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Mountain Retreat: 1905

Mountain Retreat: 1905

Washington County, Maryland, circa 1905. "Buena Vista Springs station at Pen-Mar." A Blue Ridge mountain resort, developed by the Western Maryland Railway, that took its name from the two neighboring states. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Hand brake

All railroad cars, even the newest, have hand brakes.

These are required to apply or release the brakes on a car or string of cars, not connected to the engine or other source of air.

Backups are Standard

Hand brakes are still installed on railroad cars. It is not because of not placing full faith in the air brakes. When disconnected from an air source, the air will eventually (hours to days) leak away, rendering the air brakes useless.

Each car has an air reservoir (actually, two reservoirs), which is filled from the train air line (the smaller hose in the picture). As long as the pressure in the train line is maintained, the brakes will not apply. When the train line pressure is reduced, a (fairly complex) valve will allow air from the reservoir to enter the brake cylinder, applying the brakes. Up to a point, the amount of air admitted to the brake cylinder is in proportion to the pressure reduction. If the pressure reduction is large (to zero, for example) or quick (due to a broken hose, for example), all of the air from both reservoirs is admitted to the brake cylinder, resulting in an emergency brake application.

But, the air can leak away, so if a car is to be left standing, its hand brake needs to be applied.

Handbrake on Passenger Car.

Handbrakes are still used as 'parking brakes' and occasionally to add drag to remove slack on freight cars when switching.

Backup braking

The passenger car has both a hand operated brake wheel and an air brake hose.

Either it's an older car that was refitted with air brakes after going into service, or railroad management was not quite ready to place full faith in Mr. Westinghouse's new-fangled system.

And the House on the Left....

is still there.

Station is long gone, but. --

the flat roof building in the rear is still there and is now the American Legion hall. It is somewhat expanded but retains the roof line and the shed extension in the rear. The station would have been to the left of the crossing sraight ahead.

Mail catcher at rest

The white device to the left of the train is what is known as a mail crane. The postal worker would climb the steps and mount a bag vertically so the hook arm on a Railway Post Office car (or portion of car) could capture the bag as a train passed without stopping.

In front of the mail crane is a "harp" style switch stand. These were associated with the "stub" style turnout that preceded the tapered movable points we know today. The stub switch had the main track rails move to align with whichever route as chosen.


The is another interesting detail clearly visible in this remarkable photo. The year 1905 was within a transition period of several years where railroads handled a mixture of passenger and freight cars that were slowly and gradually becoming equipped with the much safer Janney or modern knuckle type couplers. These replaced the old fashioned and very dangerous link & pin type coupling method that was responsible for so many railroad trainmens loss of hands and/or fingers. Clearly visible in this photo is a small horizontal slot in the closed knuckle at the end of this passenger car. When necessary, any railroad car that still retained the old link & pin equipment could be coupled to this passenger car by the old system of the trainman guiding the link into that slot, and dropping the pin down through the hollow knuckle and through the link. It took quite a few years before all of the old link & pin equipment was gone and the new Janney coupler knuckles no longer had to be provided with the slot and the vertical hole and old fashioned pin.

Lots of RR Details

On the left side of the train is an early signal with a black "target" with a lighter-colored center, probably white. The arm pivots up or down to indicate "proceed" or "stop". The up position is usually the "proceed" aspect - derived from the previous "ball signals"

In front of that is a "harp" style switch stand for moving a track switch. (Note that there are two tracks up ahead of the train, which is standing on a single track.) The target on the harp switch lever is round with a cross on it.

Beyond the signal is an edge view of a road crossing warning sign. In those days, the crossbuck style was not yet universal.

At the rear of the train, there are two hose couplings, one for the air brake and one for steam heat. (The ventilators passing through the roofs of the coaches are for the lavatories.)

The peak of a smaller building is visible to the right of the train. This might be a signal cabin.

The depot itself has absolutely delicious architectural detail in a "shingle style". Note the eyebrow window in the roof, the octagonal tower, and the corbelled chimney.

The bay window muntins are certainly very ornate; a pattern of small squares surrounds the larger panes.

The depth of field of these large-plate cameras never ceases to amaze, does it?

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