Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Volunteer Spotlight: John Geist

When I ask John Geist, a 14-year B&O volunteer originally from Lancaster, PA, if he would mind being the subject of the latest Volunteer Spotlight, I am met with same the soft-spoken humility that makes John such a pleasure to work with each week. Without much ado, John gives me permission to interview him, and we settle into what we at the B&O have come to call the Fishbowl: a small research area between our offices and the archives where John volunteers every Wednesday. John speaks gently, but not timidly, as he has in every conversation I’ve ever had with him. John isn’t a timid man, but rather one whose thoughts are carefully distilled, whose words are clear and precise, and whose temperament is mild and disarming.
John is the first to admit that he had no prior connection to the railroad; he holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh and his career was spent largely as an association executive for various human services agencies. In areas such as health, education, and child safety, John worked to help administer services and resources to the people who needed them. This is why John’s particular interest is in the human aspect of the railroad’s history. He explains that railroading was the first American industry to provide a social safety net for its employees, and furthermore, that the B&O was the very first railroad to do so with the inception of its Relief Department in the late 19th century. My discussion with John on this topic further affirms what I’ve already begun to realize in my time at the B&O: there is an aspect of the railroad’s history for everyone. The B&O Railroad represents a cross-section of society, wherein social historians like John are just as essential as those who can, say, describe in painstaking detail the mechanical ins-and-outs of a steam engine. This isn’t just about history either – John’s favorite part of volunteering at the B&O is “the camaraderie with the other volunteers and working with the staff,” and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, staff or volunteer, who would disagree. John’s words and his wisdom serve as powerful reminders of what has always made the B&O so special. From the workers who built the railroad, to the tireless volunteers like John Geist who devote their time to the careful maintenance of its legacy, the B&O has always been about people, their lives, their work, and perhaps most importantly, their stories.

For volunteer opportunities, visit:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Moving Troops in World War II

At the start of World War II, the railroads were still king of the castle in the transportation game. Airplanes were around but no major airlines existed to move passengers. Most planes were still only single or double seated with only a few larger aircraft. The country would have to rely on the railroads to help them win the war. They handled 90% of domestic military supply and 97% of domestic troop movements during the war years which totals about one million troops a month. Every possible car was pressed into service because of rationing only limited numbers of new cars were built.
What new cars were built were designed and authorized by the Defense Plant Corporation run by the U.S. Government. The DPC authorized the Pullman Car Company to build 2,500 sleeper cars for use on troop trains. Though the cars were owned by the government, they were operated by Pullman which insisted that Pullman porters were placed on every car. Another 400 kitchen cars were also built to feed the troops on the trains.
The Pullman Troop Sleeper car in our collection is numbered 7437 and was built in May 1944. After the war, most of the cars were sold as surplus. 7437 was purchased by the Western Maryland Railway and converted for use on their wreck train in Elkins, West Virginia. It was retired in 1988 when it was donated to the museum. In 1995 it was restored to its original exterior colors and lettering and the interior was partially restored to show what it looked like while in service. The exterior was refinished again in 2004 and a display on the B&O during World War II was added.
The 7437 is on display and open every day at the museum. Join us November 12 and 13 for our observance of Veterans Day when we will have many displays and programs about World War II. There will be Jeeps, displays on the railroad during the war, and equipment displays about Army, Marine, and Coast Guard.

Fearless Mentor Williams

Today’s B&O Employee is Fearless Mentor Williams
Born April 20, 1882, his father named him Fearless because he looked him straight in the eyes right after he was born and his father announced that he was “fearless” and that should be his name. His middle name “Mentor” means, “a wise and trusted counselor.” The name did serve this honorable man well. He began has long career with the B&O as a floor porter in the executive office building on September 10, 1906 rising through the ranks to become Porter in Service of the President on June 6, 1916. He was a leader in Baltimore’s African-American community and a trustee of Provident Hospital. Fearless was an industrious man, in his “spare” time he was a president of a real estate company, secretary of a building and loan association and an insurance agent. He was also the Uncle to Thurgood Marshall, first African American Supreme Court Justice. He retired on June 15, 1952 with nearly 46 years of service in with the B&O.
Robert Lewis, nephew of George Washington, visited Mount Clare on his way
to his Uncle's first inauguration in New York. He was accompanying Mrs.
Washington on the journey from Virginia. In his diary for May 19, 1789 he
recalled the visit:

Mrs. Carroll expecting Mrs. Washington had made considerable preparation,
we found a large bowl of salubrious ice punch with fruits, etc. which had
been plucked from the trees in a green house lying on the tables in great
abundance;--these after riding 25 or 30 miles without eating or drinking
was no unwelcome luxury, however, Mrs. C could not complain that we had not
done her punch honor, for in the course of 1 Quarter of an Hour, this bowl
which held upwards of two Gallons was entirely consumed to the no little
satisfaction of us all.

The Maryland Society of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of
America announce the successful purchase of a George III silver punch
bowl, circa 1771, which belonged to Charles Carroll the Barrister (1723-1783)
and his wife Margaret Tilghman Carroll (1742-1817).  The bowl which is marked
by an English maker is a foot in diameter and must have made quite an
impression on guests to Mount Clare, the couple's summer residence.
Having been introduced to the English gentry by Robert Adam in the 1760s, the
neoclassical surface decoration was the height of sophistication.  It is
thought that the couple might have ordered the punch bowl and ladle during
a trip to London in the spring of 1771; Mrs. Carroll returned inspired by
the up-to-date Adamesque tastes of Londoners. The Barrister returned to serve
on various committees in Annapolis as the colonies moved closer to war.  By
June 1776 he would help write Maryland's first Constitution, the
Declaration and Charter of Rights for Maryland.

Nineteen years his junior, Mrs. Carroll survived her husband by 35 years;
she made Mount Clare her permanent residence and was known for her gardens
and hospitality.  She also began to update some of the furnishings in the
house to the stylish neoclassical forms of the Federal style, which
reached American shores after the end of the Revolution.  The plinth base
with ball feet is not original to the piece but was a popular form in the
Baltimore area by the 1770s.  Examples of its use can be seen on silver by
Charles Louis Boehme and Standish Barry among other local silversmiths.

Mrs. Carroll died in 1817 and in her will she bequeathed her large
silver punch bowl,to James Maccubbin Carroll, her husbands nephew, who had
inherited the house and moved into Mount Clare for a brief time.  The bowl
descended through this line of the family to the current seller.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Volunteer Spotlight: Charlotte Ziegler

Just over a decade ago, Charlotte Ziegler visited the website of the B&O Railroad Museum in search of information about the annual Day Out With Thomas event for a friend with a young grandson. Charlotte soon noticed that the B&O had volunteer opportunities available, and after a few brief, unsatisfying stints at other institutions, she was eager to find out if the B&O was a good fit. Charlotte, who retired in 2006 after a long career in marketing & public affairs for the U.S. Army, saw volunteer work as a way to continue keeping her mind active and engaged. “I retired after 30 years,” Charlotte explains, “but my brain didn’t. It keeps going. It still is.”  Charlotte quickly scheduled an interview and was delighted to learn that at the B&O, she would have the freedom to apply all of her skills — wherever and however she best saw fit. Before long, Charlotte became one of the museum’s regular Tuesday volunteers. Over time, the B&O began to call on Charlotte when in need of her unique skill set which includes costume design — a hobby she describes as her “first love.” Charlotte is suddenly glowing as she recalls being asked to design princess costumes for the museum’s Royal Adventure Days event and tells me that the gown she considers her “particular masterpiece” is that of Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, for which she had to create a custom fabric pattern to match the one from the movie. Perhaps surprisingly, Charlotte confesses that when she first began volunteering at the B&O, her interest in trains was quite minimal and mostly limited to fond childhood memories of setting up a model village under the Christmas tree each year with her mother — a holiday tradition which Charlotte has continued to uphold throughout the years. Fortunately for the museum and all who attend its annual Magical Holiday Express event, Charlotte shares that yuletide joy each year by assuming the role of Mrs. Claus as she has done since 2010 and which she considers to be her absolute favorite part of volunteering at the B&O. Charlotte also puts her marketing background to use by distributing B&O press releases to the multitude of media outlets she has organized into a spreadsheet at home. As if the aforementioned contributions weren’t enough, Charlotte leads museum tours and is radiantly proud of currently being the only woman volunteer to do so. Charlotte recalls a guest once condescendingly raising doubts about whether or not she was indeed a volunteer at the museum. “Girls like trains too.” she replied. As the simplest responses often do, Charlotte’s answer resonates. The world of trains and railroad history tends to be predominated by men, however Charlotte notes that the guys with whom she volunteers have never been anything short of utterly genial and welcoming towards her. In fact, Charlotte affectionately refers to her crew of fellow Thursday volunteers as “The Rat Pack” and, through delighted laughter, adds “I guess that makes me Angie Dickinson.”

Inspired by Charlotte's story? You can apply to volunteer at the B&O today!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Herb Sauter's B&O Story

My name is Herbert Sauter. I will be 90 years old in May. I worked for the B&O railroad and it's successors for 45 years. I began working for the B&O railroad at age 17 on Friday, September 13th 1946. I started as a messenger in outbound freight on the second floor of the Camden Freight Office located in the corner of Eutaw and Camden streets. It was attached to the warehouse (the present site of Oriole Park at Camden Yards) but is gone now. I made $6.04 a day. I ran errands, did some filing, and got coffee and lunches for the bosses. Then I became a day motor messenger and got a fifty cents a day raise. As a motor messenger I drove all over Baltimore in a B&O personnel car (one was a Ford and one was a Plymouth) delivering mail, running errands and picking up bills of lading and taking them to the freight office to be rated and billed. The bills had to be picked up at Canton, Highlandtown, Bayview yard, Ft. Holabird, B&O Canton Railroad, Locust point, Mt. Claire Freight office, Chevrolet plant, Esso Oil refinery, the stockyard, Curtis Bay coal pier and ore pier and the fruit pier. When the waybill was ready then I had to take them to the yard office to meet the train. One of the first memories I have of being a motor messenger was going to the Mt. Claire Assistant Agent's office. Some days I probably drove 100 miles just around Baltimore.
Watching the bananas being unloaded from the ships on the banana pier at Pratt and Light streets was a favorite of mine. The stevedores would carry big stalks of bananas off of the ship and into rail cars that had to be brought to the fruit pier by floating them on a barge. They were refrigerated by blocks of ice covered in salt placed in the tops of the cars. When they were loaded they floated them down to the railroad yard. The harbor would be full of bananas when they were done. Later on in my career, I worked at the Banana pier on McComas Street, south side Locust Point. After the refrigerated rail cars with bananas were temperature checked and written on the lay bill, I had to put the seal on the car showing that it had been checked. I also watched the B&O Toonerville Trolley #10 engine working at the Fells Street Warehouse. It ran on overhead electric wires and was used as a box car switcher with the car floats. Another favorite was to watch the brand new cars drive out of the Chevrolet plant and right onto the rail cars.
Next I worked the 3 to 11 shift to get my clerk seniority. I filled in for vacations. While working at the Camden Yard freight office we had a softball team. We would play on our lunch hour against the Camden shed workers team. We played right outside of the Camden Yard warehouse on the railroad tracks. The softballs would get all chewed up from hitting the warehouse and the rails. If you hit the ball into the tunnel in the Warehouse you got a homerun. One day I took one of the softballs that had lost its cover and threw it with all of my might over the top of the warehouse which is still standing as a part of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I tell my children, Grandchildren, and Great Grandchildren that story every time we are
at the ballpark. We also used to go up to the top floor of the Camden Warehouse, which was the attic with the little windows, and there were huge bound books containing hand written daily workings of the railroad. Eventually I got a clerk job at Pier 6 Locust Point Marine Terminal.
In March of 1951 I was drafted. I served my country for 2 years as a transportation specialist stationed in Austria. Sometimes I would travel to Trieste on the Mediterranean to watch the unloading of the coal boats that had come from Curtis Bay, Maryland.
When I got out of the Army in 1953 I could not get my old clerk job back so I was once again a B&O motor messenger. Then I got a charge clerk job assessing storage and wharfage charges on freight for the B&O. In 1962 The B&O became Chessie System. In April of 1970 I moved Uptown to be a clerk for Foreign Freight, World Commerce Department, working with import auto shipping. The railroad eliminated the World Commerce division and I moved to customer service, regional sales as a trace clerk. Not long after that the railroad separated regional sales offices from the rest of the railroad and my office moved to Woodlawn. Then once again I moved offices back to Charles Center in Baltimore as a rate clerk for Automobiles. I began working under the New York Dock agreement catching up on all of the backed up work for the railroad. I retired on May 31, 1991. Three days before I retired they made me chief clerk to fill in for someone. The two years of service in the Army counted to my total years working for the railroad. I saw a lot of changes to the railroad industry during my wonderful 45 year career with the railroad.

My wife, Betty Sauter, also worked for the B&O Railroad for several years until our first daughter was born. However, we never worked together in the same office. She was a stenographer in several offices. She was at the storekeepers offices at Mt. Claire, the Agents office at the Camden freight office, the Superintendent's office at Camden Station second floor, and the Real Estate office at the B&O Central building uptown. We both met many fascinating people and made and kept lifelong friendships with many. Sadly, most have passed on.
The railroad also had many parties and events for employees. They would have parties in the B&O Roundhouse and they would put oak boards on the turntable so they could put tables and have dancing on the turntable. When people got to dancing the turntable would bounce up and down. It was great fun. There were also weekend excursions on a train from Baltimore to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. There were learning trips for employees. One memorable one was riding the train to the Wilmington, Delaware auto plant. They took the whole train into the factory. I was thrilled to get to ride in the inspection car. My family took a trip to Miami, Florida on the Silver Meteor. It was exciting for my two young daughters. My wife and I visited the fabulous Greenbrier resort which the C&O owned. There were many great memories made.
I have witnessed a lot of change in the railroad industry in 45 years. From the way the tracks are laid to the use of computers instead of hand writing everything. I am proud to have played a small part in the history of the Great B&O Railroad.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Volunteer Spotlight: Mike & Ruth Kline

Visit the B&O on any given Tuesday, and you're sure to see Mike and Ruth Kline, donning their B&O blues and warm smiles. Mike will also be sporting his white, leather-billed B&O Railroad cap. "We can't go anywhere without that hat," Ruth tells me, "even to church." That's because Mike, as a tireless representative of the B&O, is never really off duty. With youthful enthusiasm Mike tells me that people everywhere recognize the B&O on his cap, and share with him personal memories of the railroad or start to name family members who once worked on it. It's no surprise that after 21 years of volunteering at the museum, Mike's knowledge of all things locomotive can only fairly be described as enyclopedic. What may however be more surprising is the fact that Mike has committed this knowledge to a literal enyclopedia. As I speak with him, Mike slides an overstuffed binder out from behind the information desk and flips it open on the counter. Color-coded with categorical tabs, this binder contains an unimaginable wealth of archival photographs, engineering diagrams, and historical tidbits that together comrpise what Ruth calls "his Bible." She isn't hyperbolizing either — Mike's descriptions of each page are as reverential in tone as they are informative. Mike's father was, after all, a worker on the Pennsylvania railroad, so his passion for trains runs deep. Just as Mike's love of the railroad began with his father's work, serving at the B&O has become something of a family affair for the Klines, as their son Fred and grandaughter Lyla both volunteer during big events, such as our annual Day Out With Thomas.  Mike & Ruth, who now live in Linthicum, were first referred to the museum in 1997 by a neighbor who Mike tells me had worked as an engineer on the B&O for over 40 years. Ruth started volunteering shortly after Mike, and works mainly as a docent and greeter — the perfect positions for a woman who excels at making everyone who enters the Roundhouse feel right at home. She tells me that her favorite part of volunteering at the museum is getting to meet so many people from all over the world. Mike, who is also a docent as well as a photographer, adds that his favorite part is the gratitude that guests show, and no statement could be more telling. The Klines devote their time to the B&O because they truly love it. They radiate with joy as they describe the thanks they receive — though Ruth notes that while appreciated, it's hardly necessary. She often responds to grateful guests by telling them "You don't have to thank me, I'm enjoying it as much as you are." And as anyone who has had the fortune of meeting these two can undoutedbly corroborate — she really means it.