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Author Topic: Slice of Railroad Life Stories- Chapter Three- B&O Tunnel in West Virginia  (Read 388 times)
Trainman203

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« on: June 23, 2022, 12:17:33 PM »

B&O tunnel in West Virginia - Part 1 - Prologue

With this story, Iíll take a break from the railroads around my old home.

In the summer of 1973 I had a summer job with the National Park Service in West Virginia, on a team documenting historic sites for the Library of Congress.  The previous year, another team in West Virginia had documented, among other things, a B&O tunnel built in the early 1850ís on an original route, since bypassed, between Grafton and Wheeling, if I recall correctly.  The nearest town was Littleton, I believe.  The tunnel had last been used in the early 1950ís, I think.  The track was still in use up to a few miles at either end of the tunnel as two different branches.  The track was actually all still mostly in place through the tunnel although impassable with several washouts and ties thoroughly rotted.

Iím going to invite the knowledgeable Jeffrey Ward to comment in detail about the history of this line, in a region whose railroads I know little about.  My comments will focus on my visit to the site and what I saw.  Jeffery, if you would, could you write us a history of this line?  Iíd really appreciate it, thanks.

To be continued.


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Trainman203

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« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2022, 03:59:07 PM »

Hereís some pictures and information.

https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.wv0253.photos?st=gallery

When I saw it in 1973 the rock slide at the south portal had not yet occurred.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2022, 05:37:30 PM by Trainman203 » Logged
jward


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« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2022, 04:58:52 PM »

I know a little about this line but not alot. It owes its existence to political drama involving the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania railroad.


In the early days of railroading, they weren't thinking of the bog projects. The bog dream was to build a transporation artery across the ALlegheny Mountains to reach the Ohio River or other major waterway, as water transportation was the most practical. Thus you saw projects like the Pennsylvania canal, the C&O canal, and the Erie Canal. Th Erie was the most practical, as it followed the route of the later New York Central across the flatlands of upstate New York to Lake Erie. The others followed waterways westward through the ridge and valley region of the mountains as far as they could, but inevitably they ran up against the Allegheny Front. This mountain ridge/ escarpment runs roughly from WIlloamsport, Pa to just east of White SUlphur SPrings, Wv, and for much of its length it is the eastern continental divide. It rises anywhere from 1000 to 3000 feet above the valley floor, looming up like a wall that to this day hinders east west transportation. Once over this hurdle, River valleys once again provide a passage through the rest off the mountains. The Front is never penetrated more than a few miles by rivers and streams with one notable exception. The West Branch of the Susquehanna River cuts a gorge through the Front just west of Lock Haven, Pa and drains a significant area to the west. BUt that is to this day wilderness, an out of the way passage into what is known locally as the ENdless Mountains.

The canals were able to get to the base of the ridge at places like Hollidaysburg, PA and Cumberland, MD but their progress westward was halted. The Pennsylvania canal built an elaborate system of inclined planes and railroad track to get the canal boats, designed to come apart in pieces to be loaded onto flatcars, over the mountains to Johnstown, Pa where they once again reached canal waters and eventually made it to Pittsburgh.

The port cities of the east coast at the time saw it as a do or die situation to have an artery west across the mountains. New York had the Erie Canal, Philadelphia had the Pennsylvania canal from Harrisburg west, with a connecting railroad between the two cities. DC had the C&O canal. But Baltimore had nothing. There was no waterway west from there that penetrated the mountains. SO they opted for the new and radical technology of the railroad. A project of the scope needed to get a railroad over 300 miles across the mountains had never before been attempted. Locomotive technology hadn't even been developed yet that would outrun a horse, But with no other practical option, they took a chance on the railroad. And eventually, it paid off handsomely. The first stone was laid in 1827, and the line progressed westward along what is now known as the "Old Main Line" to Harpers Ferry. By 1842 the line had reached the Allegheny Front at CUmberland.

The original plan had been to build up Wills Creek, which penetrated the Allegheny Front a few miles, then over the summit to reach the Casselman River. From there the line would follow the river valleys to Pittsburgh. But there was a problem. The line crossed into Pennsylvania ust a few miles beyond CUmberland. And Philadelphia interests, fearing a loss of freight traffic to Baltimore, decided to build their own line across the mountains, the Pennsylvania railroad. The Pennsylvania state legislature blocks the building of the B&O through their state. Eventually, the line up WIlls Creek would be built, and to-day is the famous line over Sand Patch. But it would be decades before the conditions allowed its construction.

The B&O was forced to set their sights on another route to the Ohio RIver, and settled on a route to Wheeling that completely avoided Pennsylvania. This was a far more problematic route. The Allegheny Front grows progressively larger after it leaves Pennsylvania, and even with another waterway penetrating the mountains a few miles, the summit at Altamont was 400 feet higher than Sand Patch. And that was just the start. Once west of the Front. the railroad encountered a seemingly endless series of rivers and streams that drained northward into Pennsylvania, so following waterways west was not possible. They'd have to descend into, and climb out of, each of these valleys.


I'm going to have to leave ti here for to-day folks. Gotta get to work. But I'll try to finish the story to-morrow.
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Jeffery S Ward Sr
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Trainman203

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« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2022, 05:40:50 PM »

This is great background Jeffrey.  Thank you.  Waiting for the rest .
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Trainman203

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« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2022, 12:28:39 PM »

B&O tunnel in West Virginia - Part 2

I spent the summer of 1973 on a National Park Service team charged with the documentation of historic and endangered landmarks in that state, to deposit into the Library of Congress. The particular sub-organization I joined was called the Historic American Engineering Record (H.A.E.R.), the engineering counterpart of the much older Historic American Building Survey (H.A.B.S.).  

Every summer these organizations sent documentation teams to multiple locations around the country, each one charged with measuring and producing drawings of 5 or 6 historically important structures.  The teams consisted of 5 or 6 advanced architectural and/or engineering students to execute the work, supervised by in our case an engineering professor from a university.  The teams were typically based at a university engineering or architecture school that had available drafting rooms (we drew the drawings by hand in ink on polymer sheets for archival purposes.). Our team was based in Morgantown, at the University of West Virginia Engineering School.

I requested the team in West Virginia because I wanted to see string band and bluegrass music being played, which I did. But the most profound experience there was railroad related, which I didnít expect.  

The previous summer, an H.A.E.R. team had also been in West Virginia and one of their objectives had been the documentation of an abandoned B&O railroad tunnel in the far northwestern part of the state, almost to Wheeling.  

Here again is the link to that project:

https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.wv0253.photos?st=gallery

We knew about the tunnel but I didnít take a whole lot of notice at first.  But in the course of the first week or two, in becoming more acquainted with the rest of the team, I discovered that one of the other guys was also a railfan.

One day not long after, he made the fateful pronouncement, ďwe need to go see that tunnel.Ē

To be continued.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2022, 12:32:53 PM by Trainman203 » Logged
Terry Toenges


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« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2022, 02:12:37 PM »

Board Tree Tunnel
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqkStgI1C8M
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Trainman203

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« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2022, 11:22:14 AM »

B&O tunnel in West Virginia - Part 3

The summer of 1973 was a not a period of peak railfan activity for me although it should have been, I had others interests and concerns at the time.  We were busy with the projects we had and I was spent most weekends going to several music events around the state.

Most of Morgantown was pretty high above the winding Monongahela River.  The B&O wound along the curving river down below and although we could often hear air horns honking down along the river, in the 8 or 10 weeks we were there I never went down to see it.

On one music event trip down in the southern part of the state, while driving more or less northeast east as I recall, we passed below a large curving steel trestle clearly labeled as Norfolk and Western.  The music event had been in a relatively nearby settlement known as Ivydale.  The trestle was a series of open deck plate girder spans supported by several four- legged table-like towers, and passing below it, I could see through the open deck above that the track had been removed, possibly recently since many ties were still in place although all of them skewed at odd angles.  On either side of the trestle, the right of way was shelf-like, carved into the overgrown hillsides.  I never found out what that line was, although in all likelihood it was an abandoned mine branch.

But my railfan pal and I had the abandoned tunnel foremost in our minds.  In those pre-internet days we only knew that the tunnel was near Littleton West Virginia, way up in the narrow northwest part of the state squeezed hard by Pennsylvania and Kentucky.  So, one Saturday morning we set out on the adventure.  The 40 mile drive there was very slow due to the winding road and occasional misting rain which bedeviled us at first.

Somehow without much map help we miraculously found the north portal first, incredibly not very far from the road.  Recent internet photos show it with a block wall closure partly broken out with a dripping spring feeding nasty water standing inside.  And it also shows no track present, when my memory says that rails and ties were still there.  49 years later, my memory tells me that we saw the tunnel completely closed up, but weíd already heard that because the north end of the tunnel was downgrade from the south end, that water had always been present there and was now being retained.  We only looked at the tunnel portal from the embankment above and decided it to be too dangerous to descend down a wet steep slope through wet undergrowth possibly hosting poison ivy and snakes.

We then proceeded to attempt to locate the south end of the tunnel.  This would prove a little harder to achieve.

To be continued.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2022, 11:27:34 AM by Trainman203 » Logged
Trainman203

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« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2022, 02:16:23 PM »

B&O tunnel in West Virginia - Part 4

Knowing that the tunnel was supposedly near Littleton, we drove down to town, as it were, hoping to find better luck in locating the tunnelís south portal. And, at first, we did have luck.

Skilled users of Google Maps, street view, and Google Earth can readily see where we finally found the track.  If you spot yourself in the middle of Littleton and head north on Hornet Highway, not very far up youíll see a little block-long collection of buildings on the west side of the road. On the east side of the road is the embankment that B&O track was still on when we visited in 1973.  And, jumping ahead slightly, if you zoom back out you can still easily see most of the old B&O right of way headed north to the tunnel, with some of the track apparently still in place.  Iíve always been amazed at how incredibly long that traces of abandoned railroads can endure over long periods of time, in this case almost 60 years later in 2022 satellite imagery viewing.

Having parked the car, we climbed up the embankment to see the track still in place, although heavily weathered and in terrible condition.  We were astounded to see a steam locomotive ash dump pile still between the rails, which told us that almost nothing if anything had passed through since the B&O end of steam in the late 1950ís.  The buildings down below along the road, and the road itself, are in much better condition today than when we saw the scene.  It looked untouched since the 30ís, ready for a movie shoot, the beat-up macadam road fronting heavily weathered buildings whose plate glass store windows still had gold leaf signage from a half century before.  A few locals looked up at us with suspicion, so we moved up north along the track with some haste, into the woods and past where the road curved away to the left.

To be continued.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2022, 02:18:37 PM by Trainman203 » Logged
Terry Toenges


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« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2022, 04:39:55 PM »

I was checking that out the other day on Google Earth. I can't find the tunnel. The track follows the highway and river to about Promise Land Dr. then curves to the right and heads North. It kind of fades out amongst the trees. I'm not sure where the tunnel would have been.
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Trainman203

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« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2022, 05:57:53 PM »

Yes, the ROW does fade out with Google Maps satellite view heading north.  I could follow it awhile then it blended in.   I think the track is gone in places now since I was there. Itís bound to be on the Coast and Geodetic Survey maps but I donít think they are online.  Itís been almost 70 years since a train passed.  Iím going to get into all of that.
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Trainman203

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« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2022, 06:14:49 PM »

I went online and looked at the satellite view of that Google map again.  I can follow the right of way a long way past Promised Land Road, but it does get fainter.  In this case you need to zoom further out to see it but itís there.  I believe I can see the south end of the tunnel due East of where Georgetown Road meets US 250 but boy is it faint.  Thereís no nearby landmark to cue you in.  It looks like the track is gone today.  It was all still there, more or less, in 1973, all the way through the tunnel.
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Terry Toenges


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« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2022, 07:31:58 PM »

Would that be just to the left of where the two darks spots are? It is hard to tell anything in that area.
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Trainman203

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« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2022, 07:35:25 PM »

Yes, I believe that is it.

You can see the north end just left of the hairpin turn on Georgetown Road, and pick up the ROW again.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2022, 07:38:37 PM by Trainman203 » Logged
Trainman203

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« Reply #13 on: June 26, 2022, 09:02:17 PM »

B&O tunnel in West Virginia - Part 5

After all these years I canít remember the sources of all of our information about the tunnel.  One important point was that, in 1973, the original main line on its entirety had never been abandoned. The track through the tunnel was still on the books as an active railroad.  In actuality, in the early 20th century the tunnel had become a bottleneck due to insufficient clearances and maintenance issues.  The line had in effect become two branch lines that terminated at the last community on either side of the tunnel, with the tunnel left out of service and the last few miles to it no longer maintainedÖ.. though technically still active.

We never saw these last points of actual railroad activity.  What we saw when we climbed the embankment in Littleton was rotten ties and weed grown rusty rails whose railhead was as deeply rusted as the sides.  As best we could learn, the line became rarely used  before WW2, experienced heavy use during the war, then again fell into disuse with the last train being ca. 1954 or 1955.

We started following the deteriorated track into the woods where the highway veered away, and entered an entirely appropriate stillness broken only by birds and insects, while having no idea how far ahead the tunnel was.  Your sense of distance becomes distorted in such a somewhat enclosed setting of close hanging branches.  It seemed like weíd walked for miles.  Trees had begun growing between the rails and thorny vines wound around everything.  Wasps and hornets flew around and we hoped not to hit a hidden nest.

Then, through the dense growth, around a slow curve, we could see the end of a hopper car.  It turned out to be not just one , but a coal trainís worth of hoppers.  We should have counted but it had to be 50, maybe as many as 100.  They were all very short steel two-bay 50-ton cars of the type that filled coal drags from WW1 up to mid century when better track began to allow bigger cars.  They were all unbelievably rusty, dented, beaten up and worn out from leading the rough life that all these cars and the cousins the gondolas led.  We walked along the sides of this interminable and sad line of rusty cars undoubtedly having run their last revenue mile, being stored until their funeral run to the scrapper.

We finally came to the last car.  The track was now entering rock cuts of varying heights, all allowing rock to crumble down.  Very soon the track became too rickety to hold rolling stock.  The ballast, untouched for decades, began to show signs of erosion from runoff water.  After a quarter mile or so of this, we finally came to an actual washout.  The roadbed below the track had washed away completely to a depth of maybe 5 feet, the twisted rails still crazily and twistingly spanning the gap of 10 or 15í.  A few ties still dangled from the rails, some only attached to one rail, others still hanging on to both.  It was inconceivable that this track was technically actually still in service.

We stumbled down into the gully and then up the other side, back onto still assembled track, wondering what weíd gotten ourselves into and how much further the tunnel might be.  The curves still led on through a landscape once touched slightly by the railroad but reverting back to wilderness.

Then, we saw it, the tunnel portal, wide open, tracks leading into it, the majestic and beautiful stonework having stood a century of terrible winters and having long outlived its usefulness.

To be continued.
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jward


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« Reply #14 on: June 27, 2022, 12:41:43 AM »

OK now that I have an off day, here is the continuation of my commentary on the B&O;s original mainline. From CUmberland, The B&O built down the North Branch of the Potomac river to Keyser, where the river abruptly turned west to cut through the Allegheny front in a 2000 foot deep gorge. Keyser became the site of a huge yard and car shops that reportedly built some of the B&O's distinctive wagon top boxcars. It is also the foot of the brutal 17 mile grade. The railroad followed the river to Piedmont, which was the originalsite of the yards. If you've ever been to Piedmont, you know how cramped it is. It's a typical West Virginia river valley town, with very little floodplain to build on, and every street at a different elevation on the mountainside. There was no room here for extensive facilities, which is why they were moved to Keyser. The section between Piedmont and Bloomingtonis nesteled deep in the gorge between the Front and Backbone Mountain, which runs parallel just a few miles to the northwest. The North Branch follows the trough between to two ridges southwestward to its source. This valley eventually was used by the Western Maryland railway to get to ELkins, WV. But it ran the wrong direction for the B&O.

Fortunately, at Bloomington the Savage River cuts through Backbone mountainbefore running into the edge of the plateau country that makes up the extreme western part of Maryland. IT fans out northeast and southwest of the mountain in steeply graded valleys mostly unsuitable for a railroad. But the B&O had found its way westward. At Bloomington, the climb begins in earnest, as the B&O quickly rises a couple hundred feet above the valley, clinging to the nothern slopes of Backbone Mountain in an ultimately futile attempt to climb out of the valley faster than the valley floor rises to meet it. Fortunately, It reaches the edge of the Plateau at Altamont, at over 2600 feet the highest point on the B&O mainline adn 1800 feet above Keyser, just as it runs out of valley to follow. But make no mistake. This was, and still is, a brutal piece of railroad, and safely moving heavy trains down the grade to Keyser has been a vexing problem for its entire existence. During the steam era, there was a runaway track halfway down to stop trains unfortunate enough to lose their brakes. Even in this era of diesels with high capacity dynamic brakes, it is still too easy to lose control on this mountain. Not too many years have passed since a runaway train made it all the way to Bloomington, before piling up spectacularly on the bridge over the Potomac.

From Altamont west is the Glades, a high altitude plateau of rolling hills. After an initial short but steep drop, the line runs west through the flattest part of the line west of Cumberland. This is an area of cold winters with lots of snow, and some pretty extreme temperatures in the winter. It is drained by the Youghiogheny River, which ironically has its mouth just 15 miles from Pittsburgh. But the B&O could not enter Pennsylvania, so it continued west to the other end of the plateau at Terra Alta.


Terra Alta is one of those fascinating spots on the B&O. Looking west down the line, the rails disappear from view in a vertical curve, literally dropping off the face of the earth. This is Cranberry Grade, home of some of the most extreme railroading in the east. This is where locomotives come to prove themselves worthy, or die trying. The grade eastward out of the Cheat River valley is about a dozen miles of twisting S curves clinging to the mountainside, which must be overcome by the heavy coal trains that have always dominated this line. Many advances in locomotive technology proved their mettle here before being widely adopted elsewhere. Leaving M&K junction at Rowlesburg, WV trains quickly lose any momentum and settle into whatever speed the locomotives can pull them for the long hard slog to the top, if they reach the top.....Stalled trains have always been a way of life here, and Helper locomotives were maintained at a shop at the foot of the grade.

West of ROwlesburg, the railroad is forced to climb once again out of the CHeat valley, as the river, like so many others, has its mouth in Pennsylvania. FOrtunately for the B&O, the climb is short but steep. Tunnelton is but a few miles away, and only 400 feet higher than the foot of the grade. TUnnelton is, as the name implies, the site of a summit tunnel, a widely used tactic on railroads to shave a couple of hundred feet in elevation gain by burrowing beneath the actual summit of the mountain. It was also the connection to the West Virginia Northern, a coal hauling shortline with grades of 6% in places, steep enough that it bought one of the few EMD switchers with dynamic brakes in an attempt to tame the grades.

Wsest of TUnnelton, the B&O finally found the long sought after valley headed in the same direction as the railroad. After a steep drop down to Hardman, it resulted in a gentle grade all the way to Fairmont. Hardman was the location of a helper station, and eastbound trains would get locomotives added to the rear to help them up to TUnnelton, help holfd the train back on the descent to ROwlesburg, before giving their all on the climb to Terra Alta. A few miles west of Hardman is Grafton, which grew into a major terminal on the B&O with lines fanning out in four directions in search of coal traffic.

West of Grafton, the railroad follows the Tygart river west to Fairmont, finally free of the mountains. But at Fairmont, the Tygart becomes the Monongahela RIver, and once again, it flows north into Pennsylvaina. Once again, the B&O's luck had run out. The remainder of the line to Wheeling followed creeks where it could, and hopped from watershed to watershed where necessary. Even though the elevation is much lower than the mountains to the east, this area is narrow valleys carved deep into a highly eroded plateau. It is, in its own way, just as brutal and rugged as the mountains B&O encountered. Tracing the route on maps, I counted no fewer than 7 tunnels between Fairmont and Moundsville, where the Ohio RIver is finally reached. This is almost twice the number of tunnels that once existed on the line from Keyser to Grafton. This is a land of sharp curves, and short but steep climbs where any sort of fast running simply isn't possible. This is also the only major part of the B&O's original mainline that has been abandoned. Even to-day, travel through this region is only possible by winding two lane roads that are the equivalent of what the B&O encountered, full of steep hills and sharp curves that make any kind of speed impossible. It is, however, beautiful country.

From Moundsville, Wheeling was about a ten mile run up the Ohio Valley. The B&O's terminal was at Benwood, just south of town. Wheeling, the hard fought destination of the early B&O, to-day has no rail service. Each of the three railroads that served the city has been abandoned, and to-day it is an afterthought most famous for a casino. Pittsburgh, the city B&O was prevented from reaching, became a major railroad center, as well as the onetime center of steelmaking, with plants lining the river valleys for many miles. Even to-day, Pittsburgh is on the route of two of the most important rail lines between CHicago and the east coast.

What happened? SImply put, WHeeling was an out of the way location for any route further west. B&O had other options, such as building the Parkersburg Branch due west from Grafton on a line that ultimately reached St Louis. Wheeling, or Benwood, became a hub of sorts for coal train moving to the Great Lakes and other points. But it was never a big terminal for through freight. Even though there was once a direct line between Wheeling and Pittsburgh, it was a roundabout, grade strewn route for West Virginia coal to reach the mills in Pittsburgh. B&O eventually built a line north along the Monongahela to Point Marions before cutting over the hills to Connellsville, a terminal on the B&O mainline 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, and the majority of the Pittsburgh bound coal trains used this route.

As Trainman has alluded. stubs of the original mainline stayed in service to serve coal mines until these, too closed and were abandoned. Ironically, as the West VIrginia mines were shutting down, the extreme southwestern corner of Pennsylvania was being served by an arm of the Pennsylvania railroad, which in the 1960s built an entirely new line from Waynesburg, PA south to serve three new mines. For operation, the line was turned over to Monongahela Railway, a jointly owned shortline with B&O, PRR and P&LE as owners. Another branch due west from Waynesburg served another new mine at the headwaters of Wheeling Creek. This route was chosen over a routing from Wheeling and the B&O up the creek to the mines.

The Board Tree tunnel that Trainman has mentioned is interesting in its own right. I've mentioned how B&O was prevented from building in Pennsylvania for many years, so they built a line that hooked around the southwest corner of Pennsylvania. The line near Board Tree comes literally within a half mile of the monument that marks this corner. The B&O avoided Pennsylvania, but just barely.

I was never able to railfan this section. It was out of service before I was old enough to explore on my own. And while my dad was a HUGE fan of the Monongahela Railway, whose photography is featured in a book on the subject, we never really ventured south onto the B&O lines that still existed west of Fairmont. There was simply too much going on up on the Monongahela, and I have many fond memories of chasing trains there.

The brutal operating conditions on the B&O east of Grafton resulted in many innovations born out of necessity. B&O adopted 0-8-0 steam locomotives before the Civil War, in an era when most lines were using the 4-4-0. THe smaller locomotives simply couldn't handle the tonnage on the grades. They also adopted distinctive iron pot hopper cars in this era, 50 or more years before iron and steel cars became common elsewhere. The first mallet type steam locomotive in the US went to work for the B&O, and though it was intended for yard service, the concept of an articulated, 12 driver locomotive quickly proved its worth on the mountain grades. Even the famous EM1, the largest and last of the articulateds on the B&O, found widespread use out of Benwood among other areas. Even in the diesel era, the B&O, mostly known for four axle locomotives like GP9s and GP40s, fielded a fleet of SD35s that remained staples of helper service out of M&K Junction for over 20 years. They ran in sets of four, and I have fond memories of them howling away on the backs of coal trains at walking speed.


Finally, I'll offer some perspective on the B&O versus its rival the Pennsylvania. They served similar territory, with similar traffic bases. Yet the PRR prospered while the B&O never seemed to have enough money. PRR invested heavily in its physical plant, straightening out curves, widening the mainline to 4 tracks, and building junctions that foreshadowed freeway interchanges in an effort to deal with the tide of traffic. B&O, facing a similar crush, made due with the physical plant it had. Investments in line improvements were few and far between, and most of the ones I am aware of were east of Keyser. What should have been an intensely profitable railroad continued to run on lines originally laid out before the CIvil war, with few exception. Why?

It is undeniable tha tthe B&O was a much more difficult and costly railroad to operate than the PRR. Its grades agains the loaded trains were twice as steep as the PRR, and the terrain not conducive to line improvements. But there was another factor That I suspect had a lasting impact: the CIvil War.This is speculation on my part.

The B&O was put in a very awkward position by the war. Its mainline straddled the border between the confederacy and the Union. Many smaller battles, and a few of the larger ones, were fought within a few miles of its lines. Antietam lies just a few miles north of the mainline, Gettysburg is a little farther away but still within a day's ride by horseback. These skirmishes had to have had an effect in a war where the railroad's strategic importance was being realized for the first time. The cumulative effect of the various raids on its facilities had to hurt. There werre many of them, including a raid by  STonewall Jackson on the B&O's facililties in Martinsburg, then VA now WV.

The way I understand the story, Jackson had an encampment along the B&O. He complained to the railroad that his troops couldn't get rest because of the heavy train traffic. The B&O management was eager to placate him, and a deal was reached where the trains would only pass by the camp within a specified block of time. This seemed to quell the situation for awhile, But Jackson had other ideas. The COnfederacy was desperate for railroad equipment, and his plan to solve that problem was brilliant in its elegance. On a specified day, he sent troops west of Martinsburg to stop all westward trains but let the eastward ones pass. At the encampment, which was east of Martinsburg, the order was reversed. Westward train were let past, but any easteard ones were held. In w few short hours, he had bottled up an entire day';s worth of trains within a few miles of the Martinsburg terminal. The troops dismantled and carted off as much equipment as they could, hauling it southward through the Shenandoah Valley by horse drawn wagons. What they couldn't take they set on fire, and the B&O lost an incredible amount of equipment that day including the Martinsburg terminal.

One wonders if the B&O was set back financially for many years trying to replace equipment and facilities lost during the war. The PRR, on the other hand, was largely untouched by the war other than a huge increase in war related traffic. SO it came out of the war far stronger, while the B&O was severely weakened. It doesn't take much speculation to guess that the long term damage would have been devastating. Having to replace war damaged equipment and pohysical plant would have robbed the railroad of resources desperately needed elsewhere, and presumably, other areas of the system suffered from lack of investment while the railroad tried desperately to get itself back to where it was before the war. These areas, in turn, deteriorated until they could no longer be ignored, then money pulled from other needed projects to fix these spots. WOuld the effect have snowballed, with the railroad constantly having to rob Peter to pay Paul? Certainly the B&O had a number of projects in planning stages which would have drastically altered its traffic flow. One was the plan to build a line directly west from COnnellsville to Wheeling, which combined with an existing line from Wheeling to Columbus and beyond would most likely have diverted the through St Louis traffic from the grade strewn line through Grafton to the much easier to operate line over Sand Patch where it would mingle with the CHicago traffic. The other eastern trunk lines all had the junction between their CHicago and St Louis lines much further west than the B&O. NYC split at Berea, on the west side of CLeveland, and PRR split at Pittsburgh. Only B&O maintained seperate lines over the mountains for this traffic.

Even more fascinating was the purchase of the Buffalo ROchester & Pittsburgh and Buffalo & SUsquehanna railroads in the early 1930s. Repostedly these were acquired with the intention of building a line to WIlliamsport, PA or gaining trackage rights over the PRR to that point. From WIlliamsport east, the Reading offered a route to the east coast that was much shorter than the B&O's roundabout line. B&O had a financial interest in both the Reading and the Jersey Central, and this would have been a far preferable route to North Jersey and New York CIty than the existing route through Baltimore and Philly.


Much of what I've related here can be found in CHarles ROberts books on the B&O East End and West End. Both are a fascinating look ar key parts of America's first railroad.




Trainman mentioned Board T
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Jeffery S Ward Sr
Pittsburgh, PA
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