The Freedom of the Train in America

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The Declaration of Independence was signed in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1776.  The United States of America was born.  People came from across the oceans to live in this new land.

Then the railroads came.  The people were able to go farther into this new land.  When the Golden Spike was driven in Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869, people were able to take the train from coast to coast.  What began in Baltimore, Maryland became the open door to the United States of America.

As the railroads was a source of freedom in America, it is not the case in some countries.  In nations run by dictators, the railroad is used to send people who were declared enemies of the government to concentration camps or slaughterhouses.  They were shoved into box cars until they were packed like sardines, and they traveled in these box cars even in harsh weather.  Most of these people did not survive.  To them, the railroad was a killing machine.

The next time you are standing at your favorite railroad watching site, think about the pride that the railroad brings to this nation.  Think about those men who signed a very important document that made this nation free, and think about the American railroad that brought the people to freedom.

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The Story of Albert Carpenter Kalmbach

Who is Albert Carpenter Kalmbach?  He was born on June 25, 1910 in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.  What is he famous for?  He printed newspapers.  Commonly known as Al C. Kalmbach, he brought a small printing press at the age of twelve with moving from his savings account, and he printed papers for the Milwaukee Sun.  After he graduated from Marquette University and losing a job due to the Great Depression, he started the Milwaukee Commercial Press where he printed newspapers for churches.  He died on October 14, 1981, but he left a legacy for many to enjoy.

Some of you are saying, “This is wonderful.  He printed newspapers in Milwaukee and made a great life of it.  He must have been a great guy, but journalists seem to turn me off.  However, I am more interested in railroads.  Therefore, I will not be reading about Al C. Kalmbach in print anytime soon or anytime later.”

Who is Al C. Kalmbach?  He did grow up around the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, and he did print newspapers, but that is just the beginning.

Al Kalmbach is known for printing newspapers, but he also had another great interest in railroads.  He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin near the shops of the Milwaukee Road (a railroad company).  He became interested in model train when he helped one of his friends build their later.  (This friend later became the mayor of Milwaukee.)  After high school he began to build a model railroad layout in the attic of his parent’s home.  After graduating from college, he had a job offer with the Pennsylvania Railroad working with the electrification project which sadly fell through with the Great Depression.  In 1932, he started the Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee.  In 1935, he organized a convention for the National Model Railroad Association bringing model railroaders from the United States and Canada together in Milwaukee.

You can say that Al Kalmbach accomplished a lot, but this is not his real accomplishment.

Before the first model railroad convention he published ‘The Model Railroader’ with the release of the first issue in January of 1934.  It did not receive much enthusiasm.  Some told him to give up the magazine.  His wife, Beatrice, encouraged him to continue with the magazine.  After many years the magazine was successful with model railroaders and eventually made a profit, and it became the official magazine of the National Model Railroad Association.

In 1940, Al Kalmbach began another publication known as ‘Trains Magazine’, a publication that tells about railroads in general.  ‘The Model Railroader’ and Trains Magazine’ were the two main publications of his company, Kalmbach Publishing.  The company continued to print books and magazines.

Through his life, Al Kalmbach promoted the hobby of model railroading to the general public.  From 1952 to 1953, he was the president of the Hobby Industry Association of America.  He continued to promote model railroading until his death in 1981 at the age of 71.  Although the company based in the Milwaukee area still bears his name, he is also remembered at the Al C. Kalmbach Memorial Library at the headquarters of the National Model Railroad Association in Chattanooga Tennessee.

Today, you can go www.kalmbachhobbystore.com and see all kinds of products from books to videos to magazines to model trains to scenery plus so much more.

The next time you read ‘Trains Magazine’ or the Model Railroader’ or the next time you visit a model train show, think about a man named Al C. Kalmbach whose legacy continues on.

Who Is Kent Courtney?

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Who is Kent Courtney?  Those of you who do not live or travel in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States may not have heard of him.  For those who attend Civil War events may have seen him at reenactments.  Although he has done a little acting in Civil War documentaries and have written a few books about the war, most people who have met Kent Courtney know him for his music.  He performs old authentic Civil War songs with his guitar before crowds at events commemorating the Civil War.  If you have ever heard this man in concert, regardless of if you are interested in the Civil War or not, you will not leave disappointed.

Some of you are saying, “This is cool.  I love reading about the Civil War, and I enjoy Civil War events.  I do think that it is important to keep the history of the Civil War alive so that many generations can learn about the war.  What does Kent Courtney have to do with railroads?”

That is a very good question.  The answer is that Kent Courtney has performed many songs about the Civil War, and he has performed songs about the railroad.  In matter of fact, his album ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ is a collection of railroad songs.  You have famous titles like ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’, ‘Casey Jones’, ‘Wreck of Old 97’ and, of course, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’.  Whether you are an old timer or a young one, you will have a great time listening to Kent Courtney.  You can learn more about Kent Courtney and where you can catch one of his shows at www.kentcourtney.com.

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The Burke Lake Railroad, Burke Lake Park, Burke, Virginia

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Burke, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C., is a town named for Silas Burke, a man who donated his land to make way for the railroad.  The town once had its own depot on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad line, and it was the site of a raid during the American Civil War.  Sadly, the depot did not survive demolition, and neither did the town although some of the town structures did survive to include the home of Silas Burke, the post office and a windmill that are now part of a senior complex.  Although the railroad still passes through it is only a commuter train stop.

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When you pass through Burke today, you will not see much of its railroad heritage on display.  If you make a visit to Burke Lake Park, you will see the railroad with a new life.

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Welcome to the Burke Lake Railroad, a miniature railroad with a replica C.P. Huntington locomotive that takes you back to the old days of Burke.

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You arrive at the Burke Lake Railroad Station to buy your ticket.  You board the train.  Everything looks normal here.  The train pulls away.  You roll through the trees seeing Burke Lake on your right.  You then arrive at the tunnel and pass through…

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You come out the other end.  Wait a minute.  You a crossing a trestle.  You continue until… wait.  You see Burke Station.  You realize that you are in the original town with the depot and the old windmill.  You just went back in time.  You pass by the town.  You go through the loop and make another pass through the town.  You cross the trestle and go through the tunnel.

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Now you are back to the present time.  You return to the Burke Lake Railroad Station, and you go back to normal life.  As you step off the train, you say to yourself, “This is not your average miniature train.”

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The Burke Lake Railroad is in Burke Lake Park in Fairfax Station, Virginia.  The park is located on Virginia Route 123 (7315 Ox Road) between Fairfax and Occoquan (I-66 and I-95).  There is a $5.00 park admission fee per vehicle for those not in the Northern Virginia region while Northern Virginia residents are free.  Train tickets are $4.00 for adults.  Trains run from April to September.  You can get information at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/burke-lake/rides.

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Old Stevensville Depot, Stevensville, Maryland

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Where is Stevensville, Maryland?  You have probably passed by this town many times that is if you are a regular traveler across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge as Stevensville is located on the east end on the bridge.  The historic district is located just north of U.S. Route 50 / 301 on Maryland Route 18.  A walk through the historic district gives you a feel of life in the old days of the town.

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Now some of you are saying, “I love visiting these old towns.  The problem is that there are no railroads in Stevensville.  Therefore, there is no reason for me to visit this town.”

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You are right.  There are no railroads in Stevensville, but that was not always the case.

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Before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was built, the only way to cross the Chesapeake Bay was by ferry.  A ferry terminal was located at Love Point on the north side of Kent Island of which the town of Stevensville is located.  From this terminal, the ferry transported passengers and goods to points across the bay saving travel from having to travel around the north end of the bay which would today add three hours of travel.  (In the old days, it would take at least a day.)  How did people and goods get to and from Love Point?  One of the ways was the Queen Anne’s Railroad Company.  The railroad ran from Love Point to the coastal town of Lewes, Delaware.  One of the stops on the line was the town of Stevensville.  Sadly, the rail line was discontinued, and the tracks were taken up.  The Stevensville depot was spared demolition and was moved to a location behind the Rustico Restaurant and Wine Bar on Cockey Lane.  The island portion of the rail line is now the Cross Island Trail, and you can walk along the route when trains once ran.  The depot can be seen twenty-fours hours a day and features the depot, and old caboose (with no wheels), and a short stretch of track plus a railroad crossing sign.  The depot is part of the Historic Sites Consortium of Queen Anne’s County.  (The depot itself is not open except on certain occasions.)  Parking is available right next to the depot, but the grounds are not suitable for wheelchairs.  You can read more at https://www.historicqac.org/historic-site/stevensville-train-depot/

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They next time, you go across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, take a short detour into the Stevensville Historic District, a district with a history of a railroad.

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The Adam Stephen House and Triple Brick Museum, Martinsburg, West Virginia

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The city of Martinsburg, West Virginia is in the eastern panhandle region of the state, and it is the state’s eighth most populated city.  It was originally founded in the state of Virginia (before the land was named West Virginia) by Adam Stephen, a Major General who worked with General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War.  It was named after Colonel Thomas Bryan Martin who is the nephew of Thomas Fairfax, the Sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron.  Adam Stephen established a home in Martinsburg, and it is now open as the Adam Stephen House and Triple Brick Museum.  You can visit the house and museum and get a glimpse into the life of this man.

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Now some of you are saying, “This is great.  I like how they were able to make his home into a museum.  It is good to know that he served with George Washington.  I did hear that he died in 1791 which means that he was not around when the railroads began in America.  This means that this man had nothing to do with railroads.  Therefore, I will have nothing to do the Adam Stephen House and Triple Brick Museum.”

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Adam Stephen had nothing to do with the railroad since he passed away over twenty-five years before the railroad began in America.  Therefore, you are right to say that he has nothing to do with the railroad.  However, there is more to the story.

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The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first railroad in America, began in Baltimore, Maryland in 1828, and it made it way to Martinsburg in 1842.  In 1849 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Roundhouse was constructed to serve the locomotives and rolling stock.  (The roundhouse still stands today but is partially in ruin.  It is the oldest steel truss roundhouse in the world, and tours are available on select Saturdays.  It was also the site at a train raid led by General Thomas Stonewall Jackson in 1861.)

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Now some of you are saying, “That is nice.  It is great that they were able to spare this roundhouse, but what does this have to do with Adam Stephen?”

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That is a very good question.  Here is the answer.

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As mentioned, the Adam Stephen House is a museum.  It is park of the Adam Stephen House and Triple Brick Museum complex.  What is the Triple Brick Museum?  Here is where the connection to the railroad.  Today, it is a museum displaying artifacts of old Martinsburg.  Built in 1874 by Philip Showers, it was built as three dwellings, and it was rented out to… railroad workers and their families.  Among the relics on display in the museum are railroad items.

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Now you have a reason to visit the Adam Stephen House and Triple Brick Museum, and you can also watch trains roll by as well.

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The Adam Stephen House and Triple Brick Museum is located at 309 East John Street in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and it is operated by the General Adam Stephen Memorial Association Incorporated.  It is open from May to October on Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday from 12:00pm to 5:00pm.  Plus, on occasion, tunnels that are under the house are also open for tours.  Please note that neither the house, the museum nor the tunnels are handicap accessible.  Parking is on the street, and there is an uphill climb from the street to reach the house and museum.  Admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted to keep the structures open and to keep the history alive for generations to come.  You can get more information at http://www.orgsites.com/wv/adam-stephen/.

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The Old Lorton Workhouse, Lorton, Virginia

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You are in Washington D.C.  You have committed a crime and have been arrested.  You go to trail and is found guilty.  The sentence is prison.  Where did you go?  You were sent to the Lorton Reformatory in Lorton, Virginia where you would serve your time.

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Why Lorton, Virginia?

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The jail in the District of Columbia was overcrowded.  With no available property, land was acquired in suburban Virginia.  Beginning in 1910, prisoners were sent there to serve time.  The prison was enlarged through the years and became a workhouse where prisoners were taught agriculture, brickmaking and canning.  Among those imprisoned here were those from the National Women’s Party who, in the 1920’s, were arrested for protesting the women’s right to vote.  Among them was Lucy Barns, one of the founders of the movement.  The prison remained in operation until it was finally closed in 2001.

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What happened to the facility?

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55 acres along Virginia Route 123 was renovated.  If you go to Lorton Reformatory today, you would not be going to jail.  You will be going to visit artist studios to watch various artists paint their marvelous works.  You can see clay makers working with clay for their pottery projects.  You can even catch a show in the theater or visit the museum that tells the history of the prison.  As you walk around, you will see a reformatory that truly has been reformed.

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Now some of you are saying, “This is great.  I like how they made this place into where artist can do and display their work and that they did not demolish the place.  Now people can see history and works of art all in one place.  There is one problem.  There is no railroad here.  Therefore, I will not be seeing any art here.”

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Many of the structures of Lorton Reformatory have been preserved as art studios.  Other areas of the reformatory are being renovated in townhouses, and the women’s reformatory is the headquarters of Fairfax Water, a utility company.  What was not preserved… was the railroad.

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What is a way to reform prisoners?  Have them build a railroad.  This is how the Lorton and Occoquan Railroad was built, and it is the only railroad in the history of the United States of America built by prisoners.  Service on this narrow-gauge railroad began in 1911.  As trains from the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (CSX today) arrived at the station in Lorton (where the current Amtrak terminal is located), cargo was transferred to the ‘L&O’.  The cargo mainly consisted of prisoners, but other items to include bricks from a coke oven was also transported.  The line ran mainly along what is now Lorton Road.  (Interstate 95 was built over the rail line.)  The line was four miles long with a few spurs from the line as it went past the reformatory and finished at a wharf on the north shore of the Occoquan River across from the town of Occoquan.  The railroad was in operation until 1977.  During the entire operation the line was maintained by prisoners with the engineer and the track manager being the only civilian workers.  When the railroad was abandoned, much of the rolling stock and locomotives were sold.  The tunnel that went under Interstate 95 was filled in during a renovation project.  Other parts of the railroad line were paved over.

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Are there any signs of the railroad today?

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A section of the railroad line was converted into a rail trail.  Two structures were spared.  One of the structures was a brick arch bridge where the original Lorton Road cross over the tracks.  The structure is just north of the current Lorton Road and can be seen from the highway and a short hike.  The other structure is the coke oven that is now part of Occoquan Regional Park.  A short section of the railroad entering the oven has been preserved.  You can also see photos and artifacts of the Lorton and Occoquan Railroad in the museum that is on the premises.  (The museum is open from 10:00am to 4:00pm Wednesday to Sunday, and admission is free.)  If you are up for it, you can walk along the rail trail.

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Along with artists on display, there are also classes that can be taken from learning art to clay to cooking to acting to photography.  You can even catch a show in the theater.  Plus, on the second Saturday evening of each month artists are on display with the ‘Second Saturday Art Walk’.

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The Old Lorton Reformatory, also known as the Lorton Workhouse and the Workhouse Arts Center, is located at 9518 Workhouse Way in Lorton, Virginia just off Virginia Route 123.  You can learn more about the events and classes and the hours at http://www.workhousearts.org.

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So, if you are going to jail, Lorton Reformatory is a jail that you will want to go to.  You can see art, dance, a show and some history… and a little railroad history.

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*This is in memory of Bill Koch who preserved the information and artifacts of the Lorton and Occoquan Railroad for many generations to come.

**The photos of the clay maker and the pottery are being used by permission from the clay gallery at the Lorton Workhouse.

***The painting and the model are property of Patricia McMahon Rice and is being used by permission for this article.  She has ownership of both the painting and the model.  You can see her and her artwork at the Lorton Workhouse in Studio 608D.