A Declaration of Railroad Independence

The place is the big city.  Carl is sitting in a seat looking out the window as the train was pulling out of the big train terminal.  He has wanted to see the country by train.  He knew that the flight to the opposite coast was faster, but he was tired of being in a cramped seat seeing nothing but the interior of a plane for six hours.  He saw the buildings and the grade crossings and, finally, the countryside.

Hours later, the train pulled up to a small town.  He looked outside and saw a beautiful lady with a backpack and her shoes in her hand.  The conductor helped her on, and the train pulled away.

Carl looked at the houses as the train pulled out of town.

“Is this seat taken?”

He glanced back and saw the lady standing in the aisle with her shoes in her hand.  He looked down at the seat next to him.  “Have a seat.”  He smiled.

“Thank you.”  She sat down and dropped her shoes on the floor.  “My name is Jenny.”

“I’m Carl.”  He smiled.  “Where are you headed?”

“Oh!”  She wiped a piece of lint from between her toes.  “I am just here to look at the countryside from the train.”

“So am I.”  Carl was full of glee.

“Well then.”  She grinned.  “It looks like I will not be taking this journey alone after all.”

Together, they enjoyed their journey.

The Depot Grille: Lynchburg, Virginia

The Old Freight House in Lynchburg, Virginia, home of the Depot Grille

The city of Lynchburg in the U.S. state of Virginia is a city that has much history, and much of the city’s history is dependent on the railroad to include how the railroad was a major contributor to the Confederate Army to win the battle against the Union Army in the American Civil War.  When you visit Downtown Lynchburg today, the railroad still runs through although they are CSX Trains now.  While you are there, you may notice a little restaurant called the Depot Grille.

Now some of you are saying, “Wait a minute.  Is this one of those restaurants where the founders came up with this crazy idea of a railroad name and tried to make it some kind of a railroad place?”

The answer is no.  This restaurant is a railroad themed place that has a history with the railroad.

When you arrive, you will see that it looks like an old train freight depot.  Why?  Because it was an old train freight depot.  You enter the restaurant, and you see the bar, and you see the interior.  You see the different photos of the trains, and you see a model train designed by a retired Norfolk and Western Railway worker on display.  There is also a small private room that display vintage railroad photos.

Some of you are saying, “That is very nice, but I have been to many restaurants that have photos of trains.  There is nothing special about this place.”

Yes, there is.  The kitchen is not your typical kitchen.

Two Old Box Cars Which Houses the Kitchen

Some of you are saying, “It is a kitchen.  You cook food in the kitchen, and you wash dishes in the kitchen.  There is nothing special about this kitchen.  It is just like any other kitchen in a restaurant.”

Yes, they cook food and wash dishes in this kitchen just as they do in any other restaurant kitchen.  What is special about this kitchen?  It just happens to be in two old boxcars.  Yes, the same boxcars you see on trains except these remain here because without them, the Depot Grille would not have a place to cook food or wash dishes.  The boxcars were used by the Georgia Northern Railroad before being decommissioned and, instead of scraped, were brought here to the Depot Grille.

Opened in 2004, the Depot Grille has been a staple in Downtown Lynchburg.  Along with great food and service, you may see something very special.  How often do you get to have a nice meal and get rewarded by a passing train?  Yes, CSX will gladly compliment your meal.

The Depot Grille is located at 10 Ninth Street in Lynchburg, Virginia next to the waterfront and the active CSX rail line where you also get a view of a fountain that shoots up from an old bridge support situated in the James River.  It is minutes from U.S. Business Route 29 and Virginia Route 163.  Please note that you will need to navigate a steep declining street to the restaurant, but it is worth the drive.  The restaurant is wheelchair accessible, and parking is on site.  You can get information about the menu, the hours, and can how you can book a small private party at https://depotgrille.com/lynchburg/.  Be advised that when you arrive, you may find it hard to leave.  There is also a location in Staunton, Virginia that is also located in an old train freight house.

So, welcome to Lynchburg, Virginia, a city that was saved by the railroad, a city where the railroad is in the heart of the city, and a place where you can eat in a place where the railroad still has a home.

Those Old Classic Diners

Oh, yes!  You remember the days when you went to that old classic diner.  You were hungry and wanted to eat.  So you went to the nearby diner.  You ordered that burger and fries.  You ordered that chocolate milkshake.  You ordered that banana split.  The waiter took your order.  The chef cooked it or made it.  The waiter brought it out, and you enjoyed every bite.  When you were done, you left hoping to return for that next great meal.

Some of you are saying, “You know?  This is nice.  I can reminisce those days of going to the diner.  There is one question.  What does this have to do with the railroad?”

That is a good question.  The diners today are more different than the ones from years ago with that classic look.  Did you know that many of those old diners were built out of old passenger rail cars and old streetcars?  The passenger or streetcar was brought in.  The seats were taken out, and tables and chairs were put in.  Some had a counter with seats where you were able to see your meal cooked to order.  To the rail fan, it felt great to be having a great delicious meal in a piece of railroad history.

The next time you head to that diner, remember where many of those old diners began… with a piece of railroad history.

It Was a One Way Ticket

He was nineteen.  He was standing with his parents, his brother, and his sister at the train station.  As the train was pulling up, they hugged each other.  He boarded the train.  They waved as the train pulled out of the station.

What they did not know was that it was a one way ticket.

He died in battle.

For many soldiers in wartime, it is a one way ticket.  They board the train to head for battle, and they do not come back.

On this Memorial Day, we remember the men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, Navy Seals who boarded the train only to find that they had a one way ticket.

The Nurse
The Photojournalist and Soldier

A special thanks to the Everett Railroad Company in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, the Exchange Hotel and Civil War Medicine Museum in Gordonsville, Virginia, and the East Broad Top Railroad for supplying the models and for their service and honor of those who serve in the Armed Forces.

Fisherman’s Inn, Grasonville, Maryland

The U.S. state of Maryland is known for its abundant seafood with the Chesapeake Bay splitting the eastern half of the state in two, and some of the best seafood restaurants in the world can be found in this state.  Among these great restaurants is Fisherman’s Inn.  Located on the water, Fisherman’s Inn is a great place for seafood lovers, and it has been that place since 1930.  For beach goers, it has been a big stop while going to and from the beaches of Ocean City, Maryland, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Chincoteague, Virginia.  The Fisherman’s Inn is a great place where you can get a great meal.

Some of you are saying, “This is great.  I love seafood, and I love great restaurants.  However, there is a big problem.  This is a restaurant.  It is not just a restaurant.  It is a seafood restaurant.  It is a great restaurant, but this place has nothing to do with the railroad.  Therefore, I will not be having a meal at this place.”

So, what is special about the Fisherman’s Inn?  It opened in 1930 in a small shack in the marsh of Kent Narrows by a man was named Captain Alex Thomas and his wife Mae.  It started with a restaurant with thirty seats.  There was also a small grocery store.  They lived upstairs with their two children, and, on occasion, rented the bedrooms to visiting anglers.  As the rooms were rented, they slept on the front porch swing.  In 1939, they built a second floor with more guest rooms.  The Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened in 1952.  This brought more visitors to the Eastern Shore.  The restaurant was expanded again when they added a screened porch with more seats for people to sit and eat.  It was later taken over by his daughter, Betty, and his son-in-law Oscar ‘Sonny’ Schulz who, in 1971, built a larger restaurant, and, three years later, bought the adjourning property where they opened the Fisherman’s Seafood Market.  After a fire that destroyed the restaurant just before Christmas in 1980, the restaurant was rebuilt and reopened months later in July of 1981.  The Fisherman’s Crab Deck opened in 1991.

What is special about his son-in-law Oscar ‘Sonny’ Schulz?  Yes, he made Fisherman’s Inn the great place it is today, but there is another special thing about him.

As you enter the restaurant, the hostess takes you to your table.  You sit, and the waiter or waitress comes, introduces themself, and take your order.  Your food comes, and you eat.  You have conversation.  You drink.  You see the décor, but you see something rolling around the ceiling.  What is it?  It is a ‘G’ scale model train rolling around.  What is special about this model train?  It was originally installed by Sonny Schulz in December of 1994.  It runs on 280 feet (85.34 meters) of track through two tunnels on a supported track that is bolted to the ceiling.  If you are afraid it might collapse, the supports are strong enough to hold a full-sized automobile.  It runs every day when the restaurant is open.  To answer your question, it does have a bell and a whistle that make sounds as it goes by.

Today, the Fisherman’s Inn is a landmark on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  It remains in family hands with Andy, Jody, and Tracy, the sons of Oscar and Betty Schulz, and they continue to serve great, delicious food with great, friendly service just as they always have done since the day the restaurant opened, and, today, you can wave at the train as it passes by your table.  Along with the restaurant, the Fisherman’s Inn also has the Nauti Mermaid Bar, a small garden behind the restaurant that has a small pond with Koi, and a Fresh Seafood Market.  The Crab Deck Restaurant, which is behind the Seafood Market, sits on the site of a former seafood processing plant that was family owned.  It is open from during the warmer months, April to October, where hammering those crabs is what many enjoy.

Fisherman’s Inn is located at 3116 Main Street (Maryland Route 18) in Grasonville, Maryland.  It is just off U.S. Routes 50 and 301.  It is open from 11:00am to 9:00pm (9:30pm Friday and Saturday).  There is parking on site, and the restaurant is wheelchair accessible.

The next time you are thinking about seafood while driving along the Eastern Shore Region of Maryland, make a stop at Fisherman’s Inn.  It is a place where you will enjoy a great meal with great service while watching a train roll right over your table.  Sadly, the train is not accepting passengers.

Franklin Junction Historic Railroad Park, Gretna, Virginia

The small town of Gretna in the U.S. state of Virginia in the southern-southwestern region of the state is a town that is not popular with travelers.  It is a suburb of Danville, and the town’s commercial district is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is home to historic structures like Yates Tavern (also on the National Register of Historic Places), the Gretna Theater, and Lavalette House which now houses a restaurant.

Some of you are saying, “This is nice, but does this town have anything to do with the railroad?”

A Bench Commemorating the Railroad Heritage of the Town

The town of Gretna, Virginia is a town that benefitted from the railroad.  In 1874, the Lynchburg and Danville Railroad came to Gretna.  In 1879, the railroad line was taken over by the Franklin and Pittsylvania Railroad which built a passenger and freight depot and a post office.  Many trains passed through here.  A famous train passed through here.  What was that train?  It was the ‘Old 97’.  What was the ‘Old 97’?  It was a train that had a famous wreck in Danville.

Caboose Number X 388 from the Southern Railroad

The passenger and freight depot are gone, but the trains still pass through, and is now owned by Norfolk Southern Railway.  The Franklin Junction Historic Railroad Park was erected to remember the railroad town it once was.  The park is a small park that consists of a caboose from the Southern Railroad which passed through here before the Norfolk Southern Railroad came through, and it has two benches with Number 1102 steam locomotive welded into the benches itself.  It is a small park that keeps the railroad a big part of Gretna’s Heritage.

The Franklin Junction Historic Railroad is located at 105 Main Street (U.S. Business Route 29).  It north of Virginia Route 40 and is easily accessible from U.S. Route 29.  Park is on the street, and admission is free.  It is open twenty-four hours a day.  Therefore, you can visit anytime.  If you are fortunate enough, Norfolk Southern Railroad may reward your visit by rolling on by.

Norfolk Southern Rolling Through

So, if you are taking a drive along U.S. Route 29 in southern Virginia, take a short detour through the town of Gretna.  It is a little town with a big railroad past.

The Durbin Rocket, Cass, West Virginia

Number 6, The Durbin Rocket

What is the Durbin Rocket?

The Durbin Rocket at the Station

Some of you are saying, “Oh, that is simple.  It is a rocket called Durbin that astronauts boarded and rode into outer space.”

The Durbin Rocket Blowing Off Steam

Well, that is not the correct answer.  It is not an actual rocket that is launched into outer space.  It is a name of a train that departed from the small town of Durbin, West Virginia, and it ran along the Greenbrier River ended at a picnic area before returning to the town of Durbin.  A ride on the Durbin Rocket departed from a vintage train depot that housed a small museum and gave you great views of the river.

The Train is at the Station

In 2021, the town of Durbin, West Virginia lost the rocket.  What happened?

The Old Train Station

The Durbin Rocket departs from the depot at Cass, West Virginia, the home of the Cass Scenic Railroad making its way along the Greenbrier River.  It gives you another reason to visit the historic town of Cass.  The same vintage train that pumped steam into the air in Durbin is now pumping steam next to a train that has pumped steam for a century, but the Durbin Rocket will not be climbing up to Bald Knob, but it will be taking riders along the Greenbrier River north of Cass.  The truth is that only the location has changed, but the beauty of West Virginia and the Greenbrier River remains.

The View from the Train

The Durbin Rocket is part of the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad.  The Durbin Rocket also has ‘Castaway Caboose’ where you ride in a caboose and is taken to a remote location where you spend a night in the caboose itself.  Reservations are required.  Please note that the cars are not wheelchair accessible.  You can get more information at https://mountainrailwv.com/#/.

Take a ride on the Durbin Rocket.  It may not take you to outer space, but you will see amazing scenery.  Astronaut training is not required to ride the train.

The Walkersville Southern Railroad, Walkersville, Maryland

The Walkersville Southern Railroad in Walkersville, Maryland.

Have you ever heard of the small town of Walkersville, Maryland?  You have never heard of the town of Walkersville, Maryland?  If you have never heard of this town, you are in the majority.  There are probably people who live nearby who have never heard of this town.  It is a very remote town with the only major route is Maryland Route 194 which passes on the outside of the town and not through the center as many major routes tend to do in this present day.

The Train at the Station.

So what is here in the town of Walkersville?

Number 1

This small town was once a stop on the Pennsylvania Railroad that served Frederick which is just south of here.  The line changed ownership to the Penn Central Railroad, and, years later, service to Frederick was discontinued. The line was abandoned.  The bridge over the Monocacy River was destroyed by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, and a section of track is now buried under the reconstruction of Maryland Route 26 at its interchange with U.S. Route 15.  These tracks never saw trains on them again.

But the train made a comeback.

In the 1990’s, the line north of Maryland Route 26 was cleared of the overgrowing brush.  A new bridge was built over the Monocacy River.  The Walkersville Southern Railroad was born.  The railroad made its return to this railroad town.

Today, you can take a ride on this train.  You just have to make your way to this little hidden town.  You can get your tickets at the train depot, the same depot that was used by passengers when the railroad first came to Walkersville although the interior is much different today as it looked when passenger service began.  Unlike the old days, you have a handicap accessible ramp to board the train.  The Walkersville Southern Railroad may have begun in the late 1990’s, but the passenger cars are from the 1920’s.  If passenger cars are not your thing, you can ride in the caboose, or you can ride in an open-air car.

Now comes the moment.  The train pulls out of the station, and it heads south.  You pass by a park, and you pass behind an old lime kiln.  Then you look out over open farmland.  At this point, you have no idea that you are in the metropolis of Washington D.C.  Then you arrive at the most scenic part of the ride where you ride over the Monocacy River.  You may be waving at the kayakers below.  You cross what was once Maryland Route 355, and you reach the end of the line.

The Walkersville Southern Railroad is a real treasure of an attraction, and it is a great ride for the entire family or for the simple rail fan.  They do regular train excursions, but they also have special trains like wild west robberies, and they have evening dinner trains.  (Reservations are strongly recommended for dinner trains.)  The great thing about the ride is that it will not drain your wallet dry.  Although the train mostly goes south of Walkersville, there are occasional excursion that do go north of the town, and there are plans to expand the excursions.  There is also a museum that you can walk through, and you can enjoy a model train.  The museum is free to visit.

The Walkersville Southern Railroad is in the town of Walkersville, Maryland at 34 West Pennsylvania Avenue.  It is easily accessible from U.S. Route 15 by way of Biggs Ford Road which becomes Pennsylvania Avenue.  You will see the train station, and parking is on a grass lot close to the station.  You can get more information at http://wsrr.org/.

Now you know about the town of Walkersville, Maryland.  It is a little town in the suburbs of Washington D.C. that has a big railroad past.

The Northern Central Railway, New Freedom, Pennsylvania

The Northern Central Railway at the Depot in New Freedom, Pennsylvania

In December of 1854, the Northern Central Railway was formed by a merger of numerous rail companies.  The rail line connected the city of Baltimore in the U.S. state of Maryland with the city of Harrisburg, the capital of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, and it connected numerous small towns in between.  The line was later taken over by the Pennsylvania Railroad.  During its time, many towns were formed.  There was a man named Abraham Lincoln who rode along this rail line numerous times.  He first rode this line when he was on his way to Washington D.C. to take up residence in a house known as the White House to serve the nation as the President of the United States of America.  While on his way to Washington D.C., the railroad thwarted the first assassination attempt which was supposed to take place at a station in Baltimore.  He went along this line to connect to a train at a place called Hanover Junction while on his way to a Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.  Why was he going to Gettysburg?  Months before, a battle of the American Civil War that was the turning point of the battle, known as the ‘Battle of Gettysburg’, took place.  He went to the cemetery to honor those who lost their lives fighting for freedom with ‘The Gettysburg Address’.  His final ride was when his casket was on its way to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois.  Throughout the years, the line changed ownership, but the trains kept rolling on.

The Northern Central Railway in New Freedom, Pennsylvania

Until 1972.

The Northern Central Rail Trail in Freeport, Maryland

Hurricanes Agnes struck the United States of America in the early Summer of 1972 making landfall in Panama City, Florida.  The hurricane made its way to the Mid-Atlantic region causing much damage.  The tracks that were the Northern Central Railway in the U.S. state of Maryland were destroyed.  Penn Central Railroad, the last owner of the rail line, decided to abandon the line between Baltimore, Maryland and York, Pennsylvania.  The Northern Central Railway was gone forever.

Not exactly.

In Maryland, the tracks were taken up, and it is now the Northern Central Rail Trail except for a stretch of track that is part of the Light Rail Transit System for Baltimore.

The Abandoned Northern Central Rail Line and the York County Heritage Trail in New Freedom, Pennsylvania

What happened in Pennsylvania?

The Rails of the Northern Central Railway in New Freedom, Pennsylvania

The two-track line (became double-track during World War I) became a single track leaving the one track to remain with the York County Heritage Trail, the northern continuation of the Northern Central Rail Trail, running alongside the rail line.  For many years, no trains ran along this line despite that it was still an active rail line.

That changed in 2011.

‘Steam Into History’ began train excursions with a newly built steam locomotive pulling newly built old time passenger cars giving passengers a one of a kind passenger experience.  Many have come from across the United States of America and around the world to ride this train.  The Number 17 William Simpson York locomotive pulled passengers from its south terminus in the town of New Freedom, Pennsylvania through the towns of Railroad, Glen Rock, and Hanover Junction, the same place where Abraham Lincoln changed trains while on his way to Gettysburg.  (Sadly, only a short section of this track remains.)

The Number 17 York of the Northern Central Railway Ready to Depart New Freedom, Pennsylvania

Today, ‘Steam Into History’ has been rebranded at the Northern Central Railway, and it continues to take passengers along the same route pulled by Number 17 and by a diesel locomotive, and you can now ride to the town of Seven Valleys.  The Northern Central Railway is making a comeback, and they are looking to make its way to York.

Rail Fans Watching the Arrival of the train in Seitzland, Pennsylvania

The Northern Central Railway is at 2 W. Main Street in New Freedom, Pennsylvania.  You can learn more about the excursions and by tickets at https://www.northerncentralrailway.com/.

Number 17 in Seitzland, Pennsylvania

It may be not be ‘Steam Into History’ anymore, but the return on the Northern Central Railway will keep the history moving on.

The Train Returning to New Freedom, Pennsylvania

Tolchester Beach, Maryland

Looking at the Chesapeake Bay from Tolchester Beach

The region known as the Eastern Shore of the U.S. state of Maryland has many great small towns.  (The region is called the Eastern Shore because it is on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay which divides the state.)  Among these towns is the coastal town of Tolchester Beach.  It is a peaceful quiet town with a few houses with the beach.  The only sites in the town are the Kent County Agricultural Center and the Caulks Field Battlefield Memorial where a battle in the War of 1812 took place.  Tolchester Beach is a quiet town where the only noise heard is the waters of the Chesapeake Bay splash on the beach.

Some of you are saying, “This is very lovely.  I love quiet small towns especially beach towns.  The problem is that the is no railroad here.  Therefore, I will find no peace and quiet with this town.

The town of Tolchester Beach, Maryland, simply called Tolchester today, except for events at the Kent County Agricultural Center, has been a quiet and peaceful town… since 1962.

Some of you are saying, “What do you mean by ‘since 1962’?”

The peace town you see today was not peaceful and quiet from 1877 to 1962.  The town known today as Tolchester was a bustling amusement park.  What amusement park?  The Tolchester Beach Amusement Park.  Steamboats brought people from Baltimore and other towns to Tolchester Beach, and they played games, they watched shows, ate food, and rode the rides.  I know.  Most amusement parks have games, shows, food, and rides, but one of the main attractions of the park was the miniature steam train.  They stood in line to ride the steam train around the loop.  When the park was closed in 1962, everything, including the train, was no more.  (The train was sold off.  It is currently unknown where it is today.

Today, when you take a drive through Tolchester, Maryland, you see houses, a marina, the fairgrounds, and the small beach at the end of Maryland Route 21.  There are no signs of an amusement park or of a miniature train.  It is a peaceful and quiet little place on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay.

If you would like to see photos of the park, you can go to the ‘Tolchester Beach Amusement Park Tolchester Maryland’ Facebook page where you can also read more into the history of the park itself.