Thursday, October 6, 2016

Rifleman's powder horn measuring 14.5" overall depicting an early train

Recently the museum acquired by purchase a rare and unique object from the earliest days of American railroading. Presented here is a rifleman's gunpowder horn scrimshawed with an early depiction of a train. Scrimshawed powder horns used by the common man on the early American frontier are not that uncommon. Depictions of towns, ships, flowers and trees, figures, flags and other man made and natural elements are typical designs. While some horns were decorated by professional carvers, most were scrimshawed by amateur hands, like this one, using a simple knife or other sharp tool.

Close-up view of the scrimshawed train showing detail 

Detail of the carved locomotive and building
This horn displays a number of decorative elements including sailing ships, buildings,a fortress, and some floral designs but the preeminent feature is the locomotive, tender and 4 railroad cars. Running nearly the entire length of one side the train is bookended by a large archway and a small two story building with a flagpole. 

Early sailing ships carved on the opposite side of the horn
The unknown carver included a high level of detail including passengers in the cars, the engineer and fireman on the locomotives and the iron spokes in the wheels. The locomotive design is typically British and dates to the period 1830-40 which also dates the powder horn to that period.

When the English railway the Stockton and Darlington opened in 1825 and the B&O Railroad ran its first steam locomotive in 1830 a "railroad craze" began that would last nearly a decade. Following the early success of the B&O, when railroads were being built with great fervor we see locomotives and trains depicted on bottles, porcelain plates, in textiles, art works and in popular culture throughout. The earliest designs illustrated British type trains since those images were most readily available. Indeed railroad decorated works were being imported to the United States from England as well to feed the hungry souvenir market. 

A powder horn, however, was a very personal object. One used every day for hunting on the frontier and, of course, for protecting one's family in early America. Obviously the owner of this horn, most likely the carver too, got caught up in the railroad craze himself.

We are very pleased to have this in our world class collection and to be able to preserve this piece of early American railroading for future generations. We will, likely, never see another. Without your generous support this would not be possible.

Thank you,
Courtney B. Wilson
Executive Director

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

New Exhibit in the Newly Restored 
No. 908 "John T. Collinson" Office Railcar
On Saturday, June 11 the B&O Railroad Museum unveiled the newly restored No. 908 "John T. Collinson" Office Railcar. To honor this occasion, John Collinson's daughter, Nancy Collinson McGinty and Hays T. Watkins, close friend of Collinson and former Chessie System and CSX Chairman and Chairman Emeritus of the B&O Railroad Museum cut the ceremonial ribbon.
Left to Right: Hays T. Watkins, Nancy Collinson McGinty & Dave Shackelford   

McGinty Family
Watkins Family
This new exhibit, that honors two great railroaders, John Collinson and Olive Dennis, will now be open for "white glove tours". It features information, artifacts, and video relating to the history of the office car and the contributions of John Collinson to railroading. Components also focus on the contributions, Olive Dennis, the B&O's first female civil engineer, made to passenger car service.
John Collinson
Olive Dennis
John Theodore Collinson was a fourth-generation railroader who rose through the ranks to head several of the most significant railroads in America. During his career he would lead the B&O Railroad, C&O Railway, the Chessie System and Seaboard System. He would oversee the merger of the Chessie and Seaboard Systems into CSX and retire as vice chairman of CSX Corporation in 1987 after a 41-year career that began with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Olive Wetzel Dennis was a pioneering woman, the B&O's first female civil engineer, and one of the most significant women in railroading history. She was an exceptional engineer and contributed greatly to improving the comfort of passenger travel during her career with the B&O. She is also known for designing the B&O's famous Centenary pattern china in 1926.

The No. 908 is a true railroading gem that was built in 1917 as an all-wooden office car for the Chicago & Alton Railroad and numbered No. 503. As built, the car had four staterooms, a dining area next to the observation area, and kitchen at the far end of the car. In 1926, the No. 503 was rebuilt with the addition of a steel under-frame and riveted steel body. Five years later, the Chicago & Alton Railroad became a subsidiary of the Baltimore & Ohio and No. 503 was renumbered as No. 922 to most-likely fit with the then current numbering scheme for B&O office cars. The B&O acquired outright ownership of the car in 1945, and it received a make-over at the Mt. Clare shops. An air conditioning unit and new roller-bearing trucks were added, it was modified from four to three staterooms, and the car was renumbered as the No. 908. It was assigned to the Chief Engineer maintenance of way. It was sold in 1967 and had private owners and was eventually donated to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in 1990. 

In 1992, the No. 908 was named after John T. Collinson. Mr. Collinson had been assigned the car for his use in the 1960s. He was a strong supporter of the B&O Railroad Museum and served on its board of directors. The No. 908 is dedicated in his memory. 

The restoration of the "John T. Collinson" was made possible by the generosity of Nancy McGinty, Hays T. Watkins, and The Roz and Marvin H Weiner Family Foundation. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

“York” Reception

 A reception was recently held to celebrate B&O Railroad Museum’s acquisition of the 1831 Locomotive “York”.  In attendance were some of the Museum’s most generous supporters along with elected officials from Baltimore and York, PA, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore and Mayor C. Kim Bracey of York.  Guests also included members of the Historical and Heritage Societies of both cities.
In 1831 the B&O Railroad planned a locomotive competition.  The winning locomotive was the “York,” named for York, Pennsylvania where the locomotive was constructed by Phineas Davis (1795-1835), a watch-maker and early steam advocate, with the help of his partner Morris J. Garner.  The “York” represented an important technological step in railroad motive power development that would define how steam engines were built well into the 1950’s.
The “York” was purchased at auction from the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry with a grant from the France-Merrick Foundation.  This acquisition is significant because it completes the Museum’s collection of the three working replicas of early B&O locomotives built by the B&O’s own Mount Clare Shops in Baltimore for “The Fair of the Iron Horse” held in Halethorpe, Maryland in 1927. 

Pictured (l to r): Courtney B. Wilson, Executive Director of the B&O Railroad Museum, Francis X. Smyth, Chairman, B&O Railroad Museum Board of Directors, The Honorable C. Kim Bracey, Mayor of York, PA, The Honorable Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor of Baltimore, and Chris Reilly, York County Commissioner.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

B&O Railroad Museum 2016 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

The B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland invites applications for its 2016 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program.
The SURF will commence on or about June 15, 2015 and culminate with the submission of a paper no later than December 15, 2015. The Hays T. Watkins Research Library and Archive at the Museum will be made available for your use but Fellows will be expected to use other local, regional and national repositories as well.
The stipend for these Fellowships is $2000.00. One quarter of the stipend will be paid upon selection; the second quarter payment will be made on or around September 1, 2016 with the remainder of the stipend awarded upon submission of the research paper.
The research paper should reflect the result of successful original primary and secondary source research conducted by the Fellow and be no less than 5,000 words. The Fellow will grant non-exclusive unlimited use of the research paper to the B&O Railroad Museum, Inc. including permission to publish the paper on the Museum's blog.
Designed to promote scholarship among college and university students in the United States the following categories of research are available.

The Charles and Mary Kay Nabit Fellowship in Early American Railroad History. Spans the period of 1750-1840 in American History.
The Samuel L. Waldschmidt Fellowship in American Railroad Labor Studies. Spans the period of 1840 to present in American History.
Who may apply? Any sophomore, junior or senior in an accredited undergraduate college or university in the United States.
How to apply? Please submit your cirriculum vitae, two letters of recommendation (from individuals familiar with your research and writing) and the Fellowship category for which you are applying. In addition submit a two to four page proposal describing your research project including your planned topic with a list of proposed repositories, other than The Hays T. Watkins Research Library and Archive at the B&O Railroad Museum where research will be conducted.
Your proposal shall be created using Times New Roman 12 point font and have 1" margins.
Mail applications to:
B&O Railroad Museum
SURF Review Board
901 West Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21223
Email applications will be accepted if, and only if, the submission is presented as a PDF (*.pdf). Email applications to
Deadline: Applications must be postmarked by May 1, 2016. Awards will be announced on May 25, 2015.

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.