A Pair of Anachronisms

Posted by George Hamlin
on Thursday, February 21, 2019

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Back in the woods at Cherry Run, West Virginia, on May 26, 2000, CSX local D721 is approaching Miller Tower, on the former Baltimore & Ohio mainline between Washington, DC and Cumberland, Maryland.  It’s being led by non-powered Road Slug 2208, built originally as a GP30 in December 1962 for the B&O, so it’s likely that this is familiar territory for this unit.

While it retains the overall, and distinctive, contours of the GP30, the lack of radiator fans on the long hood of the soon to be 38 years-in-service unit are a clear indication that it does not have a diesel engine inside.  It’s my understanding that at least some crews enjoyed having the slugs in the lead, where possible, since they lacked both the fumes and noise of units that actually had prime movers.

Just ahead of the train is Miller Tower, located at the junction of the former interchange with the Western Maryland.  While the WM is now a paved hiking/bike path west of Cherry Run, east of here the CSX still utilizes the WM east to Hagerstown, Maryland, including the former WM bridge over the Potomac River, to gain access to the former B&O for Cumberland and points west.

Both the locomotive and the tower are now painted in what was termed the “Stealth” CSX paint scheme, although some of the siding on the building can be seen to still be in its previous B&O buff-colored hue.  Observing D721’s progress west is operator (and railfan) Allen Brougham, from the upper level of the tower, which still has its telegraphic designation of “R” displayed in the window on the east side of the building.

Miller Tower had considerably greater seniority than the 2208, having been built in the 1910-12 timeframe.  The interlocking, still manual levers and rods, was installed in 1952, and lasted until the end, which was on September 24, 2000.  

Miller was one of a four-tower “string” between Martinsburg, West Virginia (NA tower, which was only a single-level structure, contrary to its name) and Hancock, with West Cumbo and Miller (in east-west order) in the middle.  As of 2000, these were in service full-time, and with the exception of NA, all were “Armstrong” establishments, although Cumbo utilized “pistol-grip” levers.

Operator Brougham, who also was the publisher of the “Bull Sheet” newsletter that provided information about railroad activities in the region, as well as freight schedules and listings of the various paint schemes on the CSX’s locomotives, made sure that Miller went out of service in style.  A ceremony was arranged that included a number of guests, including other employees and retirees; music (including drum rolls at appropriate times); a prayer by a clergyman in attendance: and concluded with Allen reading the final entry on the train sheet, turning out the lights and locking the door. 

Interestingly, almost twenty years later, both of these artifacts are still with us, at least physically.  A quick check of online roster data indicates that the 2208 still seems to be in the employ of the CSX.  Following its retirement, Miller was partially dismantled and moved to near the old B&O roundhouse complex in Martinsburg, West Virginia, where it was re-assembled and placed near the main line; railfan photographer Jon Wright tells me that it’s still there.  Who would have guessed this in 2000?

(For more details on the closing of Miller Tower, see the October 2000 issue of the “Bull Sheet”, http://bullsheet.com/200010.html )

Photo by George W. Hamlin

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