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From The Interchange to Emmitsburg
 Memories of the Emmitsburg Railroad

(Originally published in the Frederick Post 1933)

A brief but interesting history of the old Emmitsburg Railroad was published in the October 16, 1933 issue of the Frederick Post. We felt the story would prove interesting to local readers Remember, the year is 1933.

Its rolling stock consisting of one engine, a combination passenger and baggage coach, and a freight car, the Emmitsburg Railroad today stands forth as one of the most colorful and unique short line railroads in America. For nearly three quarters of a century residents of the northern section of Frederick County have fostered the single track system on its daily gyrations between Emmitsburg and Rocky Ridge, a seven mile stretch connecting the midget spur with the Western Maryland at the latter named hamlet.

Founded shortly after the War Between the States, the line foundered after a few years none too successful operation and went into the hands of receivers. In 1897, Vincent Sebold, Emmitsburg attorney and businessman, sensing the need for such a road, formed a syndicate, chiefly of local capital, which purchased the system. The property was developed under Mr. Sebold’s direction and until about 15 years ago was one of the substantial and best short line railroads in the country.

Since shortly after the Civil War, the under size locomotives have taken turns in puffing between terminals ahead of a few rattling cars, caravan that now seem a little better than a symbol of snorting defiance carrying on the ghosts left there from better days. Hunting around the dusty corner of Emmitsburg’s little station, we found genial "Jim" Alvey, manager of the line now for seven years, hiding from a blistering mid—afternoon sun on the platforms only bench. "We don’t intend to quit!" he snapped when sounded on the road’s staying qualities. 

Like so many of the others who have labored in half of the organization since the days when Emmitsburg still echoed with Gettysburg’s gun fire, Mr. Alvey speaks as an honest to steam railroader, having been drawn to the spirit of steel and ties while working for his father, a Baltimore & Ohio veteran. As he spoke, Old Number Six gained momentum down the main line on her afternoon trip to "The Junction," ridiculous puffs from a tall smokestack giving emphasis to the Alvey assurance. But neither the clank of huge driving wheels nor the clipped words of young Jim Alvey could drown out the roar of a speedy transport bus on a nearby highway.

Time was when the Emmitsburg Railroad actually fed life to the community in Tom’s Creek Valley. Born in the day of railroad booms, the tiny line found the six daily round trips between points barely enough to take care of all freight and passengers clamoring for attention. Cars had to be borrowed from the Western Maryland transport cattle, coal, milk, grain, and lumber.

Residents of Frederick County treasured their passes in big leather folders, and rode often. Old timers still tell skeptical youngsters how the Express often pulled six cars or more on the one trip. The road has always been a community pride, operating free from outside rail affiliations. 

In the energetic spirit of its pioneer days, there was little time for recording of person who rode Emmitsburg #8 but the names which trickle down through its history are all names familiar to Post Office patriarchs in the northern half of Frederick County. They can tell you how the good Sisters of Charity at St. Joseph College near Emmitsburg helped watch over the lines beginning. They relate how popular Rev. John McCloskey, then at Mt. St. Mary’s College, gave kind assistance. Most of them claim that James Owen headed the system as its first President Doctor James A. Elder bought the first baggage and passenger cars, the purchases costing eleven hundred and twenty—two hundred dollars respectively.

Of the old-time employees of the railroad proper who have long ago stepped down from the cab and coach in the last Big Terminal, they still tell of Engineer Cornilius Gelwicks. It was he who, during of the many damaging winters known to the project during the early days, had to be taken, with both arms frozen, from the cab of his, snowbound engine after trying in vain to buck the white drifts back toward Emmitsburg from Rocky Ridge. They tell how Dan Gelwicks kept up the steam with a roaring fire while brother Cornelius manned the throttle. 

They describe William Morrison’s fine record as station master and how one of his young hero worshipers insisted he owned the railroad since Western Maryland’s initials on a borrowed coach "proved Bill owns the line." A few of the grownup "boys" tell how they stopped fishing down where the train rattles over Tom’s Creek trestle to water Engineer ‘Dad’ Devine as he rode by with a fast whistle in inevitable reply. On the night runs, those same "boys" squinted out from tiny farmhouse windows to see if Fireman Theodore Burdner kept his promise with an extra bit of coal "to make the sparks fly high."

Perhaps of those still present who can tell with authority of the gala years, a smiling little lady who reigns supreme over a typical Emmitsburg home on West Main Street enjoys the retrospection most. Mrs. J. Bernard Welty was just one of the many kids" on board when the railroad opened operations with a festive free round trip one spring afternoon ever so long ago," but she still laughs over the way "we shouted, sang and rang bells all the way down and all the way up." The town turned out that decorated day and the Emmitsburg Cornet Band apologized to nobody.

Engineer John Highmiller wore a wide grin on a clean face and Fireman Bill Houck pulled hard on the whistle as the well groomed locomotive started off with its train one coach on that inaugural jaunt. Mrs. Welty estimated the number of her juvenile escorts on that trip as "about 25", with a few old folks along to see that we didn’t fall off."

A delegation of girls waved encouragement as the "Special" swayed past Saint Joseph College’s little red brick station. They had already promised a trip or two "all the way down to the Junction and back"; trips made in holiday style under the watchful eye of the Nuns and by courtesy of the system’s fathers. Cheering farm folk lined the fences down along Dry Bridge stop. Wild yells challenged the engine whistle on the dash past Long’s, Motters, Ridgeway, and Appolds. Grinning trainmen of the big brother road at The Junction, stopped oiling their giants as one of railroad’s sauciest newcomers whistled its hilarious way out of the bushes and clanged to a wheezy halt.

If cows failed to stop the train in the summer, the snows had better success in the winter. The system’s track wanders through several deep cuts which, in the cold season, quickly filled with obstinate drifts. High snows often interrupted the schedule for days and it was fairly common for the train to creep down to Rocky Ridge only to find the return trail blocked. 

While returning to Emmitsburg one winter night a Mt. St. Mary’s College basketball team under his wing, "Mike" Thompson, then the Mount varsity coach and now Burgess of Emmitsburg, found rail transportation out of Rocky Ridge frigidly absent. The boys and mentor spent a wild night in the diminutive Junction station while snow plows, rushed onto the spur by the larger system, battered away in search of the single track once more. After, when stranded near Emmitsburg, the train’s crew sent distress calls to the good villagers themselves who responded with a willing corps of shovelers.

It was almost inevitable that, in the road’s less pretentious days, it should become "The Dinky" and by that title it now operates. Then too, with so much of its daily passenger list in prosperous times composed of students from Saint Joseph’s and Mount Saint Mary’s, it was to be expected that collegiate puns would be heaped atop the unique rolling stock’s reputation. 

Indeed much of the line’s past history is interwoven with that of the two Emmitsburg schools. For many years it was the chief means of transportation for the students to and from college, a "Christmas Special" made up of borrowed carrying the bulk of the undergraduate bodies on the first lap homeward at Yuletide. Many new students got his or her first taste of Emmitsburg college life during a wild ride on "The Dinky" in September.

Perhaps the oldest former employee of the railroad now living is Mr. Joseph C. Rosenstael who sits in the lobby of Emmitsburg’s lone hotel and matches the swing of his rocking chair to that effected by the rambling "Dinky" in her glittering epoch. 

Mr. Rosensteel was a station master at Emmitsburg from 1888 to 1893 while his younger brother, John, held a similar post at Motters, a few miles, down the line. With a vivid cane, "Joe" Rosensteel can show you how the imported snow plow used to make a flying dash at high drifts near Dry Bridge "and bounce back like a rubber ball." 

He can relate how the town’s oldest citizen was once coaxed to take his first ride on the rails; a ride he spent staring at the roof of the coach muttering, "She’s movin’, gol darn it, she’s movin’" The Rosensteel laugh rings loudest though when he tells of those "Lemons." 

It was perhaps the most noted shipment ever carried over the line when an Emmitsburg merchant, for reasons still vague, imported two carloads of lemons. The town, unable to absorb the sudden oversupply, nearly went lemon mad and ex-Station master Rosensteel still chuckles at the memory of "all those lemons with nobody around to eat them."

Mr. Rosensteel doesn’t mind giving his age, but you have to try to guess first for his own piece of mind. "if you want to know how old I am, he says, "I have you there. The boys at the station used to say you can look a horse in the month, count his teeth and tell his age. Well, I’m an old rail horse but the plan does not work here." He hasn’t a tooth, but he’s eighty-three nevertheless.

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