Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Adventures in Old Train Stations

So today I was up in Martinsburg tending to some business. As I was driving down Queen Street, I looked to my right down a side street and saw several old cars and what looked like movie set lighting set up on a street that was blocked off with orange and white barricades. So being me, I pulled around the corner, parked, and walked back to see what was going on.
I looked on fr a bit, then walked up to a local cop who appeared to be part of the event (he was actually assigned there for the day) and he told me that some company was making a film on the history of NASCAR and they were using the period buildings here as a set for the part that dealt with NASCAR's early days and it's origins with bootlegging and smuggler drivers. He said that they'd be here today and down in Winchester, Virginia tomorrow.

As I talked to the officer, I noticed, just a couple of blocks away, the top of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad roundhouse, as seen in this overflight pic I took a year or two back.
I asked if they might have it open for tours but he said that the outfit that owns it has no money so it's all fenced off and closed to the public now. He then mentioned that the film crew was using it as a base to store their vehicles and other props. This gave me the idea to go over and see if I couldn't poke around there a bit, so I thanked him and headed off to see it I could get in.

I first walked over to the new train station that stands across the tracks from the roundhouse. While there, sizing the situation up, I noticed a woman who appeared to be with the film crew coming out of the door from the walkway over the tracks. As she went out, I walked in, and I ascended the stairs and crossed over the tracks to the roundhouse grounds nice as you please.

It was here that I encountered my first snag. At the bottom of the stairs there was a guy from the film crew who appeared to be doing the security thing, no doubt to keep casual trespassers like me out. I stepped back a bit to mull this, and a moment later opportunity knocked in the form of the woman that I'd first seen on the other side of the walkway. She was coming back, now carrying a box of something. And being a gentleman, I opened the door for her at the top of the walkway. She thanked me and I followed her back down the stairs, remarking about how hot it was today. She was answering me as we reached security dude, and he apparently assumed that just because she and I were talking to each other, it meant that I had as much business in there as she did. We both passed him and I followed her over towards the roundhouse building, where I bid her a nice day as she went inside. Not knowing what was in there yet, I decided to stay out and get the lay of the place a bit before barging in. Besides, you can really only play the "I'm with that person" game for so long before "that person" figures out what you're doing.
What a wonderful old building. It's one of the last remaining Civil War buildings in the area and it saw a lot of the action then as Confederate General Joe Johnston send Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson up here to disrupt the Union supply lines. Raiding it twice during the war, Jackson's troops destroyed or stole hundreds of freight cars and over forty locomotives, some of which they actually dragged back south on wagons to re-purpose them for the CSA. They also tore up lots of rails and even pulled up the roundhouse turntable in 1861. They came back and burned it in 1862.
The roundhouse and it's repair shops survived the war though, and the B&O continued to use it until 1988. Just imagine the history this pace has seen in the thousands of trains, both steam and diesel, that have been through here. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 started here too, and soon spread across the country. It took federal troops to put that armed rebellion down, and only after a lot of people were injured or killed on both sides.

I saw a couple of people inside the roundhouse at a table by the door, but they barely glanced at me so I walked in and right past them. Nice thing about perimeter security is that everyone relies on it and assumes that if you got past it, you apparently belong inside.

So here's the inside. And yes, it looks much bigger on the inside.
There are a couple of faux locomotives inside. I was disappointed to find out that they weren't real or even good replicas.
The turntable is still there though. This big wheel allows multiple locomotives to come in one door and be shunted onto one of several different sidings for work.
Can't say as I care for the railings, which are not original to the turntable, but I guess that tourists today aren't as careful as the average railroad shop worker was back in the day...or perhaps they're just more litigious.
There is a caboose in there though. It's in horrible shape, but it's real.
Here's a look back at some of the movie people's stuff.
Here's a couple of small work carts. The one in the forefront has some interesting guards around the wheels that the back one lacks. Protective shields to keep feet out from underneath, perhaps?
Here's a door into another part of the building.
This led into a large open hall and it was filled with tables and chairs and a catering company was setting up lunch, probably for the crew. I just said hello, got a glass of iced tea from them, and walked out the back of the room into what looked to be an old foundry area.
I'd noticed by now that everyone in here, me excepted, had ID badges on their shirts or hanging around their necks. This meant I had to be careful.

Next, I went back outside and attempted to check out another large building there, but it was filled with cars from the movie and a large guy with a beard really started giving me the eye. I think that he, at least, was suspicious. He started coming over my way and I thought fast. Pulling out my phone, I stared at it as if it had actually been buzzing me then put it up to my ear as if I was talking on it. No one likes to bother people on phones, right? But he kept coming, still looking askance at me as if he wasn't really sure or not. As he drew within earshot, I remembered what the cop on the set had told me.
"So you're going to be in Winchester tomorrow, right?" I said to the nonexistent person on my phone. That apparently did the trick, and Mr. Large Bearded Guy walked right on past without even looking back at me. Where were these wonderful phone props back when I was young and did this sort of thing regularly? Back then I had to carry a clipboard and try to look official as I trespassed on construction sites and in factories. And the success rate was much lower back then, especially before I realized that, in the 1980's, no one anywhere near as young as me worked in Henry Ford's auto plants around Detroit. (It took a while for me to figure out how they always knew I didn't belong there.)

Some outside shots from back around the other side.
There would have been another roundhouse here, I think. But it's all gone now.
A look into the building where the cars are, this time from the back doors where no one's paying any attention.
Now I'd seen all, and it was time to go. The best operations like this are the ones where they never even knew that you'd been there. So I walked back to the walkway over the tracks, thanked security dude as he opened the door for me, and headed back to where I'd parked.

Then it was .22lr steel plate time for the Ruger 10-22.

All in all, a pretty good day


  1. Hey Murphy;

    Smoooooth...that is all I can say....very Smoooooth. Audacity can carry you far if you play it right and you played it right. Very impressive.

  2. Man, some people have ALL the fun.

    Jesse in DC

    1. Who dares, wins. :-)

    2. Ah yes the S.A.S. motto. For you I'd recommend "Fortune Favors the Bold" somehow it's a bit better fit...

  3. That was fantastic and thanks for the tour of the roundhouse! I fear I cannot do the same.

  4. Do you clank when you walk?


  5. Audentes fortuna juvat!

  6. L'Audace, L'Audace, Toujours L'Audace.

    Nicely done.

  7. Man, boarding ladders, old railroad roundhouses, you have brass ones my friend. Best camouflage? Act like you belong. Nice move with the phone.

    Always the rebel, aintcha?

  8. Thanks for the lovely tour. Good to exercise those special skills occasionally!

  9. beautiful, beautiful building.
    thanks for the history lesson!

  10. Geez, I'm not so sure I'd have been so bold. It would be unpleasant to get arrested away from home. Wouldn't even know a lawyer!

    1. Nah, the worst they can do is tell me to leave and escort me off the property, and it's not like I haven't been thrown out of these places before.

  11. Anonymous4:55 AM

    Thank-you for the pictures

  12. exciting lol, wish i had been along for the ride.

  13. That is a very cool building. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Few security people will stop a man carrying two dozen, premium donuts and rolls, especially at 9:01 AM and when the man is walking in a hurry.

    Just saying for next time.

  15. I have long wondered what will become of some modern railroading installations, such as the Long Island Railroad's Hllside Facility

  16. Back in the day, a clip board and a blue jacket would get me in where ever I needed to go.