Saturday, January 2, 2016

"Sykesville, railfanning... and New Year's Eve?"

An invite from dear friends in Maryland to a New Year's eve dinner party was a no-brainer once our daughter confirmed that she would indeed be jetting off to Italy to spend the holiday with friends made during her study abroad. So the pups were off to meet new playmates at a local boarding facility, Miss La-di-da went to Milan and we stole 40 hours of R & R sandwiched between eight hours of I-95.

We arrived Wednesday evening and I immediately plotted out a research expedition to the western part of the Old Main Line that I would be modeling, namely the Sykesville area, about 35 minutes northwest. I figured that I could get away the next morning while the others did whatever they chose to do. But to my surprise, my wife and our hosts wanted to share in my excellent adventure.

"What exactly is this model railroading thing of which you speak," they queried.

As we approached the gateway to Sykesville at the Patapsco River bridge about 1 pm, the unmistakable sound of a rumbling train combined with the crossing's alarm bells advised us that our timing was one Chevy Blazer away from being absolutely impeccable.

The sheer size, sound and power of the empty westbound coal train was stunning when witnessed from such close proximity and in such an unexpected fashion. The train barreled through for about four minutes, obscuring all but the central section of the Sykesville depot.

My primary goal on this trip was to get a better idea of various land forms and the relative relationships between the mainline, river and overall  geography. Here is a view from the bridge looking west just in front of the depot that was undermined during the flood in 1972.

There is a bit of an ad hoc collection of railroad memorabilia adjacent to the station including a former Pennsylvania Railroad signal tower, a C&O passenger car and this refurbished B&O caboose. It was unfortunately closed during our visit.

There was also this not-yet-refurbished-and-we-don't-know-if-it-ever-will-be caboose sitting on a former siding just west of the depot building. I assume that it was also closed.

We climbed to an area west of town tracing an abandoned spur to the nearby State Hospital. The sharp difference in elevation throughout Sykesville surprised me. Here the old tracks are visible in the foreground with the mainline below and the river just beyond.

The grade at which the spur climbed was very substantial. It was essentially only used by a 'dinky' pulling a single coal hopper every few days to provide for the hospital's power plant.

We moved east to once again gauge the relationship between the river and the mainline and to get plenty of photographs that would help me depict a time of year in which little is in bloom. While I'll be portraying March, my Maryland friends assure me that this is probably pretty representative of that time anyway.

Part of modeling the OML in 1960 is to depict that which was no longer utilized by that time like this bridge abutment which is the only remains of the Henryton Road bridge over the Patapsco, just east of Sykesville.

I was assured throughout the day that my railfan mates were sincerely enjoying themselves and not just humoring me, even when I would channel my inner Cliff Clavin and recite interesting historical anecdotes and relatively useless facts and figures. So, all in all, it was a banner day. Several dozen photographs for later reference for me and a few minor purchases from quaint shops for the ladies.

We were home in time for final dinner prep, a great meal and a few drinks, plus some lousy bowl games and some even lousier New Year's Eve shows. We are all now well assured that we are no longer a preferred demographic target for any television network. Happy New Year everyone!
Big thanks to my backseat hosts, Jim and Carrie for this video and fine hospitality.


  1. Happy New Year, Jim! After the way you talked about the Old Main Line, I didn't realize it still had any traffic on it. Nice to see!


    1. Hi Chuck... happy New Year... there is some traffic... basically one or two coal drags each way every day... but that's why the timing of this was so unexpected and so really neat... even the three non-rail fans with me got a real kick out of it (or else they were getting a kick out of me!)

  2. I live in sykesville and my dream would be to build a oml layout like u next time u come up go to Morgan station road just west of sykesville its the siding all the coal drags drop their helpers today the line sees about four to six trains during the day and about one hour during the night any train that cant go thru the capital come thru sykesville so any hazmat runs at night