Wednesday, October 7, 2015

1831 York Locomotive

B&O Railroad Museum Brings Historic One-of-a-Kind Locomotive Back to Baltimore
The B&O Railroad Museum announced today that it has acquired at auction the locomotive "York" from the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.   Acquisition of this 1926 replica of the 1831 B&O Railroad Locomotive “York” completes the Museum's collection of the three
working replicas of early B&O locomotives built by the B&O's own Mt. Clare Shops in Baltimore for “The Fair of the Iron Horse”.  The Fair was the two-week long extravaganza held at Halethorpe, Maryland in the fall of 1927 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the B&O Railroad.  As America's First Railroad, the B&O's Centenary celebrated not only the history of the B&O, but the transformational effect of railroads on the history of America.  The Fair attracted over a million people from all over the world to Baltimore. Locomotives both historic and modern from other railroads from as far away as England were on site to help with the celebration. 
The B&O was not only the nation's first long distance commercial railroad - it was also the railroad most devoted to preserving the key artifacts of its history.  While the original York had long been lost by 1927, enough of its "descendants" were still around to make possible a highly authentic replica.  The “York” will shortly rejoin the other two replicas built in 1927 for the Fair -  Peter Cooper’s “Tom Thumb” (original 1830) and “Lafayette” (original 1837) - in the Museum’s spectacular Roundhouse on West Pratt Street.

Courtney B. Wilson, the Museum’s Executive Director, remarked; “…this acquisition repatriates an important locomotive to Baltimore. The “York” represented an important technological step in early railroad motive power development with features that would define how steam engines were built into the 1950’s.  We are delighted to now be able to showcase this important step in locomotive evolution to our visitors.”

In 1831 the B&O Railroad planned a locomotive competition similar to the Liverpool & Manchester's famous Rainhill trials of 1829 in England. Five locomotives were entered in the competition, held between January and June of that year. The winning locomotive was the “York,” named for York, Pennsylvania where the locomotive was constructed. It was the work of Phineas Davis (1795-1835), a watch-maker and early steam advocate, and built with the help of his partner Morris J. Garner (sometimes spelled Gartner).

Significantly, “York” was a four-wheel, vertical boiler locomotive with a short wheel base similar to Cooper's “Tom Thumb.” It featured a pair of vertical cylinders that drove vertical main rods that connected to horizontal side rods, which powered the wheels. Designed to burn anthracite coal, the “York” was deemed most successful of the five locomotives in the competition and after some alterations entered service on the B&O where it hauled passenger trains on the line from Baltimore to Ellicott’s Mills (now Ellicott City), Maryland. In July 1831, it was reported to have hauled a five car train with 150 passengers on board. It was capable of hauling 15 tons at 15 mph on level track, and could reach speeds of 30 mph, truly impressive statistics for the period.

After its performance at the “Fair of the Iron Horse,” the locomotive was sent to Chicago to participate in the Century of Progress fair held in 1933 and 1934. Afterwards, B&O Railroad officials donated the replica to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry for its permanent collection. In 1966, it was loaned for display in York, Pennsylvania, where it resided until 1976, when it was then loaned to the B&O Railroad Museum (then operated by the Chessie System) as part of Baltimore & Ohio's 150th anniversary displays in 1977. Although Chessie System officials and the Museum coveted the replica and hoped to keep it on long term loan, in 1980 it was returned to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry to be part of a railroad-themed exhibition.

The B&O Railroad Museum will develop plans to incorporate “York” into its permanent exhibition “Roads to Rails” which interprets the birth and early development of railroading in the Western Hemisphere. Museum officials are working to have the locomotive transported from Chicago to Baltimore over the next thirty to sixty days.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Historic Telegraph Key Comes Home to Ellicott City Station

In early August 2015 Albert Grimes, the President of Curtis Engine headquartered in Baltimore, contacted the Museum and donated his grandfather’s telegraph key used when he was stationed at the Ellicott City Station in the 1940’s. Al’s memories of his grandfather are rich and inspiring. So much so that, early in his career, Al followed his grandfather’s legacy and went to work for the B&O doing various administrative and operational duties from being a warehouseman to working in the real estate department.
Francis Vernon Grimes (1902-1988)
Francis Vernon Grimes (1902-1988) worked for the B&O Railroad for 51 years from the 1920s through the 1970s. He started his career loading water into steam engine tenders and after learning telegraphy he served in many B&O depots on the Old Main Line including a long stint as the telegrapher at Ellicott City Station in the 1940s. In fact he met his future wife on the platform in Ellicott City! He ended his long career as the interlocking tower operator at Riverside in the Locust Point section of Baltimore City.

Vibroplex Semi-Automatic "Bug" Key used by Francis Grimes at Ellicott City Station

The key is a Vibroplex Semi-Automatic “Bug’ Key. Telegraph operators that used a standard or “straight” telegraph key for long periods could develop a type of repetitive motion disorder known as glass arm or telegrapher’s paralysis.  In 1904, New York inventor Horace Martin patented a different type of key. It used a side to side motion as opposed to the up and down motion of the standard key. Martin called his invention a Vibroplex. It used mechanical vibration to send dots when the lever was held to the right. Dashes were made by pressing the lever to the left. This semi-automatic action not only relieved telegraphers of the dreaded glass arm syndrome, they could also send messages faster, over 40 words per minute when operators of standard keys could only send about 25 to 30 words per minute. Since many employers were slow to adopt the new type of key, telegraphers would often purchase their own to use “on the wire.” The copper plug on the end of the cord could quickly be connected to the standard key in the telegraph office.

The term “bug” was old telegrapher slang for a poor performing operator. When the semi-automatic key came on the market, it took time to get used to it and send accurate Morse Code. Other operators on the line called the person with the new key a “bug.” Soon the key itself became known as a “bug.” The Vibroplex Company came to adopt the term and used an insect for their logo. Vibroplex is still in business today and continues to manufacture “bug” keys for amateur radio operators who use Morse code.

Mr. Al Grimes (left) presents his grandfather's telegraph key to B&O Museum Director Courtney B. Wilson on August 4, 2015.
We are very grateful to Mr. Al Grimes for returning this historic key, along with information about his grandfather Francis Vernon Grimes, to our historic Ellicott City Station.  An exhibit is being prepared share this artifact with our visitors. Keep an eye out for a notice of when it is open.

Friday, July 10, 2015

National History Day Contestant Chooses Baltimore & Ohio Railroad for Three-Year Bid for National Honors.

     Tyler Gray lives in Joplin, MO. That is a long way from the B&O Museum in Baltimore. Three years ago, he contacted our guest curator Daniel Carroll Toomey and requested a phone interview as part of his research project. Tyler, then in the seventh grade, was making his first entry into the National History Day competition. The title of his project was “War Rode the Rails: Turning Point in Warfare and America”. Tyler did not advance past the local competition, but he and his family did visit the B&O Museum and continued to pursue his interest in railroading. The following year he entered a second exhibit entitled “Stopped in Their Tracks: The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and Turning Point in U.S. Labor Relations” - a heady concept for an eighth grader to develop. This time he made it to the state finals. Undaunted, this fifteen-year-old student at Joplin High School entered the 2015 competition with an excellent exhibit entitled “John Work Garrett: Life on the Rails: Leadership and Legacy Travels the Tracks”. His determination paid off and Tyler Gray made it all the way to national finals at the University of Maryland. This is a major event held on campus at College Park every June. Students from all over the country compete for top honors under stringent guidelines that include an exhibit, 500-word paper, and numerous reviews by college professors. Just getting there is an achievement unto itself.

     Tyler did not win the grand prize, but his vision of railroad history is undeniably beyond his years. We at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum are proud of what he has accomplished and wish him even greater success in the future.                    

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

CHUGGINGTON A Traintastic Adventure
B&O Railroad Museum
Friday, July 31 (10am-4pm)
Saturday, August 1 (8:30am – 4pm)
Sunday, August 2 (8:30am – 4pm)
Chuggington A Traintastic Adventure arrives for the first time ever to the B&O Railroad Museum this summer, July 31 – August 2. Following is some very important information you should have for your family to have a great day!
How do I get tickets? 
To purchase tickets visit or call 1-866-468-7630. For event details visit or call 410-752-2490.
What if all the Train Rides for Chuggington are SOLD OUT?
If train rides are sold out, the B&O Museum will offer on-site admission at $18 for ages 2 and up. This admission includes the following: event & museum admission and free parking. For event details visit
I have tickets! What do I do now?
1) If you have purchased a train ride & event ticket through Ticketweb, please arrive at least ONE HOUR prior to the train ride time printed on your ticket.
2) Everyone, except children under age 2, will need to present a Chuggington ticket upon their entrance into the museum. Please make sure every member in your party has a ticket in hand before arriving to the museum.
3) If you do not have a ticket for everyone in your party, the B&O will offer on-site admission at $18 for ages 2 and up. This admission is only available for purchase on the day of the event at the B&O Museum and includes everything except Hanzo’s Passenger Run (train ride).
4) Your scheduled 20 minute train ride will board 15 minutes prior to the departure time printed on your Chuggington ticket. Please remember to assemble your entire party and board the platform with tickets in-hand so they can be presented to the train crew in a timely and efficient manner.
5) If you are late or miss your train ride time, please note that staff cannot guarantee you another train ride time since some train ride times maybe sold out. You still may enter the event with your ticket and enjoy all of the day's activities and entertainment.

Where do I park? Is there Handicap Parking?
The B&O offers free & secure parking at both of their parking lots. Please report to the main parking lot located at 901 W. Pratt St. in Baltimore, MD. Upon your arrival, if this lot is full, parkers will direct you to the secondary lot and museum entrance located at 1100 James St. (Tour Bus Parking), Baltimore, MD ( Please DO NOT DROP OFF members of your party. It is best to park your vehicle(s) with your entire party and enter the museum as a group at one time. Dropping off members of your party at the front gate causes you and your party extra time and frustration. In addition to there being ample handicap parking spots, the B&O Museum and Chuggington event is ADA compliant and handicap accessible.
This is our first Chuggington event. What should we expect?
FUN!! Chuggington A Traintastic Adventure brings the show to life as families are immersed into the world of Chuggington. Young Trainees have the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, complete several challenges, and earn rewards for their participation. Each challenge is scenario-based and represents Chuggington’s main themes and characters – Koko, Brewster, and Wilson.  The challenges allow Trainees to practice important life skills such as teamwork, safety, and leadership as they work hard to become the best Trainee they can be. Don’t miss  Chuggington A Traintastic Adventure for the first-time ever at the B&O Railroad Museum this summer for a day filled with train rides, challenges, family fun and activities. For all event details visit
What else should we know?
Food Concessions
The B&O offers food concessions throughout the event. Please note that picnicking is not permitted. Members of your party with strict food allergies are permitted entrance with a small lunch bag.
The B&O has designated stroller parking. Please note that strollers are not permitted on the train platform, on the train, or inside the Gift Shop.
You may take your own photos. Please be respectful of others so everyone has a chance to capture a Chuggington memory.
For hotel accommodations please visit our partner package with Holiday Inn Inner Harbor or for other hotels in the Baltimore area.
Event Reminders
1) Event is RAIN or SHINE. Please remember to dress yourself and your family appropriately. Dressing in layers, rain gear, and sunscreen are advised.
2) Please remember that this is a family event. Smoking, cursing, or any inappropriate behavior is prohibited. Security has the right to remove anyone from the premises without refund.
3) For everyone's safety, bags may be searched at any time.
4) No pets
5) On-site interpreters are only provided by contacting at least two weeks prior to the event.

I have more questions, who should I call? 
You can call the B&O Railroad Museum at 410-752-2490
 Have a great day at CHUGGINGTON!

Friday, May 15, 2015

B&O Railroad Museum Announces Awards for its 2015 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships

Officials of the B&O Railroad museum in Baltimore, Maryland announced today the winners of

its 2015 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. Five Fellowships were

established in the subject areas of railroad business, labor, early railroading, women and

African American studies.

The SURFs were offered to undergraduate students from colleges and universities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region on a competitive basis. Most fellowship programs in the United States are reserved for graduate students and faculty. The stipend for each winner is $2,000.00.

Courtney B. Wilson, Executive Director of the Museum stated; “…these Fellowships represent a rare opportunity for emerging collegiate historians to perform original research using primary resources from a wide range of repositories. The Museum staff is proud to work with these students and is looking forward to the completion of original research in each category.”

The Fellows commence their work in early June of this year with a December 15th deadline to present their paper. The Museum plans to publish their work on the museum’s website and use their research in the creation of new interpretive programs for the public.

The following students were chosen by a panel of historians:

Edward Romano, Rutgers University, New Jersey: The Brooke, McDonald and Company Fellowship in American Railroad Business Studies.
Cameron Donahue, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland: The B&O Railroad Museum Fellowship in African-American Railroad Studies.
Daniel P. Gates, Loyola University, Maryland: The Charles and Mary Kay Nabit Fellowship in Early American Railroad History.
Christopher Panetta, Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania: The Samuel L. Waldschmidt Fellowship in American Railroad Labor Studies.
Katherine E. Muir, Saint Joseph’s University, Pennsylvania: The Eleanor Abell Owen Fellowship in Women’s Railroad Studies.