Washington, that's all it stopped. And then, of course, they had the Capital Limited, as they called it, and that didn't stop anywhere. That just took you right over.

And from Washington to Baltimore on the steam train ('cause I rode it more than once) it's forty miles exactly. I would have my watch out and usually it was on time. It was supposed to get there in forty minutes--and many times it was there in thirty-eight minutes.

And I'm telling you, there are curves on this end of the line and there are curves on the other end, and there's a lot of straight track in the middle of that route between Baltimore and Washington on the B & O. And when those steam trains were on that straight stretch of track over there, they were going between eighty and ninety miles an hour, because they had to go slower on each end of the line where all the curves were.

Oh, I always loved trains. More than once, I would get over on the boulevard, 'cause Washington Boulevard is right smack alongside of that straight section of B & O track. And when you had a steam train going through there--one of these big locomotives like the Capital Limited, you know, a big long train? And those driving wheels are eighty inches in diameter on that train, three pairs of driving wheels on those passenger engines that run those trains.

And when they went by at that speed, I mean, that was a sight to see. The ground was trembling where you're standing, and you can imagine, you know, that big arm that connects those wheels? You can't believe it that piece of equipment can be going that way, but it's going so fast that you can't even see, you know, it's just a blur. I mean, those wheels and that arm are just a blur going by there.

So, you know, it's a sight to see. So when they changed to diesel engines, I thought, phooey, I don't want any part of those things. I'll take the steam train.

Today the MARC Camden line is the only passenger train that runs the route he's talking about. It doesn't have a nonstop like the Capital Limited. The fastest scheduled time is the 843 morning express, which stops at Dorsey, Savage, Laurel, Muirkirk, and Washington. The scheduled run is 1:04; I don't normally ride that train, so I can't say whether it ever arrives ahead of schedule. In my experience, they sometimes do, but not by much. More often, there are delays, including the ubiquitous summer "heat restrictions"--anytime the temperature gets over 90 degrees, CSX says it's too dangerous to run the trains over 50 mph.

Glad to see we've come so far in 80 years.

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