Friday, July 18, 2014

Waiting for the train, which will never arrive...

Have you ever noticed how good it feels to crawl back into your own bed, after a week on the road?  Both my wife and I have noticed this phenomenon, and always comment that on excursions like this, the beds (no matter what brand of hotel or motel) are not as comfortable as our own.   And we agree that it makes the homecoming something we look forward to...

Our travels this time took us to the "hollers" of West Virginia, as well as the flatlands of Ohio. And enroute, we drove through Mexico and Berlin.  Didn't need our passports, though - they're not overseas.  The towns are in Maryland and Pennsylvania, respectively!! 

Paw Paw, WV is a place I've heard of for years.  And though I drove through town long ago, I never checked out its history.  It's in Morgan County WV, incorporated in 1891, with a population of 508 in the 2010 census.  And it is the namesake of the nearby Paw Paw tunnel on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.

It was actually named for the fruit "paw paw," not someone's grandfather.   According to Wikipedia, the paw paw is native to the Eastern, Southern, and Midwestern US, and is a patch-forming (clonal) understory tree found in well-drained, deep, fertile bottom-land and hilly upland habitat, with large, simple leaves and large fruits. It is the largest edible fruit indigenous to the United States.

The town also has a place in railroad history. At one time, Paw Paw was on the B&O's main line westward. But a rerouting in the 1920s, known as the Magnolia Cutoff (deriving its name from the sleepy hollow of Magnolia located nearby), which split westbound from the original line at Doe Gully, ended that. The Cutoff (several miles shorter, and with less-severe grades than the original line) was used for freights, while the original line through Paw Paw was reserved for lighter class 1 passenger trains - the Cutoff had no stations at all.  Both lines crossed at Magnolia (at different elevations) and converged again just west of town.  Now all trains, Amtrak and freight, use the Magnolia Cutoff - it's the main line. And NOTHING stops at Paw Paw anymore - because the track is gone!!

A few words about the little town of Magnolia (also in Morgan County): it was a hub of activity during construction of the Cutoff.  Once that project was complete, jobs in the area were scarce.   Later, the flood of 1936 would devastate the area and the demise of passenger service brought the demise of Magnolia as a town. Buildings were left vacant, the railroad dieselized, and abandoned its Water Station Number 12 (renamed Magnolia.)  Today there are few traces that Magnolia existed, let alone was ever a place of such activity. The old main line along the Potomac is now a rutted gravel path. A few private homes remain in this small village, and clearings under the bridge (often used as campsites) are privately owned.

See map of the area from Wikipedia:

Below is a picture of Mandy, standing in front of the B&O Paw Paw depot.  Someone is still using the building as office space, because the window air conditioner visible beside me was working overtime on the humid day...  If there had been a car parked nearby I'd have knocked on the station door, to see if they would let me get a look at the inside of the old station!  But no such luck...and though I could hear trains on the Cutoff, just up the hill, that train I'm waiting for at the depot will never arrive!  Nostalgic, and bittersweet...

Mandy at the depot, waiting for a train that will never arrive...

Below is another view of the depot, including the old track where passengers used to board their trains.  The eastbound right of way can be's the gravel "road" leading off into the distance, on the left side of the brick building on the right edge of the picture.  Track was ripped up many years ago, and the right of way (which can be - slowly - driven to its other end, following the Potomac's goose-necks) serves as access to at least one tunnel on the Cutoff, as well as all the summer cabins and fishing holes along the river.

Years ago, a buddy and I drove the entire low line - at about 5 mph in a regular car, not an SUV - due to poor road conditions.  Yes, the car survived the flogging.  But it was one LOONNNGGG day...  Railroad artifacts along the old right of way (other than this depot) are nil.  They really left nothing for ferroequinologists to see, when the railroad left town. 

"What time will the Shenandoah arrive today?"

Now we headed off, into the flatlands of is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, shown at Peninsula, OH.   They have attractive equipment, friendly staff, and pretty scenery.  If you're out in that neck of the woods, be sure to stop in, buy a ticket, and enjoy a very comfortable ride behind predominantly Alco engines, including (at times) a couple of Alco FA's on the property!

Rain was forecast for our whole trip, so naturally, wearing my ballerinas was fact, I had to take two pairs.   In reality, I suspect my wife was hiding my silver toe nails!  There wasn't much she could do about my silver fingernails, though!  They were out in front of everyone the whole weekend, and I didn't hear any comments about them from anyone.  

While traveling, my wardrobe was denim capris, generic women's polo tops, pantyhose, necklace, ballerinas and my purse. For the meeting we attended, a pair of stirrups substituted for the denim capris.  My wife suggested that I wear black tights with my stirrups, but there were none in my suitcase, so I - and she -  had to settle for pantyhose.  "At least you have a casual, but very businesslike, appearance..."  

I think she was hoping for a less-feminine look for me this trip.   That attempt wasn't particularly successful.  Other than at the meeting, where we are known by all, I was repeatedly "miss-identified" -  at motels, restaurants, etc., with only a few exceptions.  And those simply resulted in the person omitting "Sir" or "Ma'am." 

Everyone treated me as they normally do during the meeting.  But I noticed one guy respond to a comment I made (fortunately for my wife, when we were riding with him to dinner, in his car) with "Yes Ma'am - Sir," including a bit of a stumble between "Ma'am" and "Sir."  Now, this guy has known us for years...and I'm not sure if it was intentional or not. Since he was driving, he may not have seen who was actually talking.'s fine with me.  And surprisingly, my wife said nothing about it when we got back to the room.   Maybe she didn't hear him?   I doubt that...

On the way home, we stopped to visit my cousin and her husband in the central PA area.  They're used to seeing me in capris and ballerinas, so there was no issue.   The motel clerk and customers in line with me got it right with "Ma'am," as I checked out the last morning on the road. 

And upon returning home, it was immediately back to my usual attire of capris and sandals.  The next day, the new clerk at the dealership where our car was being serviced, addressed me as "Ma'am" the whole time. That absolutely made my day!


  1. Thank you for the wonderful travelogue. I admire you interest and knowledge of the old Iron Horses.
    In my book the most consistently feminine garment is pantyhose so your wearing them with capris or stirrups would seem to be rather affirming.
    Good post.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Pat! I enjoy writing about my travels, and you never know when or where I will do some exploration.

      And yes, as you say, it's so affirming to be accepted as a woman. Makes my day, every time!