Cumberland Times-News


May 11, 2014

A new steed

She’ll be comin’ around the mountain

It is said that some things never get old, and that certainly applies to Mountain Thunder, the iron horse we first watched snort its way up the mountain from Cumberland to Frostburg more than a quarter of a century ago.

What’s now called the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad has had more than one locomotive and is acquiring another — one of the last steam locos built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. WMSR officials say she probably will be the most powerful tourist-train locomotive in America. No. 1309 and her sisters were made obsolete by locos powered by electricity generated with diesel engines. Even though they were more powerful, steam engines were less-efficient, produced huge quantities of smoke and ash, required more crew and took longer to get warmed up for a run.

Many of us remember when the rail yards in Cumberland and Ridgeley and Keyser, W.Va., were filled with steam locomotives. By then, they mostly had been relegated to freight-hauling and yard duties, having been retired from passengerline service — which, except for Amtrak, light rail and tourist trains, also is a thing of the past.

America is largely what it is today because of the railroads that moved the workers and the coal, steel and other goods they used to build it. At the start of the Civil War, the North had more than 31,000 miles of railroad, while the South had only about 9,300 — a decided advantage for the North.

For all their reliability and efficiency, modern diesel locomotives can’t hold a candle to the oldfashioned steam locos when it comes to the romance of the rails. Even young people who weren’t around to see them at work are fascinated by them. Older folks love them even more.

It’s likely that tourists are drawn as much by the idea of being pulled by an unbelievably powerful, dark, noisy, smoke- and steam-bellowing monster from a glorious past that’s festooned from one end to the other with pipes, pistons, rods, gigantic wheels and other mysterious mechanical bits and pieces, than they are by the scenery they’ll see.

As Roger Miller might sing: Engine Engine No. 1309 ... Welcome to Allegany County!

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