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Cumberland wants to put #202 to work

January 06, 2000

Could old No. 202, the Western Maryland steam engine that's been parked in Hagerstown's City Park for more than 30 years, ever run the rails again? The folks at the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Cumberland believe it can, and they're seriously negotiating for the long-time lease or purchase of the 1912 locomotive. John Long, the structural engineer who privately financed renovation of the engine in the mid-1980s, says he's willing to listen, but isn't is favor of the idea now.

Ed Kemmet, general manager of the Cumberland group, emphasized that negotiations are only in the "very, very early stages" right now, although his group has sent letters to every major elected official in Hagerstown and Washington County.

"I wouldn't say we were negotiating, but trying to establish some kind of dialogue on the feasibility of putting that engine back in service on the railroad," Kemmet said.

The Cumberland group needs a second locomotive to complement its present 1916 engine because it currently does about 200 excursions a year, trips of 32 miles apiece.

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"When there's a breakdown and you have a major part that fails, it takes time to make it, or to have one made," Kemmet said.

And when people come to Cumberland, expecting a ride on an old-time steam engine, only to find that it's out of service, they're not happy, Kemmet said.

No. 202 is not only in restorable condition, Kemmet said, but it's "historically correct" for the railroad because at one time the Western Maryland Railway ran it out of Cumberland.

"It's a native to this railroad," Kemmet said.

Kemmet declined to speculate on how much it might cost to put No. 202 in shape, saying "our chief mechanical officer would have to come down and look at it."

He did say, however, that based on what they know now, "the steam locomotive we have now was in much worse shape than the one they have in Hagerstown when we got it in August of 1992."

Kemmet said his group is proposing to lease No. 202, and in addition to any fee, they would provide free rides to any Hagerstown child who comes to Cumberland, and also hold special Hagerstown days.

"It's sitting down there in a corner of the park with a shed sitting over it, and it's not really that accessible. It would be nice to put it back into service," Kemmet said.

Actually getting the engine back onto the rails has been a long-time dream of John Long, the private citizen who bought the engine from the city for $1 in 1982, with the agreement that he would spend thousands in private funds restoring it.

He was faithful to his promise, but has had a sometimes rocky relationship with city officials over the years over issues like liability and the city's 1987 pledge to built a shelter over the old engine, a promise which the city fathers eventually agreed to keep in 1993.

Long, now 83, says the Cumberland group isn't the only one that's contacted him about the possibility of putting No. 202 back in service. He says he feels, however, that "our agreement with the city says this is its homeplace."

In addition, Long said, because it's on the National Register of Historic Places, he's not sure that it could be moved.

"I admire them (the Cumberland group) for what they've done but I feel that (to move it) would be an injustice to the voters and citizens of the city. But I have nothing against this group - they have a problem and feel this locomotive would solve it," Long said.

Like Long, I can't blame Cumberland for trying. Considering how readily the area has allowed some of its historic buildings to be demolished in the past 12 months - and the apparent citizen disinterest in a plan for a new rail museum here - why shouldn't an outside group that values the region's rail heritage make a bid to lease old No. 202?

If it seems like an afterthought to Washington County - and the engine got only a three-word mention in the county's 1998 and 1999 visitors' guides - can you blame some railroad enthusiasts in Cumberland for trying to put it on their tracks?




Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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