The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, Cumberland, Maryland

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The city of Cumberland, Maryland is a city located in the panhandle region of the state.  It is a city rich in history dating back to the French and Indian Wars and a major crossroads city being served by the National Road, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and the railroad.  The National Road is no longer the main road to the west.  The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal which was originally supposed to go to the Ohio River near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was never completed and had terminated in Cumberland.  Today, much of the canal is in ruins with certain parts restored to its original look, and it is its now owned and run by the National Park Service.  As for the railroad, the city of Cumberland remains a major railroad hub with CSX having a yard and its shops in the city.  In the early days, it was a hub for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Western Maryland Railway.  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and parts of the Western Maryland Railway was absorbed by CSX, and much of the trackage remains in the city.  The Western Maryland Railway is now just a memory in Cumberland… or is it?

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Welcome to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Cumberland, Maryland.  The train departs from the original three-story Western Maryland Railway depot in downtown Cumberland.  You can buy your tickets at the original depot ticket office unless you purchase them online or by phone.  You board the train at the original Western Maryland Railway platform except for a ramp to allow those with wheelchairs and persons with disabilities to board.  You step into passenger cars used by the Western Maryland Railway.  The train is pulled by a Western Maryland Railway locomotive along a route used by the Western Maryland Railway.  As you ride along, you will see scenery that is like what was seen by the passengers of the Western Maryland Railroad.  You enjoy the views of the Western Maryland countryside as the train makes the climb up a grade and rolls around Helmstetter’s Horseshoe Curve.  What is a ride on a Western Maryland Railway train on a Western Maryland Railroad line without passing through a Western Maryland Railway tunnel?  It is everything about the Western Maryland Railway until… you the train goes on the route of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad.  (The original Western Maryland line is now a rail trail.)   You continue the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad route until you reach your destination of the town of Frostburg.  Here, you will debark the train.

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Now some of you are saying, “Yeah!  I know.  You get off the train.  Your walk around Frostburg.  You get back on the train and go back to Cumberland.  It is the same old same old thing.  This is nothing new.”

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Yes, you do walk around Frostburg, and maybe you can visit a few places in Frostburg, but a stopover here has a few special things.

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You will see the old Frostburg depot which now houses a gift shop and a waiting area that has an old luggage cart and a model train that runs around the top of the room plus a painting of Number 734.  There are a few restaurants near the depot, and there is a small carriage museum that you can visit.  You can also see an old railroad tunnel that was used by the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad which went under the town.  (Access into the tunnel in prohibited.)  You can also do the Arts Walk and take a walk at the Alleghany Portage Trail that uses the old Western Maryland Railway roadbed.

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Now some of you are saying, “But that is nothing really special.  That is just the typical stuff.”

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That is true, but the best part of the stopover is to see the turntable.  In case you are wondering, this is not a turntable that is just there rusting and overgrown with weeds.  It is a working turntable.  The best part about this working turntable is to watch it work.  Originally used to turn the old steam locomotives, it is used to turn the locomotive to face the proper direction for the trip back to Cumberland instead of having the locomotive run backwards for the long journey.

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The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad uses some much authenticity on its excursions.  They are currently using vintage Western Maryland diesel locomotives, but there are plans to enhance the authentic ride with the operation the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Number 1309.  Number 1309 was on display was on display at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, but with was purchased by the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to pull the excursion trains.  That will be a great site to see.

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The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is in downtown Cumberland, Maryland at 13 Canal Street.  It is just minutes from Interstate 68 and U.S. Routes 40 and 220.  Parking is paid parking across the street from the depot.  You can get information about the excursions and purchase tickets at https://wmsr.com/.

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What is your favorite thing about Western Maryland?  You might say the scenery.  One you ride the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, that may be your favorite thing.

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The Virginia Holocaust Museum, Richmond, Virginia

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Throughout history there has been mad tyrannical leaders who have been determined to wipe out human life.  Some have succeeded in wiping out nations of people.  The most attacked group of people in all of history has been the Jewish people.  Throughout the centuries, tyrants devoted their lives to ending the Jewish race.  Many will say that one of the worst moments in history was when a German leader named Adolph Hitler made a quest to wipe out the Jewish people from the face of the earth.  Although he was able to wipe out millions of the Jewish people in Europe during World War II, his quest ended in failure as the Jewish people survived and are still among us today.  The Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Virginia takes you what was a horrific time.  As you walk through the museum, it gives you a glimpse of what many innocent Jewish people felt as they were severely tortured with some put to death.  The Virginia Holocaust Museum truly tells the stories of a life of torture.

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Now some of you are saying, “I must say that the Holocaust was a horrible time if not the most horrible time in history.  How can a mad man simply kill innocent people just because he did not like them?  I am glad that he failed to wipe them all out.  As for the museum, well, I am happy to see that it was erected to remember these horrific acts.  However, this is not a railroad museum.  Therefore, I will wipe this museum from my list of places to see.”

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This is true.  The Virginia Holocaust Museum is not a railroad museum, but it is a museum that you should visit.

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In the United States of America, there is a great love for the railroad.  The railroad brought people from the ports of the American cities to the interior in this land.  Many towns throughout the country were built around the railroad.  To many Americans even today, the railroad is a great site to see.

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If you were a Jewish person living in a Nazi occupied country in Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the railroad… meant something that you wish you would never see.

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The Nazi soldiers went through the villages rounding up the Jewish people.  They raided the homes of Jewish families and the homes of people they suspected of hiding the Jewish people. Men, women and children were rounded up.  They heard the toot of the whistle.  The trains pulled up.  The boxcars were opens.  The Jewish people were shoved into the boxcars packing them very tight to a point where they could not move.  The trains went to various concentration camps where the Jewish people were tortured and executed.

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When you arrive at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, the first thing you will see is a boxcar next to the museum entrance.  It is a real boxcar that was brought to the museum from Germany.  This German ‘goods wagon’ was built in the 1920’s to transport goods across Germany, and it was used during World War II for the transport of the people to the concentration camps.  This is just the beginning.  When you enter the museum and walk into the theater, you will see a model of a train in a concentration camp.  The floor of the museum is depiction of a railroad track giving you a feel of being in a boxcar on a train while heading to a concentration camp.  Items on display includes rails used on the rail lines used to transport people to the camps.  Once you pass through the camp, you end up in the Palace of Justice where you see a display of the trail of the Nazis.  You then enter a memorial shrine remembering those who were brutally murdered.

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Please be advised that the Virginia Holocaust Museum goes through great lengths to display the experience of a Nazi concentration camp.  You will find many of the displays very disturbing.

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The Virginia Holocaust Museum is located at 2000 Cary Street in Richmond, Virginia.  It is a short drive from Interstates 64 and 95, and a short drive from downtown.  Admission is free.  (They gladly accept donations to keep the museum running for many generations to come.)  Parking is available across the street from the museum.  (Bus and recreational vehicle parking is available on nearby Dock Street.)  The museum is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm from Monday to Friday and 11:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday.  You can go to https://www.vaholocaust.org/ to learn more about the museum and to check up on upcoming events.

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The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, Maryland

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Who is Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton?  She was the first person born in what would become the United States of America to become a canonized saint by the Roman Catholic Church.  Born on August 28, 1774 in New York City, she spent her life nursing the sick.  She became a Catholic and began a school for young girls.  She later moved to the town of Emmitsburg, Maryland where she committed herself to ministry and established a school for girls.  She died in Emmitsburg on January 4, 1821 at the age of 46.  Her short life has been outdone by her long legacy.  Her remains in a crypt at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg.  Today, you can visit this shrine and get a great glimpse of the life of this great woman.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wow.  This is one incredible woman who gave so much of her life to help the sick and unfortunate.  She is truly one that needs to be honored.  However, there is one very big problem.  It is mentioned that she died in 1821.  This means that she had never seen a train.  Plus, there is no railroad line in Emmitsburg or at the shrine.  Therefore, you will not see me paying any homage to this place.”

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You have a point there.  Since she passed away in 1821, she was not alive in 1828 when the first train ran in Baltimore in 1828.  As for the shrine, it has a little railroad history.

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When you visit the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, you will see the Basilica.  The basement has a small museum detailing the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton.  You can enter the Basilica itself and see the pews and stained-glass windows.  There are statues and paintings.  You can see the pulpit where the priest delivers the sermon.  There is also the crypt where her remains are entombed.  When you go outside and see the school extending to the left from the basilica.  (The school is not open to the public.)  You can walk over to the Stone House where Elizabeth Ann Seton lived.  Next to the Stone House is the garden.  It has a statue of her with two girls.  As you exit the garden, you will see three bells.  Two of the bells are school bells.  The one bell is from the ‘Dinky’.

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Now you are saying, “Wow.  It is the bell from the ‘Dinky’.  What in the world is the ‘Dinky’?”

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The ‘Dinky’ was a steam locomotive on the Emmitsburg Railroad.  It was a short line railroad that ran from Emmitsburg to a junction with the Western Maryland Railway in the town of Rocky Ridge.  (That line is now owned by the Maryland Midland Railroad.)  The Emmitsburg Railroad brought students to and from the school as well as freight to and from the town of Emmitsburg.  Although many of the town residents opposed the railroad, it was well welcomed by the school enabling students from the surrounding towns to attend the school.  The railroad began service in November of 1875, but service ceased in May of 1940.  Today, very little of the old track bed remains.  The Dinky was scrapped, but the bell was saved, and it is on display in the garden at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.

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The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is a place that celebrates the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton.  A visit to this shrine takes you deeper into her life and her accomplishments.  Be advised that although this is a Catholic site, you do not have to be a religious person to appreciate this place.  They welcome all visitors.  It is free to visit, but they gladly accept donations.  There is a cost for guided tours.  It is open daily.  The museum, gift shop and basilica on Monday through Saturday from 10:00am to 6:00pm and on Sunday from 12:00pm to 6:00pm.  The grounds, including the garden where the Dinky Bell is located, are open from sunrise to sunset.  Parking is available on site, and most of the grounds are handicap accessible.  (The Stone House and Cemetery may not be accessible.)  It is located at 339 South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg, Maryland and is easily accessible from U.S. Route 15 and Maryland Route 140.  You can get more information about the shrine and about events and tours at https://setonshrine.org.

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So, if you are driving around northern Maryland, and you see signs for the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine, do not think of it as a place that just memorializes a great woman but also memorializes a locomotive that was part of the Emmitsburg Railroad.

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The New River Gorge in West Virginia

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The United States of America is a country that has many natural wonders.  The state of West Virginia is a state that is mostly mountainous with very few cities.  It has the largest wilderness area in the eastern part of the nation, and it is the home to the New River Gorge.  At the bottom of this gorge is, of course, the New River which begins in Virginia and flows through West Virginia.  It is where you will find some of the best whitewater rafting in the country.  The New River Gorge is a very big gorge that was impossible to cross.  The New River Gorge Bridge was an engineering marvel that allowed automobiles to go across without having to drive down and back up.  If you are ever in West Virginia, the New River Gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge are two places that you must see.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wow!  I have seen many photos of the New River Gorge and I still have the West Virginia quarter that has the bridge on it.  The New River Gorge would be great to see, but it is just a natural wonder.  It has nothing to do with railroads.  Therefore, I am not going to gorge myself about this place.”

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The New River Gorge is a National Park run by the National Park Service.  U.S. Route 19 runs across the New River Gorge Bridge.  On the north side of the bridge is one of the Visitor Centers for the park, and it is here where you can get an overlook of the bridge.

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From this point, you look down into the gorge.  Did you know that you can go into the gorge… and look up?  You begin your descent down into the gorge winding your way down.  You go under the bridge to look up to see the massive structure.  You get to the bottom, and the first thing you come to is… a railroad crossing.  The tracks are original to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, but CSX continues to run on the tracks today.  You cross the New River, and you see a railroad line on the other side.  The railroad has been a major part of the New River Gorge and continues to follow the New River on the south side of the gorge towards the town of Hinton with the tracks coming together on the east side south of Caperton) and northward to Charleston (with the tracks coming together at Hawks Nest State Park).  After you cross the river, you go under the tracks, and you head back up to the top of the rim.

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The New River Gorge is a spectacular site to see, and it is more spectacular to see when a train is passing through the gorge.

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The New River Gorge is a National Park located in southern West Virginia.  You can go inside the Visitor Center and see how the railroad was a big part of the lumber industry in the gorge as well as the spawning of certain towns.  There is no fee to the visitor center or to drive into the gorge but be advised that the roads are very windy and may not be suitable for larger vehicles particularly buses and recreational vehicles.

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The next time you see photos of the New River Gorge, think of it as a natural wonder, and a place where you can go to the bottom… and watch trains go by.

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The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, Essex, Connecticut

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The state of Connecticut is the third smallest state and the southernmost state of the New England states.  Despite its size, the state has many quaint little towns.  Among them is the town of Essex.  Located on the west shore of the Connecticut River about six miles inland from Long Island Sound, it was attacked by British forces April 8, 1814.  Today, you can visit some of the historic buildings to include the Griswold Inn where you can spend a night or take in a meal, or you can drop by the Connecticut River Museum.  Essex is a town that is truly a treasure to visit if you are a history buff or one who enjoys the water, and it is also a great town… if you are a railfan.

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Welcome to the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wait a minute.  Steam Train and Riverboat?  How is this possible?  How does the train suddenly become a boat?  Is this like a floating railroad?”

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The train does not float.  Here is what you will experience.

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You arrive at the Essex Steam Train depot.  You park and walk around looking at the vintage rolling stock.  There is also a model train display inside the old freight house that is open when the trains are running.  You go to the ticket office to buy your ticket, but you are overtaken by the steam locomotive chugging along.  “Toot toot!”  The whistle blows.  Then board the train and you take your seat.  The train pulls away from the station.  You look outside, and you come in site of the Connecticut River which the railroad parallels on most of the journey.  The train arrives in the town of Haddam which is the terminal for the train.

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Now you are saying, “Yeah!  Yeah!  Yeah!  I know.  You get off the train.  You walk around Haddam.  You get back on the train.  Then you go back to Essex.  It is the same old same old.  This is nothing new.  Every train I have been on does the exact same thing.”

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Please note why it is called the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.  You have just taken a ride on the train.  It is not time to take a ride on the riverboat.  You walk over to the riverboat.  You board the boat, and your cruise begins on the Connecticut River.  You go north and go under the East Haddam Bridge and see the town of East Haddam on your right.  Along the way you see homes built on the waterfront and eagle’s nests and, if you are fortunate enough, you may spot a few eagles.  You turn around and head south under the East Haddam Highway Bridge.  A few miles later you see medieval castle high on a hill.  This is Gillette Castle, the home of William Gillette who was a stage actor who was famous for portraying Sherlock Holmes.  It is now a state park.  Sadly, the riverboat does not stop here for tours, but you will get great views.  The boat returns to the dock.  You get off the boat, and you ride a shuttle to the town of East Haddam.  Here you can see the old opera house that still hosts shows, and you can visit the Gelston House where you can catch a meal with a great view of the river.  Once you tour the town you can river the shuttle back to Haddam and walk through the old Haddam depot that houses a gift shop.  You then walk back to the train and then head back to Essex.

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The Essex Steam Train runs along tracks owned by the Valley Railroad.  The tracks were originally owned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

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The Essex Steam Train is located a 1 Railroad Avenue in Essex, Connecticut just west of Connecticut Route 9 about a few miles north of Interstate 95.  Parking is available on site.  Excursions options vary.  You can go to http://essexsteamtrain.com to learn about the different excursions and to purchase tickets.

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If you only want to ride the average train trip, the Essex Steam Train is not for you.  You want an train experience that is unlike any other, come ride the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.

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The Richmond Railroad Museum, Richmond, Virginia

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Is there anything worth seeing in Richmond, Virginia?  It is just the capital of the state of Virginia.  All that is there is the state government and nothing else.  It is just a place you pass through on Interstate 95.  No travel writers write about Richmond which usually means that it is not worth your time.  If this is what you think that the city of Richmond is, you should take a little time to think of this city other than the home of the state government.  Those who have been here know that it is a city with lots of history.  It was the capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.  The White House of the Confederacy where Jefferson Davis resided from is open for visitors as well as numerous other sites.

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As much as the city is a haven for American history, it is also a haven for railfans.  With railroads passing through the city and the famous ‘Triple Bridge’, the city has also preserved a few of its station stations to include the Main Street Station which is served by Amtrak plus the old Broad Street Station.  Then you have the old Hull Street Depot which rests across the James River from the downtown area.  What is special about the Hull Street Station?  It is the home of the Richmond Railroad Museum.

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Since the early days of the railroad Richmond was a hub being served by many railroads.  For this reason, the Confederates made this city their capital during the American Civil War.  Through the years, train stations were built.  The Southern Railway built the Mill Street station in downtown Richmond in 1900.  The station had a short life as it was demolished in 1914.  (Mill Street is now Canal Street.)  The Hull Street station was built a year later across the river.  The station was damaged by floods a few times (until the flood wall was built).  In February of 1957, the station saw the last passenger train leave.  The station was dormant for many years as ownership was transferred from the Southern Railway to the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society who refurbished the building, and it became the home of the Richmond Railroad Museum in 2011.

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Today, the Richmond Railroad Museum has a few box cars, a baggage car, cabooses, a locomotive and a signal outside.  Inside you will see the old ticket office in its original setting.  The freight room has many artifacts on display to include old schedules, models of the other stations in Richmond, plus a speeder car.  There is also a HO model train display by the Old Dominion Chapter Model Railroad Club which depicts the railroads of Virginia.  If you need something to remember your visit, there is also a gift shop.

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The Richmond Railroad Museum is a National Historic Landmark.  It is located inside the old Hull Street Station at 102 Hull Street in Richmond, Virginia just across the James River from downtown Richmond.  It is open on Saturdays from 11:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm.  Admission is $10.00 for adults, $8.00 for seniors, $5.00 for children six to thirteen and free for children five and under.  Parking is available on site at the museum and on the street if the museum lot is full.  Go to http://richmondrailroadmuseum.org/ for directions, for events and to read more into the history of this station station.

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The next time you are approaching Richmond, Virginia, do not think of it as another pass-through city.  Think of it as a great place to stop and see.  While here, made your way to the Richmond Railroad Museum.

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Roads and Rails Museum, Frederick, Maryland

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Frederick, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C., is the second largest city in the state.  It is a town rich in history that has many great treasures to include the Museum of Civil War Medicine, the home of Barbara Fritchie, a Unionist during the Civil War who was part of American folklore, the Carroll Creek Walk and Baker Park.  You also had the Battle of the Monocacy which took place on the south side of the town.  It is a major crossroads with the National Road (U.S. 40) and U.S. 15 as well as Interstate 70 with Interstate 270 and U.S. 340 branching south.  With all of this, it is easy for a place like the Roads and Rails Museum to be easily overlooked… but it should not be.

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From the outside, it is just an old brick building.  You enter the building, and you see a store that sells train stuff.  You say to yourself, “This cannot be it.”

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This is not it.  You pay the admission, and then… you have officially been transported into a whole new world.  You find yourself in the subway station, but you thought that this was just model trains.  Then you walk a little further.  A new world has just opened.  The trains are everywhere.  Trains are going through the farms, passing through the towns, passing through cities, going around the mountains, passing by waterfalls, passing through tunnels and over bridges.  You stop to watch the circus, but you must move on because the volcano is about to erupt.  All this is going on as you make your way though, and then… you find yourself back in the store again.  You look at the person at the register and ask, “Can I do this again?”

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The Roads and Rails Museum features a hobby shop and a model train display that is one of the largest in the United States.  They are located at 200 N. East Street in Frederick, Maryland.  It is just minutes from Interstate 70 and from U.S. Routes 15 and 40 and a short walk from the historic district and visitor center.  They are open Friday to Monday from 10:00am to 5:00pm (12:00pm to 5:00pm on Sunday).  Admission is only $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for children.  (Three and under are free.)  Parking is behind the building and on the street.  You can get more information and learn more about the layout at http://www.roadsnrails.com.

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The next time you are approaching Frederick, follow the roads to the Roads and Rails Museum.  You will be glad that you stopped by.

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