Cold Crossing #13471

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The Story

This steam locomotive pulling vintage freight train cars is crossing the Potomac River on a snowy day at Cumberland, Maryland. It has just left the Ridgley WV yards and shops pushing black starting-out smoke high into the sky. Soon it will pull into the old Victorian-style station at Cumberland MD to start the day’s work as a photographer’s model. This reenactment on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad was done on a fifteen-degree morning. That was a good thing and just right, too. We may not have a lot of sunlight under that winter overcast, but there were great smoke and steam rising high into the sky!

The large exhaust clouds filling up an image are where the drama lies when photographing the old steam trains. Naturally, it simply isn’t the same in the summer months. In the deep cold of winter, clouds of smoke and steam get much larger and linger longer. With the energy and action accented that way, the old steam locomotives look great doing what they do, so the colder the better. Shooting them this way is a great showcase for these old machines that made America go.

This was a photographer’s special done just for enthusiasts of old railroading. All told, about seventy of us shot all day in many locations along the sixteen miles of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad that still operates. The photographers rode a chase train made up of old passenger coaches pulled by a vintage diesel. It would stop to let us out at various scenic places along the uphill mountain line and this vintage freight train would run back and forth in front of us. It took all day to do roughly a dozen stops out there in the cold. We certainly enjoyed the heat in those old passenger cars on the way to the next shooting location!

It was a good experience to enjoy these throwback machines in action. Hearing the locomotive chuff with the extremely loud whistle was great while getting a snoot full of coal smoke and feeling the falling cinders hit you. By closing your eyes, you’re completely immersed in the old railroading of 1910 with all your senses but sight.

Interestingly, you can ride this steam train too, but with a twist. The line this train runs upon is actually a rails-with-trail because one of the double tracks was pulled up years ago. Call ahead and arrange with management to load your bike onto the train for a ride up the mountain to Frostburg. Then after lunch at the restaurant there, coast back down the sixteen miles through the scenic mountain woods back into town on a pure pleasure cruise. See the railroad’s website and check the schedule: http://www.wmsr.com/

To see more smoke and steam images taken the same day, have a look at Ghost Train #13013 to experience what a 200-foot tower of working coal smoke looks like. That’s a very rare sight these days. There are many more images of these old coal burners in my Railroad Galleries on this website and all of them are solid gold for artwork to hang in any man cave.

Location: the Potomac River at Cumberland, Allegany County, Maryland. Picture and story © Andrew Dierks

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