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Roundhouse gets tower

February 08, 2001|By BOB PARTLOW

Roundhouse gets tower



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Another piece of the B&O Railroad's history will be reconstructed at the old Roundhouse site downtown.

Last weekend, a convoy of vehicles wound its way down State Route 9 from Cherry Run east of Hedgesville, W.Va., bearing the parts of a 31-foot high tower building constructed in 1911 and used as a switching center to move trains from one set of tracks to another.

"There are only four left in the United States," said Tim Yates, the volunteer coordinator for the project to dismantle the tower.

When plans for the Roundhouse complex at the foot of Race and Martin streets are complete - and when money can be found - the tower will be reassembled.

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It will be complete with the 20 levers that were pulled in the "Armstrong Levers" to switch the trains. The tower got the name because it took great arm strength to switch the tracks. The technology dated from 1889.

"When a man pulled a lever, he was pulling a pipe a quarter mile to do it," Yates said.

The towers were placed 10 to 20 miles apart. Eventually, the levers were operated by electricity, rather than physical exertion. And finally, modern technology ended the need for the levers.

"They now use digital technology with satellites,' Yates said. "When they went to that, they literally jumped from 19th century to 21st century technology."

CSX Railroad, which succeeded the B&O, has torn down most of the other towers. But the company agreed to allow this one to be dismantled and moved.

Civic leaders are trying to restore the Roundhouse complex, which dates from the mid-1860s and served as a garage for the servicing of railroad equipment.

The tower will be included in the rebuilding of the historical buildings.

"It's a piece of history," said Bill Frank of Charles Town, W.Va., a volunteer and B&O railroad historian who worked to save the tower. "You can take kids and adults up there and say 'this is the way it used to work.'"

The lever plant of the tower will be restored and people will be able to work the equipment.

"We want this tower to operate real switches,' Yates said. "It will be an interactive display, the first one in the country."

The plant will be restored to the way it looked in 1953, when the first set of levers wore out and were replaced.

For now, the tower and equipment will be protected from the weather while officials of the Roundhouse Authority develop a master plan. Once they do, the tower will be fit into the plan and reassembled. No cost estimate is available, although it cost about $15,000 to dismantle and move it.

That cost doesn't include the volunteer help of the 351st Army Reserve and the 167th Air National Guard units that provided workers and equipment to move the tower. Police agencies helped guide the tower along the road Sunday, Yates said.

He's delighted the plan came together as it did and the building will be restored.

"It's just amazing," he said.

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