JUMP TO PAGE   100  >  200  >  300  >  400  >  500  >  600

Going Nowhere: 1930

Going Nowhere: 1930

"Car interior. Washington & Old Dominion R.R." Our third and final look at Pennsy car 4928 on the tracks of the W. & O.D., whose right-of-way is now plied by commuters taking I-66 into Washington. 8x10 glass negative. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

W&OD Trail

Here's a map showing the trail.

All Aboard...

When I was a child, and the Pennsylvania Railroad had not yet become Penn Central, there were still 1910-1938 era cars in use similar to this one.

Far from being uncomfortable, they had soft mohair seats with very plush and pliable springs, and those seatbacks could be shifted to the front or back of each bench, allowing one to ride facing forward, back, or to create two adjacent seats that faced each other for a cozy group alcove. None I ever rode on had carpet runners like this one. They had linoleum or tile.

The thing you cannot see in the picture is how noisy those very oldest cars were to ride in. The windows, when they were wood, banged, and the tracks were not yet welded into a seamless beam (done for the Metroliner in the 1970's), so at every segment of rail the windows rattled and the train went clack-clack-clack.

The silversides of today are quiet and smooth riding, but they have none of the art deco and pre-WWI charm of these cars. Each train ride was an excursion into art history. You never knew in advance what art era you would be studying.

Doesn't look comfortable

Hard wooden armrests, scratchy fabric, no headrests, and no lumbar support all add up to uncomfortable in my book.

Is Comfy

It IS more comfy than a modern jetliner. I volunteer at a railroad museum where we refurbish and display old RR cars and have sat in many of these. The seats are like your couch at home; there is more than ample room to cross your legs and the passenger next to you can still get up and leave his seat without tripping over your legs. Some of the newer (1920s-30s) ones have pivoting seats that let the whole bench swivel toward the aisle.

Like so many modern things, the "good" has been engineered out of it. We used to get things such as durability and ruggedness for free, but now it's all designed out as unnecessary, as exemplified by the sardine-can seating of modern airliners.

[I'll bet airplane seats are pretty durable. And of course there's a reason airline seats are closer together. The per-mile cost of moving a pound of passenger through the air is much higher than it is on the ground. - Dave]

Next stop, Willoughby!

It looks like the old railroad car in that "Twilight Zone" episode.

Looks Comfy

This car looks about 1000 times more comfortable than the coach seats in a modern jetliner (and the TGV trains in Europe for that matter).


I-66 does not follow the W&OD Railroad. The W&OD's right of way is instead now a trail, from Shirlington to Purcellville. The right-of-way west of Purcellville was sold before the rest of it, so it will likely never extend further west than that.

[I-66 uses two stretches of W&OD right-of-way through Arlington. - Dave]

The W&OD lives, sorta

The Washington & Old Dominion ran from Alexandria out to Purcellville in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today, its right-of-way is a much-used bike path that stretches from the west end of Alexandria west, passing through wooded areas, suburban sprawl, and eventually rural stretches as it gets outside the Washington Beltway. It's a wonderful trail to ride.

Most folks don't realize that one small (maybe a mile or two) of the RR still is in daily use: the stub that goes from the former Potomac Yard (and Conrail/Amtrak mainline) east into Old Town Alexandria, dead-ending as siding at the warehouses on the banks of the river. On a daily basis, two- and even three-engine trains of boxcars and coal hoppers pass by my office window, servicing the coal-fired Mirant power plant and the riverfront warehouses. With Old Town becoming increasingly an upscale tourist destination, it's nice to have reminders that it's still a working port!


While a bit seedy and mussed up, the interior of Old 4928 looks fairly decent. Like an old dowager queen waiting for a rescuer, hoping for salvation. But, alas, it probably never came and we are the worse off for that.

Syndicate content is a vintage photography site featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. Contact us | Privacy policy | Site © 2022 Shorpy Inc.