This is chapter 3 of mtnsub.org's Railfan Guide to the Cumberland Subdivision.
When you're ready to move on, we will explore first the lowgrade line and then the original highgrade alignment. This route will lead you in a circle bringing you back to WV-901 in about 10 miles.
Get back down to CR-4 again and turn right. After 1/2 mile, you can optionally turn left onto Ben Speck Road (CR-4-1) for a short side trip of 300 yards to a grade crossing which offers sort of OK sight lines along the now single track main; then go back down to CR-4 and turn left. The highgrade will be on your left in the fields while the lowgrade is close by to your right. Follow CR-4 to WV-901, make a right turn and go across the grade crossing known as North Mountain on the new alignment. The road makes a left-right S curve; keep going straight in the right turn onto Little Georgetown Road (CR-2). 1/2 mile onwards turn left onto McCoys Ferry Road (CR-2-2), past the small airstrip, and underneath the tracks. CR-2-4 B&O Overpass Rd. will take you to the tracks and through yet another underpass, but again there is no access. 1/2 mile the other side you will come to Quail Creek Farm, a beautiful group of structures in a pastoral setting. Quail Creek owns all the land in this area, and the "No Trepassing" signs you see plastered everywhere are theirs.
Return to CR-2-2, go straight through the intersection after 0.4 miles, then left into the road marked "Dead End" after 0.5 miles (watch your odometer, for there are no signs here). This road has a lot of mean potholes, drive slowly! It will take you down throught the forest to McCoys Ferry on the river, although the last part from the underpass on is not driveable. Some hiking will get you trackside at this secluded spot. This is the last we will see of the lowgrade line before it joins the old alignment just east of Cherry Run.
To get to the highgrade line, backtrack to the intersection above where you went straight, and take a right turn there. This is CR-2-3, even though there are no signs. Go 1.2 miles to Beards Road grade crossing, a nice spot with double S-curves that will appeal to photographers. An even better spot is coming up. Keep going for 0.3 miles, then head left onto Allensville Rd. (CR-3-2) for 1/2 mile. The tracks will be on your left, entering a cut, and there's an old abandoned road crossing that provides an excellent view as trains swing through this outside curve on a pretty stiff grade. There's only space for one car, but you can also park in the gravel lot further down and walk up.
The road climbs up and over the hill while the railroad hides in a deep cut south of here. Just before you reach the North Mountain landfill, the tracks pop into view again to the left and approach signals 1080-1 and 1080-2. 100 yards beyond the landfill entrance, a gravel road leads down to the left and takes you trackside. The shoulder is really steep here, be prepared for a hard landing if you're chasing a train and are in a hurry. This is the location of the old North Mountain tower, call letters NM, which guarded the crossover between the two tracks and operated the associated interlocking and signalling machinery. In the first decades of the 20th century, North Mountain was helper territory, and helper engines cut off here and ran back down to Cherry Run.
Continuing straight past here will take you back to WV-901 in 1/2 mile, completing our little circle trip of the two mains.
Instead, turn around at the landfill and go downhill back to Allensville and head left onto CR-3-2. Within 0.6 miles you will need to cross Back Creek on a low water bridge which, as the name implies, you should only do during low water (duh!). If you find the bridge flooded, go back to WV-901, turn right and go to WV-9, turn right again and follow WV-9 for about two miles, and finally turn right onto CR-9-5 at Johnsontown.
Having crossed the bridge, keep going for two miles, pull up to the Stop sign and take CR-9-5 right. This road diverges from WV-9 so if you join the tour here or have backtracked from the bridge as described above, you will arrive from the left off of WV-9.
Keep going for a mile, and you will see the low- and highgrade lines appear to your right in the bushes. They are still separated vertically but reach the same elevation shortly. At the next Stop sign, the Hagerstown line (former Western Maryland interchange and now the Lurgan Subdivision) appears from Big Pool on the north shore of the Potomac. You need to turn right here and also at the next intersection, following the "Public Stream Access" sign across the tracks. This is Cherry Run!
CSX has renewed the whole plant; shiny new signal bridges and equipment boxes abound. They have even learned something and put them on high platforms to keep the electronics dry the next time the Potomac decides to leave its bed. The signals, by the way, are NOT approach-lit so won't alert you to trains nearby. Take the gravel road to the left after the grade crossing to reach Miller. It's easy to miss now after all of CSX's remodelling, but had you visited prior to February, 2001 you would have seen R Tower guarding the west end of this junction. Some of the foundations that supported the switch actuator rods and old CPL signal bridge are still visible. R Tower currently resides in Martinsburg on the grounds of the shop complex, awaiting restoration. Cherry Run/Miller is nice for head-on telephoto shots if you like them, and the gravel road on the north side as well as the street along the residences on the south side of the tracks enable you to move around quite freely.
This area has changed a lot over the decades. What now is a large empty expanse used to be a thriving interchange between the B&O and WM, complete with sizeable yard, offices, station, freight house, turntable, two towers, and all the other trappings of a major, if remote, installation. Precious little remains, and the once-thriving community is itself reduced to only a handful of houses. In steam days, the thick forest didn't encroach on the tracks, and with the fewer trees surviving the coal smoke it was readily apparent that the Cherry Run complex was built on the Potomac's floodplain.
Take all the pictures you want, then recross the tracks and go straight through the intersection onto CR-10. After 0.8 miles the road will split; it doesn't matter which way you go, as Poole Road (CR-10-1) will rejoin CR-10. Pull straight through the next Stop sign onto River Road (CR-1). In 1.2 miles the small burg of Sleepy Creek appears; the gravel road to the right leads to the tracks and provides good visibility. CR-1 will bring you all the way to Hancock, WV, with the railroad mostly in sight to your right. I do not think this stretch lends itself well to photography, as the track is mostly straight and there is a very noticable pole line between you and the trains. Back until the 1960s this piece of the Cumberland Sub was triple track. The space between the two existing mains is still visible. Just before you reach Hancock, the Berkeley Springs branch leaves the mainline and heads uphill to Berkeley Springs and the US Silica plant located there. Just south of the road crossing, a picturesque wooden trestle still exists.
Hancock is a fun place to hang around. It boasts a small yard that mostly deals with Berkely Springs traffic, a good-sized MoW facility that usually has some equipment around, the old station, and of course HO Tower. You can move around between River Road, the gravel lot near the tower, the US-522 road bridge, the dirt road north of the yard, and the area around the station building for a variety of good angles.
Hancock is also a very good place to join the tour if you have only one day to railfan. You can get here quickly via I-70 and I-68/US-40 from the north, east, and south. Likewise, if you came up from Point of Rocks or Cumberland, this is a good place to head for home and to come back to the next time you want to railfan the area. Hancock is also a good place to start hiking the Tuscarora Trail - contact PATC and look at their website for up-to-date information.
Up to now, everything was child's play. Hancock is the place where you need to decide how to continue. Either unpack your machete, engage the 4 wheel drive, and follow the railroad over 32 miles of gravel, dirt, and potholes, or chicken out and see the places that are easily accessible. If you chose the hard way, be aware that you will only be able to run away in five places: Woodmont (10.3 miles), Orleans Crossroads (15.7 miles), Hansrote (20.3 miles), Magnolia (25.8 miles), and Paw Paw (32.0 miles). These plus Sir John's Run are also the only places you will see on the easy tour. Anywhere in between, lest you have an inflate-o-copter with you, you'll have to tough it out.
If you are not sure, I suggest you take the easy tour up to Magnolia, and follow the (then actually fairly easy) hard way into Paw Paw.
Either way (pun intended), what lies before you is probably the most remote piece of railroading in the east leading through a vast, rugged expanse of rivers, mountains, and forests. Until you reach Paw Paw, there are no settlements with more than a dozen houses. I strongly suggest you gas up in Hancock, MD on the other side of the river, and make sure you have an adequate supply of food, water, and first aid ingredients. Also check your spare tire is inflated and you have a set of tools handy. Don't go if you have only two hours or less of daylight left! Your average speed will not exceed 15 mph, not counting stops for taking pictures. The upside: there are virtually no mean gradients to negotiate as most parts of the way are old railroad roadbed. Therefore (with the exception of a small sidetrip at Magnolia) you can go in a sedan, and fourwheel drive is not strictly necessary.
|No part of the route described herein trespasses on company or private property. However, the reader is strongly urged to obey any newly-posted regulations and restrictions which may be in effect. Read the above paragraph again, and make sure you understand the implications before proceeding any further with this tour! There is no "Back Button" in the wilderness!|
Very well, smart move. Take US-522 south to Berkeley Springs, then turn right onto WV-9 and head up Warm Springs Ridge. Go past Berkeley Castle and follow the bend in the road. Turn right onto CR-3 (Sir Johns Run Road) and follow it for about 3 miles to the village of Sir Johns Run. Located about midway between Cumberland and Martinsburg, a large coal tower, water, and ashpits were located here to enable road engines to clean their fires and replenish supplies. Operationally, this wide spot on the river played a key role on the East End and was comparable to Rowlesburg's function on the Mountain Sub. Almost nothing remains.
CR-3 dead-ends here, so when you are finished taking pictures return the way you came and turn left onto WV-9. Continuing along on this road will bring you to Prospect Peak, also known as Panorama. Enjoy a splendid overview of the valley and Cacapon State Park; the main line is visible along the river. A dark line in the trees hints to the abandoned Connellsville extension of the Western Maryland on the far shore. Panorama is directly above Tanglefoot Curve on the B&O. There's a also a well-known restaurant up here.
The railroad bridge over the Great Cacapon River is easily accessible off WV-9, which you need to follow for two miles or so from Panorama. Just east of the road bridge over the Great Cacapon, follow the sign for public stream access, which will lead down to the river and under the bridge to a small parking lot where fishermen float their boats. You will have a good view of the bridge and especially of eastbound trains crossing it on the #2 (near) track.
Follow WV-9 west for another mile until you see CR-22 (Woodmont Road) diverging to the right. This road closely parallels the railroad to Woodmont which is reached within another mile. This location is not very photogenic, but it's no great detour to get here, either.
Either continue on Woodmont Road for about 4 miles until you reach CR-18-1 (Kline Road) and turn right; or go back to WV-9, follow it for 3 miles, turn right onto CR-18 (Detour Road) for 1 mile, and turn right again onto CR-18-1. Both ways, CR-18-1 will take you to Orleans Crossroads after another 3 miles. Take it easy on these forest roads, as there are fairly tight curves and steep hills and bumps.
You can join the "Hard Way" tour here if you want, or just hang around and explore the good photo angles available at this location. Frequently, eastbound piggyback and stack trains will use the Orleans crossover to return from #1 to #2 track after running wrong hand main along the Magnolia Cutoff due to clearance restrictions. A large signal bridge guards this move and gives indication of approaching trains.
To complete the easy tour, head back the way you came until you reach CR-18 (Detour Road) and turn right. Follow it for about 3 miles until you see CR-12 turn off to the right. Follow it to CR-12-1 (Gaither Road), turn right, and follow it another 2 miles until you reach CR-12-2, Hansrote Road. If you were to turn left, you'd reach Magnolia - instead turn right onto CR-12-2 and go about 500 yards. The road divides into three at this point; take the leftmost one and within another 500 yards you will arrive at a sort of wye around a tree. Going straight on this road will lead you up and over the portal of Stuart Tunnel to the north side of the tracks and you could follow the "Hard Way" from there. Turning right at the tree will bring you to the south side of the tracks. A siding and a signal are located here. Sight lines are very good for westbounds in the afternoon, but a little scouting around will result in satisfying angles almost all day long.
Backtrack your way to Hansrote until you reach the abovementioned intersection of CR-12-2 with CR-12-1. Turn right (downhill) to reach Magnolia in short order. See the "Hard Way" below for a more detailed description.
From Magnolia, you may want to consider joining the hard way for the just over 6 miles to Paw Paw along the old main line. This is fairly easy and will bring you to Kessler and the Great Concrete Wall among other things - well worth the dust and not much slower than the more circuitous, paved route. Read below if you want to do so.
If not, retrace your route back up CR-12 to CR-18, then turn right and be prepared for a roller-coaster ride of 4 miles back to WV-9 just above Paw Paw. Go into town to continue the tour after the description of the enthusiast's route with the chapter on Tunnel Hill