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Memories prompt donation to roundhouse museum

January 26, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

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Many of David Bragunier's fond boyhood memories revolve around trains, thanks to his father, Thomas Bragunier, who worked for the Western Maryland Railroad.

Bragunier, 58, remembers his first train ride one Sunday afternoon when he was 4 or 5 years old and his father took him from Hagerstown to Hancock and back.

Through the years, they'd take other train rides together to see Major League Baseball games in cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, he said.


It was a special reward to go to the then-bustling Hagerstown Roundhouse, where his father worked, Bragunier said.

"He would bring me up if I was good at my dentist appointment. He would let me sit up in the cab of a steam engine," he said. "It was very exciting."

On Sunday, Bragunier paid a visit to the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum to deliver a $1,000 donation in honor of his father, who was foreman of the roundhouse from 1966 until his retirement in 1974.

The elder Bragunier, who grew up on Wilson Boulevard, went to work for the Western Maryland Railroad as an "apprentice boy" in the tool room in 1934, his son said.

One of 11 children, he had only a sixth-grade education, Bragunier said. But he had a "mechanical cleverness" that allowed him to work his way up the ranks.

"He was a very inventive guy. If they didn't have a tool to do the job, he'd make a tool to do the job," he said.

The day his father retired, they closed the shops for the afternoon and had a big party in his honor, he said.

"It was the proudest day of his life," said Bragunier, who said his father, who died in 1996, would tell everyone he met about that day.

Bragunier, who lives in Arlington, Va., said he hopes his donation will inspire other relatives of former roundhouse employees, train enthusiasts and local business people to support plans to turn the roundhouse complex into a museum.

A musician by profession - he plays tuba in the National Symphony Orchestra - Bragunier is an avid collector of Western Maryland Railroad memorabilia and model trains.

Thanks to newspaper clippings sent by his mother, Hagerstown resident Elizabeth Bragunier, Bragunier said he has been following the nonprofit railroad group's efforts transform the old roundhouse into a working museum.

He has visited the current Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum at 300 S. Burhans Blvd., on the edge of the CSX-owned property, several times, he said.

But he hadn't been back to the roundhouse until Sunday, when museum board chairman Blaine Snyder drove him out for a closer look at the vandalized buildings.

"When I come visit my mom, of course, I go by it," said Bragunier, who was accompanied by his wife, Sara Stern, and their 7-year-old nephew, Matthew Stern, of Silver Spring, Md., on the mini-tour. "It's been sad to see it fall into rack and ruin like it is."

Bragunier said he has been inspired by the dedication of those working toward a museum.

And he's excited by the plans he has heard for the roundhouse, which include rail excursions and using the facility for repairing and restoring railroad trains, and the projection it will draw 100,000 tourists to his hometown.

"This could be just a wonderful facility," Bragunier said. But it's going to have to be a community effort. Certainly, they're going to need grant money, big-time grant money, but if there's local support, it helps."

Museum officials are in the process of interviewing professional fund-raisers for the project, with initial cost estimates around $5 million, Snyder said.

Preliminary work can begin once CSX Real Property transfers the 40 acres which include the roundhouse to a co-ownership arrangement between the museum and either the state, county of city, he said.

That's expected to happen this year, Snyder said.

Museum admissions and donations have provided enough money to get the project started, he said.

CSX abandoned the crescent-shaped, brick and steel roundhouse in 1986, but it was leased for private railroad restoration until 1991, Snyder said.

The turntable in front of the roundhouse, which connects the incoming rail line to lines going to 25 maintenance stalls in the roundhouse, can be repaired, he said.

The museum is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

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