Western Maryland Railway Business Car 204 to return home to the rails

Posted by | March 20, 2014

Please welcome guest author Jody Shaw of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (WMSR). Shaw, the Media and WMSR Foundation (WMSRF) coordinator has had a lifelong interest and passion for steam and rail preservation. The WMSR Foundation, formed in September 2013, is in the infancy of what it hopes will become a long legacy of preserving railroad history through the partnership of the WMSR and the WMSRF. This partnership leverages the best benefits of both organizations to preserve, restore and operate more equipment than the WMSR can do alone.


After 50 years nestled by a lake and far from the bustle of a main line railroad, Western Maryland Railway Office car No. 204 is coming home–literally, to the tracks it once regularly traveled. It is a remarkable story of chance preservation.

This afghan of the 204 will soon be available to support the project, from the WMSRF Gift Shop in Frostburg, MD.

This afghan of the 204 will soon be available to support the project, from the WMSRF Gift Shop in Frostburg, MD.

Car 204 was originally built by Pullman in 1918 for Peter Winchester Rouss. It was named “Winchester” when delivered; Rouss later renamed it “West Point”. Car 204 was known to travel to the Rouss private camp in Adirondacks, NY from Winchester, VA. The car was typical for its day. It had an observation room, four bedrooms (including a larger master bedroom), a dining room, and at the front of the car, a kitchen, pantry, and crew quarters. On the back was a classic open platform–a back porch for watching the world fly by at 60 mph.

In those days, private cars were a combination of private jet and yacht, used by wealthy business people for both business and pleasure travel. Mr. Rouss later sold the car to Harry Payne Whitney, who was married to Gertrude Vanderbilt, of the famous wealthy Vanderbilt family. Mr. Whitney was well known as an American businessman, a thoroughbred horse breeder whose horses raced the Kentucky Derby. He would arrive at the Derby in his private car, now named “Adios”.

The American Railways Equipment Company owned the car from 1942-1943 and on February 12, 1943 the Western Maryland Railway (WM) purchased the car for use as their executive business car. The car was assigned to and used by George Leilich, Vice President of the WM Railway. Railroads used office cars a little differently from the previous owners. Company officials used railroad cars to travel to meetings, entertain shippers, make inspection trips, and conduct railroad business anywhere out on the railroad. The cars were like mobile offices or command posts and could travel almost anywhere there were tracks. For a little over 20 years, the WM Railway used the 204 and a similar car, the 203, on its lines between Baltimore, Connellsville, PA, and central West Virginia. By the mid-1960s, the railroad business was rapidly changing and WM simply did not need two office cars.

welder closeup

Deep Creek Lake was part of a 1920s hydroelectric project, and by the 1960s had become a popular summer getaway. In 1964 the Western Maryland Railway sold the car to the R.R. Johnson family, who transported it to Deep Creek Lake, near Swanton, MD. The Johnson family had property at the lake, and purchasing the 204 seemed a wonderful way to both have a sturdy summer place and preserve a bit of Western Maryland Railway heritage. They used it as a camp and then later a home. They have many memories of dinners cooked by Mrs. Johnson on the dining room table, which, stories tell us, was built by John Knibbs, who also built the furniture for the House of Congress.

The Johnson family, hearts heavy and filled with decades of cherished memories, finally made the decision to transfer ownership of the 204 to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to be restored and operated publically. In January 2014, 50 years after it was first delivered in Swanton, MD, Carl Belt Inc and Bill Miller Equipment, with the help and donations of many others, returned the car to the WMSR and the WMSR Foundation for restoration and operation. Bob Leilich, the son of George Leilich (the Vice President of the Western Maryland Railway mentioned earlier), also gave a generous cash donation.

The car is significant for several reasons. It is complete and represents a typical Office Car from the classic period of American railroad car building (roughly 1910-1930). The car has significant association with the Western Maryland Railway, its employees, Cumberland, MD, and Allegany County. For over 35 years it regularly operated over the tracks that now host the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Often it could have been seen parked at the Cumberland Western Maryland Railway Station. It is unusual to have a car acquired by an operating railroad so closely associated with its original railroad line and location.

Through the operation of the newly formed WMSR Foundation, The Pullman will be programmed in a variety of ways: as a living history museum object to be actively used; as a historic space for educational and interpretive activities; and in additional ways to enhance the community and railroad preservation efforts. The WMSR pursues this project to preserve and interpret Maryland and local railroad heritage.

204 lifted onto flatbead

Car 204 will undergo a two-step conservation, which will include fixing rusted side sheets, refurbishing interior woodwork, installing all new windows and more. Once fully conserved, the 204 will be a pristine physical artifact of the state’s 20th century railway heritage.

Fifty years ago it appeared that the 204 had left its life on the tracks for what everyone thought would be permanent retirement in the woods of western Maryland. Instead, it is again back on rails–the very same rails it traversed when it was WM Railway Office Car No. 204.

We all look forward to celebrating the car’s 100th Anniversary in 2018, when the car will once again be showered with cinders from a powerful steam locomotive as it ascends the grade on Big Savage Mountain.

204 en route to station

The WMSR Foundation is currently offering donors the opportunity to sponsor a window or otherwise donate. Come be an essential part of this conservation and operation of the Western Maryland Railway Business Car 204! Each donor name will be listed on the donor wall in the car. You may also make a donation in memory or honor of someone special.

Moving Full Steam Ahead-Western Maryland Scenic Railroad- Come ride with us! Tickets available now for our season of May – December.

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