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Ghost Coach: 1930

Washington, D.C., or vicinity circa 1915-1930. One of three H&E glass negatives labeled "Car exterior. Washington & Old Dominion R.R." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size. The others are here and here.

Washington, D.C., or vicinity circa 1915-1930. One of three H&E glass negatives labeled "Car exterior. Washington & Old Dominion R.R." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size. The others are here and here.


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The car

Here is a link that refers to this car.

A combine, but not for mail

These three pictures show a rail car that once ruled the main line but now has been modified for a lowly afterlife on a forgotten branchline. The car has a 20-foot compartment for freight and express at one end. The pigeonhole box near the roof line being for small packages and company mail moving from station to station. If it were a US Mail compartment, there would have been the mandatory fixtures for bags, pouches, sorting tables and sorting racks - plus there would have been a letter drop slot on the side of the car. The rear section offers walk-over coach seats.

We can see this was a mainline car account of the six wheeled trucks, walkway buffers and the three hoses next to the coupler. One hose was for airbrakes, one was a communication line to signal to the engineer by the train crew, and one was for steam heat. The pilot (or cowcatcher to some) on the far end of the car implies some type of push-pull service.

If this the W&OD, I believe they had some self-powered "doodlebug" cars and this car could have served as a trailer being pulled along by the power car, until it was time to return and the train was shoved back towards its origin. A procedure quite effective to give the engineer a cramped neck, and the flagman the worry of being on the cutting edge of any grade crossing incident with a car or truck. The flagman usually manned a little peanut whistle powered by the air line that he would signal with as the train approached crossings and stations.

#4928 Pennsylvania Combination car

My opinions are just that--pity the photographer isn't alive to comment. That said:

I disagree with the car going to scrap. The gas light globes are still inside the interior. If it is to be scrapped all the parts to keep for repairing/building other cars would be removed first.

In the American Civil War, cars from other railroads were often borrowed to move troops. This inter-rail cooperation worked well-- There are several military grounds near the W&OD RR. Fort Myer, Va. and Camp Auger, near Merrifield, Virginia - off the Dunn Loring RR stop on the W&OD line. Livestock pens were near the one W&OD RR's freight station for the Cavalry horses and or livestock being shipped to and from the more western towns, e.g. Herndon, etc.

Military grounds near railroad lines would be Camp A. A.Humphreys aka Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Quantico, Virginia which are off the Alexandria Railyard heading south on the Southern, Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac line. On the Mt. Vernon line, it could have gone by Fort Marcy.

It could have easily been sold to Virginia Central Rwy or the Fruit Grower's Express Rwy, for the use of the company's executives or for an occasional run for passengers; e.g. executive use, party, etc.

It may be entirely possible that this car never went past the railroad bridge into Virginia. It could have easily been sold to a short line (East Washington, Rwy)and or sitting in the more rural sections of Washington, DC around Ivy City--a connecting yard to Union Station.

If memory serves me correctly, Penn RR did invest in the W&OD briefly. This may be of that brief period.

One thing I can say for sure

the number designations on the car are most definitely

That font is unmistakable.

Thoughts on the Mystery Coach

Checking Herb Harwood Jr.'s "Rails to the Blue Ridge: The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, 1847-1968" I find no reference to any ex-Pennsylvania railroad coaches in the company's roster. That being said, I have a couple of ideas.

As far as the location of the photograph, the coach appears to be sitting on one leg of a wye, used for turning locomotives or whole trains (given the length of the stub track, just locomotives in this case). According to Hardwood's track map, and assuming this is the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, that leaves four possible locations for this photograph: Bluemont Junction, Herndon, Leesburg, or Bluemont. Given the topography in the background, and having bicycled the W&OD quite a lot, I would suggest the likely location of this to be Bluemont Junction.

I have come up with one possible explanation for why this coach never appeared on the company rosters. It is possible that this coach was purchased by the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, but never operated over the line, and simply sat disused in its location pictured. The three-axle trucks indicate to me that the coach is possibly quite heavy, perhaps too heavy to operate on the W&OD's light rails. It certainly would not have been the only instance of a railroad purchasing equipment too heavy for its rails. (In my home province of Ontario, one of the two locomotives of the Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway was found to be too heavy and remained stored during its 11-year career on the railroad).

One other possibility that has come to mind is that this is not the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad at all, but rather the Rosslyn Connecting Railroad which branched off the current rail line as it reached the Virginia side of the Potomac, and headed north to Rosslyn. This railroad was a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which would explain the coach. If the photograph was simply labeled (Washington DC area), it is possible that the railroad was misidentified. This, however, is complete conjecture, as I am not even sure whether passenger service was ever operated (or intended to be operated but wasn't) over the Rosslyn Connecting Railroad.

[The photos are labeled as indicated in the caption. - Dave]


This car seems to have a tube pilot on the far truck, which might indicate it was used behind an interurban or box motor in push/pull service.

Further Research

I've come across a classification guide which indicates that class O cars are wooden combines. Class PB steel combines in the same guide are only about 10 feet longer, but weigh 50 percent more (120,000 vs. 80,000 pounds).

Checking in Ames's book on the W&OD, I see absolutely no evidence that this car was ever used on that line. Passenger operations were electric, with the exception of several 1878/1887 coaches purchased from the Manhattan Electric Rwy which were considerably older in design than this car. The only combines on the roster were either electrics or doodlebugs. My guess is that this car was just passing through.

[I think there was probably another reason for taking these photos. - Dave]

The Ghost Car

I agree with the first description of this car's origins. The car was still on the PRR roster on 1-1-1914, but was gone by 3-1-1916. The lettering couldn't have lasted 14 years. My guess is the photos were taken shortly after sale to the W&OD. Moreover, the truss rods under the center of the car indicate that this was a fully wooden car both when it was constructed and when these photos were taken.

And this car is

A 1908 PRR roster shows this as a Class OK combine (baggage/coach) built in 1900 and owned by the PB&W (the subsidiary of the Pennsy that owned the tracks on the line from Philly to DC). These cars were rebuilt with full vestibules at some point, because there is a diagram for that configuration; obviously this one escaped. Apparently these cars always had steam heat. There were three different subclasses depending on the size of the baggage compartment; this is the smallest, with the 20-foot compartment.

The six-wheel trucks show that this is a "heavyweight" steel car. The interior appears to have walkover seats so the car doesn't have to be turned. Platforms (and later vestibules) were typical on baggage cars to allow train crews to pass through while in motion.

Cue the Ghostly Orchestra

Clang, Clang, Clang went the Scary Trolley!
Ding, Ding, Ding went the Bell of Death!
Zing, Zing, Zing went my heartstrings as we started for Spookington Dell!


Perhaps this was a mail car or a car with space for freight, but there is also obvious passenger seating in it as well. And if it typically traveled just behing a tender, why would it have that "porch" on its freight end?

Pretty but

Old coaches are the same this side of the water; lovely to look at and deadly dangerous if there's a crash. There's breakable, splintering, flammable wood, gas lighting in some cases, paraffin or kerosene in others. In Britain's worst train crash -- at Quintinshill during the first World War -- I believe more died in the fire afterward than in the impact.

Good Engineering

This is obviously an OLD car by 1930, built maybe at the turn of the century, yet look at its excellent construction. 6-wheel bogies with elaborate suspension for a smooth ride, the long chassis still straight as an arrow despite its age, lots of elbow room inside with elegant clerestory windows and lots of ventilators. This was the product of a thriving American transportation industry at the top of its game.

Combination Coach

This old gal carried passengers as well as mail and parcels between cities. One great picture and she was probably on her way to the scrap yard.

All Aboard for Petticoat Junction!

But where's the rest of the Hooterville Cannonball?

Mail Car

That was a mail car, usually the first car behind the tender car.

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