Railroad Heritage Days held at Roundhouse Museum

June 08, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

Ever wonder why most trains no longer have a caboose at the end?

Larry Weedon knows the answer to that, along with just about any other train-related question imaginable.

Cabooses were essentially nothing more than offices - a place to keep records, bills and a lookout at crossings.

Now, all of that is done using a small box. Look at the back car of a passing train and you'll see a blinking red light. That replaced cabooses, Weedon said.

Weedon was on hand Saturday for Railroad Heritage Days, which continues today in Hagerstown from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

At the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum's gift shop Saturday afternoon, Erik Gilliam was holding his 3-year-old son, Britt, as the two looked over postcards for sale. Britt quickly grabbed one depicting Chicago's rail yard as it appeared decades ago.


Gilliam offered his son another postcard.

"Let's get another freight yard one," Britt said.

"How about diesel?" his father asked, pointing out a postcard of a diesel engine.

"No," Britt said.

Only another copy of the same Chicago freight yard postcard would appease the boy.

After buying the two cards, Gilliam walked outside where a train was passing. He asked Britt if he knew what kind of cars the engine was hauling.

"Closed hoppers," the boy said without hesitation.

Gilliam said he brought Britt and his other son, 7-year-old Niels, to the festival because they are rail fans. Britt is a bit more smitten, Gilliam said, adding that his younger son would have been content on Christmas to do nothing more than watch his new model train go around and around.

Watching the real thing rumble by is probably part of the appeal, Gilliam said.

"It's a connection between reality and play," Gilliam said.

An estimated 250 people attended the festival. Organizers said they hope an expected reprieve from the wet weather entices more people to attend today.

Cabooses, locomotives and a trolley that made its last run in 1954 will be on display, along with an antique firetruck and a mini-train on which children can ride.

One of the pieces on display is a caboose that is one of only six prototypes made by B&O Railroad, said Crystal Sprecher, chairperson of Heritage Days.

Nicknamed "The Hub City," Hagerstown still gets a lot of rail traffic and is a major interchange point, Weedon said.

Eighty percent of coal and 70 percent of the country's new cars are hauled by trains, Weedon said. One train can haul as much as 200 tractor-trailers, he said.

Freight that passes through Hagerstown could be bound for New York, Chicago, Roanoke, Virginia Canada or any number of other places, Weedon said.

Even with fewer employees and fewer miles of track, more freight is hauled now than during World War II, Weedon said.

A lover of trains since his father took him to Point of Rocks, Md., when he was 6 years old, Weedon said he is disappointed when people call them "choo-choos."

Economics spelled the demise of steam engines long ago.

"Railroading has come up to date. It's all computerized now," he said.

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