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William F. Hays'

At the End of the Emmitsburg Road

Part 4 of 7

The Emmitsburg Railroad

The Emmitsburg Railroad was not very long in mileage, but it was big in size to a young boy growing up in the town in the years from 1910 to 1920. It ran for about 5 miles to Rocky Ridge, where it made connection with the Western Maryland Railroad line which ran from Baltimore to Blue Ridge Summit, Penna. and beyond, with a scheduled stop at Motter’s Station. There were other stops, some by necessity and others for the convenience of passengers. There was a train about 8 A. M. and another about 4 P. M.

Motter’s Station was not exactly a metropolis. In fact, if you stopped there and looked around, you would see a general store, three or four houses, and a milk receiving station. Rocky Ridge was somewhat larger, with perhaps forty or more houses.

I suppose my first awareness of the Railroad's existence was hearing the sound of the engine whistle, which was blown before each departure, giving warning that prospective passengers had better hurry.

On most runs, the train consisted of the engine and a combination baggage and passenger car. Sometimes a freight, cattle or coal car would be added, the addition of which, more often than not, would be a little too much weight for the engine, resulting a slowdown or even a complete stop along the way. It was sometime when I was at Lafayette College that I went as a delegate to a meeting or conference in Washington, after which I decided to return to college by was of Emmitsburg. So I took the Western Maryland to Rocky Ridge and there I boarded the train for Emmitsburg. 

Now along with me as passengers were some well dressed, professional looking men, who were on their way to St. Joseph’s College. All went well for a short distance, then a stop of ten minutes or more, followed by a number of similar ones. Finally, one of the men spoke to the Conductor, Pius Felix, saying they were concerned about being late for an appointment, and could the Conductor do anything about it." Of course we can," he says. "You see, we have this carload of sand which is pretty heavy, we'll just cut it loose and come back for it later." And so he did we soon pulled up at what everyone called the depot.

It was a single track system, with a switch about 100 yards from the depot, at which point a freight car could be uncoupled and sent straight ahead, while the engine and baggage car, after the switch was thrown, would take the spur to the right. This worked fine, except that someone had to man the brakes on the freight car else it would topple into a ditch at the end of the line, the freight car having broken through a wooden barrier. I recall seeing this unhappy result several times.

As mentioned, the Conductor was Pius Felix, who also doubled as Baggage Master. The engineer was Neil Gelwicks. When the time arrived for departure, Pius put on his official Conductor's hat and coat, and stood no farther from Neil than about ten or twelve feet. Neil meanwhile leaning out from his perch in the cab of the engine. "All right Neil" shouted by Pius, is followed by "All aboard" and off they go, headed for Rocky Ridge, by way of Motter’s Station.

In reciting these incidents, I would not for a moment want to give a wrong impression. The Railroad, though only five miles long, served its purpose. It brought freight and coal and Ford cars and fertilizer, watermelons and newspapers from Baltimore. It brought students and faculty to the two colleges in Emmitsburg, Mt. St. Mary's and Mt. St. Joseph's, and it brought students to the local High Schools. And it made it possible, by making connection with the Western Maryland Railroad, for townspeople to go to Baltimore and to the outside world.

Occasionally it performed a humanitarian act. I recall being at the depot, waiting for my supply of Baltimore papers to arrive. When the baggage car came to a stop and the door was opened the floor of the car was even with the platform on which I was standing. My papers were there, of course, but there was also someone who, not yet sobered off, had been picked up along the tracks. Known to Pius he had been hoisted aboard and brought along to town, without charge.

(Click here to read Joe Ritz's analysis of the decline and fall of the Emmitsburg railroad)


In the Emmitsburg of 1915-1920, there were no commercial entertainments other than bowling alleys and pool rooms, and these were not felt to be proper for youngsters, and certainly not for the Hays boys. But no matter. I could make a nickel by setting up the bowling pins. I well remember that Papa either learned or suspected that I was "down at that bowling place" so, totally to my embarrassment, he marched in, told me to stop, and home I went.

But to return to entertainments. Movies were new and exciting and wonderful, and every Friday night everyone was able to see Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford or William S. Hart at the local Catholic Community Hall. Admission was free, although as you left the hall, you were expected to put a coin in a basket. For several days before each showing, a notice would be displayed in the Post Office, giving the title of the movie and the name of the star. All of this created a weekly crisis for me and the other Hays kids. How could I get there, have a nickel or a dime for the basket, and escape a scolding or even punishment from Papa. 

Here is how it worked. Mother provided the cash and that was the first necessity. Then, just as soon as the movie ended, we would run for home as though a bull were chasing us. The distance was perhaps 500 yards. When we reached the front door, Mother rushed us upstairs to bed, where we were soon blissfully dreaming of that railroad engine bearing down on the beautiful girl, tied to the tracks by that dastardly villain. So much for the Friday night movies.

Once in a while the town really came alive with the arrival of the Redpath Chautauqua. Here was every variety of Culture, all at one time. For weeks preceding the big event, an advance agent had aroused great interest, with pictures of the famous performers and artists. There were Mexican dancers in native costumes, contraltos who had sung before all the crowned heads in Europe, tragedians who gave us Hamlet's Soliloquy and of course, a child prodigy at the piano. All of this was to be seen and heard, right here in our own little Emmitsburg in big tents down at Fireman's Field. It was wonderful! I can see even now, the big banner stretched across Main Street, announcing the famous Redpath Chatauqua.

We never had a circus performance in town, at least to my knowledge. There was a building called the Opera House, on Frederick Street, near the school. But no opera. Once in a while some performer would appear, such as a certain magician, who still owes me a reward or an apology. He had asked for some boy to come to the stage. When I volunteered, he said I should hold some eggs that he would produce from his silk hat, adding that I would receive a reward if I didn't drop any. Well of course he made sure I would drop one or more, much to the delight of the audience and much to my despair. Then he made the announcement that in spite of my failure, 'L was to have a free ticket to his next show the following night. The trouble was that he left town the next morning.

There is one more story about these strolling performers. One day this fellow arrived with a big announcement that at a certain hour he would climb the full height of the Annan Horner Bank, from the street to the roof. He called himself "The Human Fly" and so aroused a lot of interest. I saw him do this stunt and thought that if he could do it, I would see what I could do on the Presbyterian Church steeple. It was a hot and sultry day when I made my climb, unannounced and unseen, except by one of the Shuff boys. In the belfry were four windows. My idea was to start at one of them and go on higher, but when we got outside, I found nothing above me to which I might cling. I think it was Clay Shuff who saw this great exhibition taking place, so he ran to call Papa, who calmly told me what to do. Thus my big opportunity to become a second Human Fly came to an inglorious end.

An account of local entertainment would not be complete without mention of Pen-Mar, a resort near Blue Ridge Summit and owned and operated by the Western Maryland Railroad. Excursions were run for all sorts of groups, among which was one called Presbyterian Day. What a brilliant idea this was, to give it a religious flavor. Papa, of course, fully approved, and even arranged for the family, Mother and the six of us, to go in a two horse surrey. It was about 10 miles each way, and slow going, for it was at the top of the mountain. At the park were various amusements, a Merry-go-Round, a miniature train, roller coaster and all our Presbyterian relatives from miles around. Mother had brought baskets of fried chicken, rolls cakes and fruit, and on top of all this, we had some money with which we could buy candy and ice cream. In the afternoon the older folks attended a church service, while in the evening there was dancing, by which time we were well down the mountain and back to reality. Having eaten too much, we young ones paid the price, we were sick. No matter, we had been to PEN-MAR!


We had a telephone, although not in the house. It was in the shop. At the Exchange, the operator was Miss Nellie Felix, who lived some nine or ten houses down the street. Her switchboard was in the front room of her home, with her chair near the window, so as to be able to report whether or not a particular person was in town. Papa never really came to terms with the phone. He didn't ask for a certain number; he simply asked "Miss Nellie" to get him the freight office, or the College or what have you. I recall one man from out of town, I think his name was Dick Stull, who would come to the shop and, while there, would use our phone. But instead of trusting it to do its work, he thought he should shout loud enough to be heard without it. Apparently the person on the other end was so stunned by the shouting, that his attempt to answer never got through to Dick, and this resulted in him turning up the volume and ultimately to curse the damned thing 'to Hell and back'.'. It was a splendid performance.

Then there was Miss Georgia Moore, who lived near the college. Miss Georgia had all sorts of problems, mostly minor household ones and not necessarily limited to plumbing, but each of which led her to call the shop. If Papa answered, which he avoided if possible, dear Miss Georgia would tell him of some terrifying thing that had happened and would he come right away. Once she said that a strange man had just walked past her door, and what should she do and "please Mr. Hays, you must come right away, etc, etc, etc. "At this point, Papa would, if he could spot one of us, hand the telephone over saying it was Miss Georgia and to just keep listening. Much the same thing happened when he would stop at her house, perhaps to fix the "ram" that brought water from a spring to her house. Out Miss Georgia came and the show began, as she talked on and on about a noise she heard during the night and the mailman hadn't come, and on it went. Whenever I meet anyone who talks at length about nothing at all, I think of our dear friend, Miss Georgia, out by the college. I must add that in spite of the talk, Papa took good care of whatever was in need of repair.

Pattersons' Horse Sale

One of the big events of the year was the annual horse sale held in the Spring by Patterson Brothers, only about a hundred yards from our house. But no matter how close by it was, we kids had a problem, as the sale was always scheduled on a school day, and this was especially hard for Sam, who loved horses. What to do '' couldn't go to school and the sale at the same time. Sam couldn't resist the call, so he played hooky and paid the price when Papa learned of it.

We would know that the sale was coming, for large signs would appear, advertising the event, complete with pictures of these big beautiful animals. Then, too, we lived near enough to see the arrival of the horses to be sold. Patterson Brothers were cattle and live stock dealers, who also ran a dairy and butcher shop, in addition to operating a large farm. Their practice, in preparation for the sale, was to go to Virginia, or other nearby States, and buy thirty or forty horses, to be brought to their stables, in Emmitsburg, a few days before the sale. There they would be combed and brushed, their tails to be plaited by a fellow named Jockey Mentzer. I can recall seeing him, sitting on a stool, working away on the tails. If my memory is correct, this was his only employment during the year. When all the grooming had been done, each horse was given a number that was placed on his flank. To add some color, tails were tied with a bright red ribbon. I must mention that the talk in the barn was rather heady, which of course added to the allurement.

On the day of the sale, farmers and dealers came from miles around. There were two auctioneers, one named Winton Crouse, but the name of the other escapes me. Each of them had his own lingo, with the talk being fast and loud and somewhat earthy. As soon as school let out at noon, for the lunch hour we ran at full speed so as to see and hear as much of the show as possible. This was repeated as soon as school closed for the day.

The sale took place on a side street, filled with potential buyers. A horse would be ridden out from the stable, usually by a black friend of ours, Albert Abey, and put on view in front of the auctioneer's block. One of the Pattersons, Meade by name, would be standing by, in a real fancy suit, and holding a long whip. "Meade, what can you tell us about this mare? says Winton. "She's sound as a dollar and works anywhere hitched; watch her step "4 and with this flattering introduction, he would crack the big whip, the mare would jump, the crowd would move back, and Winton was ready for bids. This would go on until lunch time, when most of the audience adjourned to one or another of the five saloons in town. Normally the sale lasted two days. I believe that a good pair of horses would sell for five or six hundred dollars.

I forgot to mention that on the morning of the sale, and before the auction began, there would be a parade of the horses through the town. On the morning after, there was the chance for a boy to earn as much as a quarter, by riding a horse to the railroad station, for shipment to the purchaser. You can bet that Sam was there. This annual sale was, of course, an important event in a farming community, for a good team was, a necessity. You came to know who were the successful farmers by seeing who bought the best horses.

Fourth of July

By all odds, the Fourth was, next to Christmas the best and biggest day of the year. For one thing, it was one of the few days, other than Sunday, that Papa observed as a holiday, the others being Christmas and New Years. What made the Fourth so exciting was the Fireman's picnic and celebration, held on the baseball field near the center of town. Every housewife was expected to contribute food of some kind, and early in the morning a truck was driven through the streets, with kids running from house to house, collecting whatever goodies were being contributed. I remember that Leonard Zimmerman drove his father's open truck, on one occasion. The food was taken to the field and put on tables to be sold. Activities really began with a parade, made up of the town Band, Civil War veterans, the local

Fire Company members, wearing white trousers and straw hats, the local Boy Scout troop and a few floats. By modern standards it was not very impressive, but it seemed great to us.1 forgot to mention that there were men on horseback, as well as a visiting Band. There was one in particular that I recall, The Double Pipe Creek Cornet Band; quite a mouthful. This parade was one of the only two held during the year, the other being a part of the Memorial Day, called Decoration Day, celebration.

Down at the baseball field, meals were served at a small charge, but we Hays boys had other uses for the little money allotted to us. Sometimes there would be a balloon ascension, or perhaps a greased pig chase, and, on one Fourth, there was an exhibition boxing match, the first I had ever seen.

In the afternoon was the main event, a baseball game between the Emmitsburg team and some neighboring rival, usually Thurmont. No matter who was the opponent, feelings ran high. A big problem was to find an impartial umpire who knew some, at least, of the rules. Actually it made little or no difference whether his calls were in accord with the rules. The losers always blamed him. We did, however, have a very capable official in the town, a man by the name of Mike Thompson, who usually was in demand elsewhere for some big game. I recall that shortly after I came to Harvard Law, Mike came to Cambridge to handle a football game between (I think I am right) Dartmouth and Stanford. For some reason it was being played in the Harvard Stadium. Of course I was proud to see someone I knew from Emmitsburg, in such an important role.

As I have said, there were fireworks of all kinds, for in those days, they could be bought in any size, with no restrictions. 'For us, it was no trouble to make our own, what with having carbide and water and an empty can. It’s a wonder we were not decapitated.

All in all, it was a great day. Here were working men, whom we thought of as sober and quiet individuals, marching in uniforms, playing games, spending money recklessly and having fun. Flags were flying, the band was playing, mothers were looking for little ones who were lost, a few celebrators had made one too many trips to the nearby saloon and best of all, we might be beating Thurmont in baseball.

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