This wasn't the first time I had been to the museum; when I was younger, my father took me here while visiting my Uncle who lives in DC. But, it had been over 20 years since my other visit and I think 15 years since the terrible snow storm caused part of the roundhouse roof to collapse. I thought it would make for a great trip, and the ability to take in the railroad exhibits through older and much more informed "adult" eyes was an opportunity not to be missed. So, I booked a hotel over the winter and started planning things to do that would appeal to both myself and my wife.
Though the name of the museum implies that the focus of the exhibits would be on the B&O (and all its successor railroads), in reality it is much more than that. The B&O was there at the very beginning. It is the oldest railroad in the USA, which means studying the B&O is studying the development of railroads and history of railroading in America. Inside its roundhouse are perhaps twenty old or recreated steam locomotives from the very basic four-wheeled "Tom Thumb" types to the "Americans" and ten-wheelers that won the west. Each is beautifully preserved with colorful (gaudy?) paint schemes that demonstrate the pride that existed at the time. As I explained to my wife, it is comparable to car enthusiasts who paint racing stripes or flames on their autos today. I really like these older engines, and have a couple in HO scale. I even flirted with building one in 1/8 scale but the grades at my local live steam club would have severely limited its potential.
Elsewhere outside are other pieces of railroad equipment in various stages of decay. Some look pretty good, but some are faded and rusty. Not everything can be kept indoors and the museum has made it a priority to store their best pieces under cover. As such, while the cranes, boxcars, and diesel engines outside are nice to see I didn't spend a lot of time on them. I will note that they occasionally rotate their equipment as when I was younger they had a C&O streamlined steam engine as the corner piece of the outside area. Now, the steamer is inside under cover and this Geep is in its place. Without shade and protection from the elements, it will soon too lose its luster. But, even these pieces are interesting.
The museum also has several seasonal or rotating exhibits, and this Memorial Day the focus was on trains of World War I. We arrived I think on the first day it was open. Admittedly, I didn't find it very interesting as it related to the railroad efforts domestically but the portions of the exhibit that discussed foreign railroad construction were fascinating. I was glad to see a diorama built by fine modeler Bernard Kempinski, whose United States Military Railroad blog I follow. He published a book about modeling war trains which I hope to purchase, and this diorama was probably built for that book. My wife thought the backdrop painting scenes were really well done. I liked how it didn't seem like a forced diorama because of all the open space captured in the scene.
Also on display was one of the French "Forty and Eight" cars, (which is somewhat visible on the upper right placard. Per Wikipedia: "Forty-and-eights were French 4-wheel covered goods wagons designed to hold 40 men or eight horses. In 1949, France sent 49 Forty-and-eights to the United States laden with donations from citizens of France in thanks for the U.S.' role in the liberation of France, one for each of the then forty-eight states and one for Washington D.C. and Hawaii to share. Called the Merci Train, it was sent in response to the Friendship Train America had created two years earlier to aid France in the dire immediate aftermath of World War II. Over 700 boxcars worth of donated supplies were collected across the U.S. and shipped across the Atlantic via donated transport." Of interest, we saw another car in Maine two years ago at the Boothbay Railway Village which I assume was Maine's surviving car. This car was on display here for the first day, and there were lots of volunteers on hand who had helped with its restoration.
|Our Train Ride's motive power|
One optional add-on at the museum is a train ride. It is essentially a push-pull ride down the spur that connects the museum to the active CSX tracks. The ride is in restored B&O coaches, or for an extra fare you can ride in the observation car and receive complimentary snacks and drinks (chips and soda, basically). You don't have to think hard on which option I picked! We got the two seats closest to the observation end (a group of old ladies who got in first picked some tables by the kitchen area... fools) so we had a great view. As to that view, we saw abandoned stores, run down strip malls, a metal scrap yard, a police horse barracks under construction, and the B&O restoration shop's exterior. The mystique of the train didn't match the Glacier Express but hey... it was a train ride! We saw with two people, one of which sounded a lot like Peyton Manning. I could have listened to him talk for hours. The other guy had done some contract work for the A&A. You just couldn't pick two better companions (besides my wife, of course).
Outside, they had other things for the kiddies like a carousel, some train rides, and a nice garden railway. I liked how it was elevated on a raised bed formed from pressure treated wood. I hope to have a simple garden railway in my backyard someday, also raised up, though with stone or brick wall construction. Some of the trains just rumbled on their own merry way, but others didn't move until you pushed buttons on the outside of the garden's fence. Most of the trains again were decorated for the B&O or its successor railroads. It was well done, though stuff was starting to fade here too. The southern sun and heat... ugh.
After we left the museum, we walked to the harbor. Our destination was the National Aquarium which is located in the inner harbor, as are various historic ships such as the U.S.S. Constellation (the largest and last sail-only ship in the U.S. Navy. There was also a submarine, the U.S.S. Tursk, which I think I went in with my father when we visited here years ago. There were also paddle boat rentals, which include some that were shaped like dragons and others that were larger and decorated like pirate ships. There were even larger pirate ships that you could pay to ride around in. In a battle I am not sure I would bet on team sub/warship or team dragon/pirate ship. But, it was a hot day and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Outside our hotel (which was located right next to the Orioles' Camden Yards) was a light rail line. Unfortunately, the Orioles were away the weekend we were there or I would have gone to see my favorite baseball team in action. If I had more time to explore, I would have researched where it went and how much it cost to ride it. Just getting on and taking it to the end would have been fun. I did that once with my father on the Boston MTA's Green Line, and it was a good way to see the city. The light rail cars have their own traffic signals to follow when they cross major roads, though I don't know what happens when a car is stuck blocking the track. I suppose a gentle push to help it along wouldn't be out of place.
The next day we went to the Maryland Zoo, and I saw some interesting birds that I had never seen before. They had net-enclosed areas where you could go in and the birds were within only a couple of feet of you. One swooped down in flight and I thought it was going to take out my wife. We also saw pink flamingos (did you know that they really exist? I thought they were just goofy decorations at trailer parks) and penguins. I have a fascination with penguins, especially the African ones that you can observe without being in Antarctica (which I probably will never get to in my life, in no small part because there aren't train rides there).
At one of the zoo's food vendors I purchased some Dippin' Dots ice cream. I had seen signs for it but never purchased it before. This place had six flavors including cookies and cream (and some colored specks that must have been stuck to the spoon from another flavor) with real Oreo pieces. Though they are the "ice cream of the future," it was introduced in 1988 so it over 30 years old now. It was an odd thing to eat, and I wouldn't be surprised if it takes another 30 years before I try it again. It is like eating those Nerds candy, except that it sometimes melts and sometimes just makes your head cold. Very strange.
The zoo had a train. I had to ride it. The train skirts the edge of the zoo and appears to be an afterthought, though hopefully the zoo will expand around it so that you can see more. I think it was 16" gauge, but I can't be sure. It is a Chance brand train, modeled after the C.P.R.R.'s "C.P. Huntington," though sadly the large single wheels on each side had been removed. While talking with the operator, she said that those non-functional wheels sometimes caused the train to derail so they were taken off. I originally didn't hear the train while we were there so I feared it was closed, but I finally heard the screech of metal and knew it had to be close. It looked really nice and later I had a chance to ride it.
I love polar bears, and they were having a blast swimming in the pool at the zoo. And why shouldn't they? It was over 90 degrees outside and humid. Much of the afternoon was overcast which helped, but at times it was really hot. I remember the heat and humidity for sure from my trips to D.C. I had purchased a new camera for the trip, as my old Kodak's battery wouldn't hold a charge, and a real test came in trying to shoot a moving polar bear behind glass underwater in a poorly lit area. I think it did okay, and here I think it is trying to kiss my wife. I am going to keep my eye on him in the future.