HAGERSTOWN, Md. - Hagerstown was nicknamed the "Hub City" during the heyday of coal and steam, a history that one can see in small scale at the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum.
The roundhouse, which once employed 3,000 people working three shifts, fell to the wrecking ball in 1999, said Larry Weedon, a museum volunteer since 1992. The roundhouse can be seen in miniature on the second floor of the museum at 300 S. Burhans Boulevard.
"The roundhouse was built between 1910 and 1914," said Weedon, who displayed an encyclopedic recall of local railroad history. "Its heyday was the '20s and '30s, when 240 trains a day came through Hagerstown," including a dozen passenger trains, he said.
Steam-powered trains were more labour-intensive than the diesel-powered versions that succeeded them, Weedon said. Boilermakers, welders, pipe fitters and dozens of other kinds of craftsmen and workers were needed to service and move locomotives around the facility, he said.
"The big thing through here now is the intermodal traffic," Weedon said of the trains hauling truck trailers and other cargo in containers. Forty trains, many of them hauling intermodal cargo, still pass through the Hub City each day, he said.
Within a few years, intermodal traffic will surpass traditional freight hauling by railroads in terms of revenue and tonnage, Weedon said.
A Western Maryland Railway locomotive and caboose sit outside the museum, but the line itself is "a fallen flag," a line no longer active, Weedon said.
It exists largely as "papers, pictures and models," he said.
"In some ways, we're like a model railroad club, and in other ways, we're a museum," said Bernard Randolph, a volunteer for about nine years.
Members supply much of the rolling stock for the model train layouts.
"I've been in the hobby since I got my first Lionel set back in 1946," Randolph said.
The museum features several model train layouts, including sets children can operate. The model locomotives haul freight and passenger cars through a tiny towns, rail yards and country settings.
"The thing that surprised me most since I got here is how crazy little girls are about model trains," Randolph said.
Sometimes kids don't want their museum visit to end.
"We take at least one kid out of here each day kicking and screaming," said volunteer Bob Tracey.
The museum is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, although it will be closed Oct. 18 to 20 for renovations, Tracey said.
Admission costs $5 for adults, 50 cents for those ages 4 to 12 and is free for those 3 years old and younger.
From Nov. 22 to Feb. 23, the museum will host its 24th annual Trains of Christmas.
For more information about the museum and its events, got to www.roundhouse.org or call 301-739-4665.
Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., http://www.herald-mail.com