When you start out watching trains as a kid, most of what occupies your attention is the locomotive—big and noisy and powerful. After that, the rest is just legions of freight cars and (when I was young) a caboose bringing up the rear end. I’ll admit that I gave little thought as to what the trains hauled or where they were from or where they were headed—all I wanted to see were locomotives, especially those of the minority builders. Time and age changed that; I began to step back away from the tracks and look at all that was happening around the railroad. Read more
Across the Potomac river from Paw Paw, West Virginia, a landmark canal tunnel stands which is also associated with the early years of railroading. The largest structure on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the 3,118 foot long Paw Paw Tunnel was built at the height of the race between the C&O canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to reach the Ohio River. Construction of the tunnel began in 1836, but labor disputes, unexpected construction difficulties and lack of funds delayed completion until 1848. The C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad were both born on July 4th, 1828. In Georgetown (Washington, DC) the C&O Canal held an elaborate ceremony with President John Quincy Adams in attendance. In Baltimore the groundbreaking for the B&O railroad was more modest. Charles Carroll, the last remaining signer of the Declaration of Independence dug the first shovel-full of dirt to begin the construction of the railway. As the two companies made their way westward disputes over property were inevitable. At Point of Rocks, Maryland, competing claims to the narrow right of way resulted in a four year delay in construction until the courts ruled in the canal's favor. In the end, of course, the railroad won out. The Baltimore and Ohio reached Cumberland, Maryland in 1842, eight years ahead of the canal. After a disastrous flood in 1889 bankrupted the C&O, the canal came under the control of the Consolidation Coal Company, which was principally owned by the B&O. The canal closed in 1924.
The Center for Railroad Photography & Art recently published The Railroad and the Art of Place, by David Kahler, who is a contributor to The Trackside Photographer. It is an evocative look at how railroads shape the visual and cultural landscape. We will have an in-depth article about the book in March. In the meantime you may learn more and order here.