Steam In The Alleghenies: Western Maryland, By Ross Grenard And John Krause

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Steam In The Alleghenies: Western Maryland is written by Ross Grenard and John Krause, originally published by Carstens Publications in 1981. I do not believe the book is in print any longer and I was lucky enough to receive my copy from a late friend. Today, and overall, there are not many books covering the operations of the WM (affectionately known as the "Wild Mary") aside from this title and a few others such as The Western Maryland Railway: Fireballs and Black Diamonds and The Western Maryland Railway: Cumberland to Hagerstown & The New Line (just released in 2010), which is unfortunately given the line's size and territory it covered. In Mr. Grenard's and Krause's book they feature the fabulous photography of Bob Collins and Bill Price just after World War II and just prior to the WM's transition to diesels.

Considering that many of the photos in the book were taken in remote locations and the most of the WM has long since been abandoned if you can find a copy of Steam In The Alleghenies: Western Maryland I would not hesitate to purchase it! One thing that you realize while perusing the photos, which is perhaps either indirectly or not intentioned by the authors, is the immaculate condition of the WM's property all across its system. The company was legendary for this trait, which was also during an era that many lines took pride in the appearance of their property, a far cry from many lines today (at least Class Is). In any event, as someone who grew up just a few hours from the Western Maryland's main line but was not around to witness the line during its heyday years this book is a fascinating glimpse at such.

During the introduction of Steam In The Alleghenies: Western Maryland you learn the time period the book covers (between World War II and the mid-1950s) and learn a bit about the company and what it stood for. For instance, by the 1930s as the book points out the WM, despite its small size, was well known by that time for its ability to move freight, both merchandise and aggregates (like coal) quickly to their intended destination. While the railroad did have still grades in western Maryland and West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle in general because it was engineered at such a late date offered a route that overall was less circuitous than its nearby competitors.

Thanks to the rich coal country it served and Alphabet Route high-speed merchandize it participated in with several other eastern lines (including the Nickel Plate, Wheeling & Lake Erie, Pittsburgh & West Virginia, Reading, Jersey Central, New Haven, and Lehigh & Hudson River) the WM offered a rich diversity of traffic. For railfans and those who were there to witness these machines many will never forget the company's largest fleet of steam locomotives, which was surprising for a line of its size including 2-6-6-2s, 0-6-6-0s, 4-6-6-4s, 2-8-8-2s and even heavy non-articulated 4-8-4s and 2-10-0s. In general, the introduction describes these subjects as well as providing just a very brief general history of the Western Maryland such as its ownership by George Gould during the early 20th century hoping to create his own transcontinental system (an idea that ultimately failed.

The book is not really setup into a chapter format, it is really just sections featuring photography across different regions of the WM system. After the introduction the authors offer views of WM steam around Cumberland as well as a detailed, overhead map of the city's rail operations during their height including both B&O and WM lines. Featured here are small 2-8-0s and 0-8-0s as well as larger 4-8-4s. In the "Cumberland East" section the Cumberland Extension is highlighted, one of the finely engineered sections of the WM's east end. You will scenes of Welton Tunnel and the crossing of the Potomac River between Maryland and West Virginia. Both of these locations have long passed into memory, of course, and are little more than weeds and trails. In reality, little of the Western Maryland's infrastructure remains in place between Baltimore and Elkins, West Virginia which is why, as I mentioned before, the photos featured in Steam In The Alleghenies: Western Maryland are so interesting.

The next section highlights Durbin, a small town in southeastern West Virginia that once connected with the Chesapeake & Ohio's Greenbrier Subdivision (now the Greenbrier Trail). Reached via the Durbin Branch south of Elkins the WM many times offered railfan excursions on this line before the small coaches able to navigate the circuitous line were pulled from service. Next up is the Elkins and Thomas Subdivisions. The former remains in service today as the West Virginia Central while the latter is now but a memory, scrapped after the devastating floods of 1985. Still, you can see some spectacular views of the Thomas Subdivision with heavy 2-8-0 Consolidations lugging heavy freights out of Black Water Canyon over a steep 3% grade.

The book concludes with a look at the Connellsville Subdivision, which was the WM's connection to its western partners as part of the Alphabet Route (notably the P&WV). Many of the Western Maryland's heavy steam locomotives were assigned to this line like 4-6-6-4 Challengers, 2-10-0 Decapods, and others. Perhaps the most famous stretch of this line is located just outside of Cumberland and still in use by the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad today, Helmstetter's Curve. Of course, today, the WMSR's line isn't double-tracked and host to 4-6-6-4s but its still great to see the line preserved and in use. Again, if you are a fan of the WM and its steam locomotives and can find a way to obtain a copy of this small, paperback book I would not hesitate to do so.