The Crossing #12980
It was crisp and overcast early on a cold January winter morning, perfect for the smoke and steam of old-fashioned railroading. This Western Maryland Scenic Railroad steam train had just left the Ridgley WV railroad yard to cross over the partly frozen Potomac River. Soon she’d chuff into the Victorian era station at Cumberland, Maryland, and come to a stop. In the fifteen degree cold, black and white smoke and steam curled and turned high overhead to fill the sky. To make the past come to life, she pulled a string of vintage freight cars in a very realistic reenacting moment.
The day’s work for this old-time steam train would last until dark with many run-bys as part of a photographer’s special going up into the scenic mountains. For this adventure, I was with a group of steam railroading enthusiasts who wanted to record this piece of history at work. We would ride in a chase train of old passenger cars pulled by a more modern diesel engine running together with this train, then we’d be put out along the tracks at selected locations to form a line and photograph as the old train went past. Interestingly, some people were there with only audio recorders to capture the rhythmic sound of this old steam locomotive at work.
The gray day gave up no sunlight at all under that tight overcast, only a sky that was just luminous enough to shoot. It was damp along with penetrating cold, but that same winter air made for impressive high rising clouds of smoke and steam. Certainly, that’s a big part of the visual drama with these old trains and the day was just right to tell the tale with a camera.
I really didn’t mind the cold feet and fingers. Most of all, I had a great time depicting the way heavy freight was pushed over the mountains by the will of man and steam-powered trains over a hundred years ago. Not only is seeing this railroading action fun, but the time machine experience of smelling burning coal and having cinders hit your skin as the ear-splitting whistle screams is a deep, visceral one. It was easy to be mentally transported by this time machine, and imagination is truly this old train’s modern day freight.
The original Western Maryland is long gone as a fallen flag commercial railroad but lives on in this tourist version as the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Heritage steam in action is the focus along with diesel engines and you can take a beautiful sixteen-mile mountain ride on this train. Get tickets and more info by visiting the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad website.
Location: Cumberland, Allegany County, Maryland. Picture and story © Andrew Dierks
Up Next: Just Leaving #10570