The Baltimore & Ohio had reached Cumberland by November of 1842. However, it remained stuck there for eight years before progress continued westward toward the Ohio River. With new president Thomas Swann taking the helm on October 11, 1848 the railroad's march further westward began. In 1849 the railroad began taking construction bids to build the line and by 1850 work had started. By December of 1852 the B&O had reached then Wheeling, Virginia on the banks of the Ohio River. However, to get there required 11 tunnels and more than 100 bridges (remember that this was the B&O's original main line to the river, not its secondary and preferred route between Grafton and Parkersburg).
From Piedmont, Maryland to Grafton, Virginia alone had required the
B&O to cross four major mountains including (from east to west)
Seventeen-Mile Grade between Piedmont and Altamont; Cranberry Grade
between Terra Alta and Rowlesburg; Cheat River Grade between Rowlesburg
and Tunnelton; and finally Newburg Grade between Tunnelton and Grafton. The grade was the railroad's second crossing over
the Allegheny Mountains and featured a ruling grade of 2.84%.
Specifically the B&O crossed Backbone Mountain, whose summit was
located at the eastern end of the grade near Terra Alta. The line began
to steepen significantly east of McMillan and features the 180-degree
Graveyard Curve, the B&O's version of Horseshoe Curve.
From Terra Alta at milepost 335.8 Cranberry continues westward until milepost 348.1 at Rowlesburg. However, for the B&O making the eastward climb over the grade begins east of M&K Junction at milepost 347.4 where the railroad had a small maintenance shop and engine facilities. This location was often photographed by railfans due to its easy access. The junction gained its name because of the Morgantown & Kingwood Railroad, which once connected with the B&O.
The M&K opened in 1907 hauling predominantly coal between Rowlesburg and Morgantown, interchanging this traffic with the B&O at both locations. By 1920 the B&O had gained full control of the line and it remained a through route until 1987 when sections of it were abandoned. Today, virtually the entire line, known as the Kingwood Subdivision by CSX, has been abandoned. Along with interlocking towers at M&K Junction and Terra Alta, during the steam era the grade featured a third located at Rodemer. This was due to the installation of the third track by the B&O between Rodemer and Terra Alta after 1910. With dieselization occurring in the 1940s the railroad was able to remove the Rodemer interlocking in the 1950s.
Operations over Cranberry Grade were a sight to behold,
especially if you were lucky enough to witness the action during the
steam era with double-headed 2-8-8-4 Class
EM-1s pounding up the grade and pushers shoving just as hard on the
rear. The sound was deafening and unforgettable. During the diesel era
the Baltimore & Ohio had just as much trouble moving a train over
the 12-mile grade requiring numerous locomotives, usually cut in to the
train at various stages. Moving into the present-day CSX era not much
has changed as the Class I is still forced to use up to eight
locomotives to get a heavy freight over the grade.
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Baltimore & Ohio