A visit to the B & O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

Brad and myself had occassion to be in Baltimore, Maryland last week. Baltimore, also know as "Charm City", is just up Interstate 95, barely an hours drive from Washington, DC. 

The city is also home to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, probably one of the best museums dedicated to showcasing the history and importance of railroads in the development of the United States. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) was the first common carrier in the United States, having been chartered in 1827. The plan was to built a railroad from the Port of Baltimore on the East Coast, to the Ohio River. There freight could be transferred to river boats, plying the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi rivers. It took until 1856 for the railroad to actually reach the Ohio River at Parkersburg, West Virginia. 

The museum is located on the site of the former Mount Clare Shops of the B&O, started up in 1829. It is a US National Historic Landmark. In February 2003 a record setting snow storm hit the East Coast, dumping close to 30 inches of snow within hours. The roundhouse roof collapsed under the weight of the snow, damaging some priceless artifacts. The museum was able to reopen in November 2004.

Entrance to the B&O RR Museum

B&O RR MuseumIn addition to the roundhouse there also is a sizable open air exhibit and the original Mount Clare shop building. 

As is usual with most railroad museums, it is difficult to get good photographs of the exhibits since they are just lined up on track very close to each other. It is virtually impossible to get far enough away from a locomotive to get a decent photo, as shown in this picture:

Part of the open air exhibit, showing difficulty of taking photographs.

The roundhouse itself is more forgiving. For one the locomotives are considerably smaller, and, because of the typical round house "star like" design, there tends to be more space between exhibits. 

Part of the round house interior.

The "new" round house roof

The collection is vast. There are over 250 pieces, spanning the time period of the earliest steam engine from 1830 to a diesel electric GP-40 from the late 1960's. 

Following are some photographic impressions of the museum. I have attempted to show the pictures in order of the age of the exhibit, starting out with the "Tom Thumb" steam engine from 1830.

First steam engine "Tom Thumb", 1830

The epitome of modern travel in 1830.

Just a tad more comfortable in the 1840's. Notice the "double decker" arrangement.

By 1837 locomotives took on a more familiar design. The B&O RR's "Lafayette".

By 1863 the typical US locomotive design had appeared.

In 1869, due to ever increasing power demands, the B&O Railroad came up with a very unique design: the "Camel".

B&O Number 305, a "Camel" design.

Due to it's many short comings the "Camels" did not curry much favor and were relatively quickly removed from service. 

Passenger service also boomed in the 1920's and 30's. The B&O bought some "Pacific" type steam locomotives ( 4-6-2), which were highly successful and well liked by crews. After World War II some of these Pacific steam locomotives were rebuilt into 4-6-4 "Hudson" types to pull some of the railroads crack trains. The museum has Hudson number 490 on display. It is an impressive, stream lined piece of machinery. Unfortunately, again, there is no space in the engine shed to get a full picture of the engine. The B&O railroad was bought by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in 1960, thus the C&O markings on some of the engines.

"Hudson" type steam engine4-6-4 "Hudson" at the B&O Museum

"Hudson" at the B&O Museum (undated photo from WikiCommons)

Coal traffic from the State of West Virginia was one of the traffic main stays of the B&O/C&O Railroad. Again more power was needed to cope with the growing demand. The railroad decided to order a 2-6-6-6 configuration locomotive from Lima Locomotive works, with the first one being delivered in 1941. This configuration became know as the "Allegheny" type and eventually the railroad would own 60 of these monsters. It may come as a surprise to all Union Pacific fans, but the Alleghenies were the most powerful and heaviest steam locomotives ever built, putting out about 7500 hp and weighing around 778000 pounds. Alas, they did not last that long: by 1956 the last of the type was retired and replaced by diesel-electric locomotives.  

Firebox door detail of an "Allegheny" type engine

"Allegheny" type steam engine at the B&O Museum in Baltimore, MD (Steamworks Photo)

Of course diesel-electric locomotives had already made inroads earlier then 1956. The B&O was an early adopter of the new technology. Unlike steam locomotives, diesel-electrics required little maintenance. No need to spend hours getting the boiler going and the steam pressure up before the first run: a push of a button was all it took to get it going! All the expensive infrastructure required for coaling, watering and servicing steam locomotives could be dispensed with. Lots of money could be saved. The bean counters at corporate headquarters would be ecstatic! 

Already in 1949 the B&O ran some of their best passenger trains with diesel-electrics.

"Capitol Limited" 1949, (Photo by Capitol Limited Wiki)

B&O diesel-electric freight GP-40

As passenger trains in the US declined, the design of the diesel-electric locomotives became more and more utilitarian, like the EMD GP-40 in the above photo. Mostly gone was the sleek, aerodynamic design of the F and E units. The GP-40 would prove to be very versatile for the B&O and it's successor railroads. In fact, the B&O had the largest fleet of this specific locomotive. 

Eventually the B&O Railroad, via mergers and buy outs, ended up being part of the CSX Transportation Company system.

CSX modern power: a GE AC60CW diesel-electric with 6000 hp 

The B&O Museum is well worth visiting. I would allow at least 3 or 4 hours to see it. It is a bit difficult to get to via public transportation, so a car would probably be best.


All photos by the author, unless otherwise stated.