Walkersville Southern Railroad is firing up an 82-year-old coal burning steam engine for passengers looking to take a train ride back to 1930.
The railroad is using the restored steam engine to pull its 1920s passenger coaches for an hour-long ride through the Walkersville and Frederick County countryside for the next two weekends.
“Everybody at the railroad is excited,” said Tom Dalton, train engineer and a member of the Walkersville Southern Railroad’s board of directors. “We’re excited. When I was a kid, steam engine trains were being phased out. I did not witness more than a couple steam engines. I was born in 1948 about the time diesel was coming in.”
The Flagg Coal No. 75, also known as “Hank the Tank Engine,” is owned and operated by Gramling Locomotive Works of Ashley, Ind. The company purchased the engine in 1991.
Over the next 10 years, the company’s owners, John Gramling and his son, Barney Gramling, restored the historic engine and use it for various railroad events around the country.
“It was a father and son project that got out of hand,” joked Barney Gramling, standing next to Hank the Tank Engine as it fired up to take passengers from the Walkersville station Saturday. “It took us 10 years to get it running, but it was dream come true.”
Gramling said the antique engine is a welcome attraction throughout the country.
“By and large everybody loves it,” he said. “If I had a nickel for everyone who said they ‘used to ride a train and remember the coal, smoke and heat,’ I wouldn’t have to be here.”
As excited passengers waited to board the train early Saturday morning, Gramling and his crew were making sure the steam engine was greased, oiled and filled with coal and 1,200 tons of water.
Black smoke bellowed from the top of the engine as it pulled into the station to pick up passengers. The air was filled with the smell of steam and coal as passengers loaded the train and were warned that their clothes could be covered in black soot.
For the next hour, the train traveled south through the Walkersville Community Park, past a 100-year-old lime kiln, Fountain Rock Park, farmland, woods, trees and over the Monocacy River on a reconstructed railroad bridge. At a speed of 10 miles per hour, riders sat in the open-air excursion car and remodeled passenger coaches, taking in the scenery, snapping pictures and marveling at the sounds of the steam engine.
“Everything was just cool,” said 7-year-old Drew Marshall, of Virginia. “I liked the running cows.”
Drew, an avid fan of trains, was accompanied by his grandparents and great aunt.
Two-year-old Jack Loveday of Washington, D.C., came with his mother, Marcelle Loveday, and his grandmother, Kerry Jackson. It was his first time on a train.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” said his mom.