This word describes the actions of railfans, the people who are interested in trains and follow them as a hobby.

I was on my way back home from the park on the C&O Canal at Point of Rocks when I decided to take a diversion through the parking lot of the Point of Rocks railroad station just for the heck of it. The interesting thing about this commuter station is that a railroad line from the east, from Baltimore (ex-B&O Old Main Line from Baltimore, one of the oldest lines in the country), meets up with another line from the southeast, from Washington, DC (ex-B&O Metropolitan Branch from Washington DC), just beyond the platform for the station.  After the lines converge, a single line (double-tracked) continues onward to the west towards and beyond Burnswick, MD.  There is plenty of freight traffic to be seen at the station.  Trains going in opposite directions sometimes have to wait before entering the station because of tracks crossing each other.

I saw two people on the platform.  One of them had a camera in hand and the other had a backpack and a radio unit that would squawk every once in a while.  I suspected that they were railfans waiting for trains to come by.  After sitting for a while in the car in a parking spot waiting for a train or two to come by, I worked up the courage to go down to the platform with my camera and try to pick up a conversation with them.


The two guys did not know each other but had already struck up a friendly conversation.  The one with the radio was monitoring the railroad communications to find out when a train would come by.  He seemed to understand the language of the railroad radio, including the identification of trains, recognition of locomotive sets used with the trains, and the language of track usage.

The guy with the radio told me that they were single tracking between Brunswick and Point of Rocks at that point.  This meant that trains going in opposite directions would have to share the single track between Point of Rocks and Brunswick.  Basically a train had to clear the entire stretch before another could be sent in the other direction. He told me that there were two CSX trains that were waiting to come out of Brunswick, one heading towards DC, and other towards Baltimore.

The first train we saw was one on the DC line, headed west, waiting outside the station for its signal to change.  The lights indicated that that it was waiting for a train coming in its direction from Point of Rocks.


The first train that came by the station at about 11:30 am was an auto-train headed to DC.


About fifteen minutes later this was followed by a coal train headed towards Baltimore.


At this point the guy with the radio informed me that they had now also opened up the second track towards Brunswick.  Trains would now be able to go in both directions at the same time in the stretch between Point of Rocks and Brunswick.  Our westbound train from the Washington DC line began moving and approaching the station about 10 minutes later.


By this time I felt that I needed to get going and back on my way home. I decided to head back to my car while the other guys continued to wait for the trains.  All of a sudden I heard one of them say something about the Capitol Limited and I rushed back to the platform to see the Amtrak train approaching.


By this time, there was a westbound freight train from Baltimore approaching, waiting just outside of the station, before the intersection with Route 28, for the track to clear, and there was another westbound train heading towards Point of Rocks from the DC side.  At this point I left the station.

I saw the train from Baltimore at the railroad intersection as I was headed home on Route 28.  I parked the car and waited for a while for the train to get its signal to proceed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could hear the train from the DC line going past the Point of Rocks station behind me as I was waiting.  I waited for a little  while longer for the Baltimore train to move but nothing seemed to be happening.  I finally gave up and headed home.   I guess I am not a real railfan!


Our Local Sunday Walk

I thought that a few pictures from our usual morning walk on Sunday would be appropriate for this week’s photo theme.  We walk along the trails in our local parks, more often than not landing up on the C&O Canal towpath by the Potomac River.

We started this weekend’s walk at White’s Ferry.  The mist was still rising from the river when we got there even though it was somewhat late in the morning.  The ferry was operating with a light load.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw some giant puffball mushrooms during our walk.  I do not recall having seen these before.  They are apparently edible if consumed before the spores have begun to form.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked up to Lock 26 on the towpath to see the historic silver maple tree near the Dickerson Conservation Center.  It is huge! This tree is on the current list of Montgomery County Champion trees.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are a couple of shots of the woods and the trail.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got back to Whites Ferry in time to get some sandwiches for lunch at the store by the ferry.  These kinds of places are far away from regular commercial locations and depend on a different kind of clientele to stay in business. They are usually operated by some locals just trying to get a little bit of money.  (I still remember the Schoolhouse Kitchen in Oldtown, MD, operated out of a closed school building, that we ended up at during the KVIITM75 bike ride.)  You can see the bare-bones nature of the operation and  get a sense that they are just getting by.  We sat at a picnic bench and watched the Jubal A. Early in operation.  The sky had cleared up during our walk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur Sunday walks are something that I look forward to.

The Mules of Great Falls

I have been wandering along the C&O canal for many years and this is the first time I have seen the mules in action.  We came upon the boat ride being offered by the National Park Service on the canal at Great Falls by chance.

The Charles F. Mercer, the boat used for the tour, is a replica of the original canal boats.  It replaced the previous canal boat replica, The Canal Clipper III, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, in 2006. There is some nice information about the boat here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA




Incidentally, it looks like excursion boats have been operating on the C&O Canal for a very long time.  There is a document about excursion boats on the C&O canal that has been posted online at this locationThis is the current version of the document.  There are fascinating pictures in the document.  The “Reminiscences about Mules” in Appendix B is very interesting.

Weekly Photo Challenge: H2O

This looks like a very broad category to me.  I have so many pictures that cover so many different aspects of H2O!  I remember the early morning scenes with the mist and fog over the river, reflections of the fall colors over the waters of a lake, the beauty of snow and ice of winter, the sea at sunrise or sunrise from a beach, the storms with the heavy rains and even flooding, and even the pollution of the H2O caused by humanity.  And that is not a complete list….

But this time I am going back to my recently completed bike ride from Pittsburgh, PA, to Whites Ferry in Maryland to address the theme.  It seems to be a good fit, because the ride, for the most part, took place beside rivers.  ( Read on and you might also get a short lesson in geography!) The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail that we followed from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD, essentially followed some of the tributaries of the Ohio River (which itself is a tributary of the great Mississippi that empties itself in the Gulf of Mexico).  From Cumberland onward, we rode the C&O Canal towpath which runs along the Potomac river. This river runs east, the opposite direction to the rivers we rode beside up to that point, and it empties into the Chesapeake Bay and the mighty Atlantic Ocean.  The Potomac and the Ohio and its tributaries flow into two distinct watershed areas on the two different sides of the Eastern Continental Divide and the Appalachian mountains that we rode over.

The Ohio river forms in Pittsburgh at the confluence of Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers and flows in a northwesterly direction out of the city.  We began our trip by riding upstream along the Monongahela river  (in a southeasterly direction).  We crossed the river over a former railroad bridge at one point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We got to McKeesport, PA, where the Youghiogheny River joins the Monongahela.  From then onward it was further upstream and continuing southeasterly along the Yough. The skies were clear on the first day. We crossed under the Banning Railroad bridge.  (I found a video of this bridge in use in 2011.  I don’t know if it is still in use.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The river was extremely muddy on the morning of the second day of the ride due to overnight rain.  You can see the mud from the abandoned railroad bridge below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sediment had cleared up by the time we crossed the Ohiopyle low bridge over the Yough into Ohiopyle, PA.


The Casselman River meets up with the Yough at Confluence, PA, and from that point on the GAP followed the Casselman on its way upstream. It was misty early in the day when we left Confluence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This is view of the town of Confluence from a bridge over the Casselman.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The skies had cleared by the time we got to Rockwood, PA.  The Casselman river looked more like a gentle stream at this point.


We crossed the Eastern Continental Divide on the GAP and descended into Cumberland, MD. The rest of the ride up to the final destination of Whites Ferry followed the C&O canal along the Potomac river. This was what the canal looked like in the area near Lock 75.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a section near Hancock.


The Paw Paw tunnel burrowed under a mountain to allow the canal a more direct route  that avoided the bends in a meandering section of the river.


We saw many aqueducts over the canal along the way. The remains of the Licking Creek Aqueduct are shown below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The river itself was quite peaceful for the most part.



We also saw a couple of dams that were used to supply water from the river to the canal.


And there there were some other H2O related experiences during the trip that I remember. This picture was taken on a pedestrian bridge over the Casselman river in Confluence early in the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The following picture is of the house at Fallingwater built by Frank Lloyd Wright.  The house is built over a waterfall.  You can take steps down from your living room directly to the water that flowed under the house.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe red waterfall shown below is the acid mine drainage (AMD) from a former mine along a section of the GAP closer to Pittsburgh.  We did (and continue to do) a lot of damage to our environment!


We experienced H2O everywhere during our trip (and hopefully H2O is also seen in all of the pictures I selected for this blog!).  And I should not fail to mention that without large quantities of H2O to drink, we would not have survived the long hot days during our bicycle ride!