Revisiting the heyday of department stores and five-and-dimes

Eagle Scout helps build Ma & Pa Railroad display for trail

Today it is traversed mostly by joggers and walkers, moving alongside a busy highway filled with the rush of cars, but 60 years ago, the Ma & Pa Trail was a major railroad that brought cargo to Harford County and allowed residents to visit more distant towns.

Now a relic of the trail's past rests alongside the Ma & Pa Trail's new Daybreak sculpture, serving as a reminder to passers-by of what the wooded path was like before automobiles took over: a panorama of whistles and smoke clouds from trains chugging along from Baltimore to York.

A local Eagle Scout, Tom Fowler, came up with the idea of a piece of railroad track next to a display board that explains the history and chronology of the Ma & Pa Railroad.

Paul Magness, chief of capital planning and development for Harford County's parks and recreation department, said the department had wanted to do something in the area to tie in the history of the railroad.

Fowler was willing to do the research and design for the display board, and had other members of Troop 238 help with the assembly.

"He took the ball and ran with it," Magness said. "He came up with the idea of doing a mock track of railroad."

The Harford County Cultural Arts Board, which built the Daybreak sculpture along the trail, just north and east of the tunnel that carries the trail under Route 24, wanted to use original rail ties from the railroad on the base of the sculpture, but board coordinator Martha Valentine said that did not work out.

"They were too heavy and the durability was not there," she said.

Fowler's project, however, incorporates the metal parts of the original railroad, although the wooden ties are a replica.

Magness said Fowler also got real railroad spikes from CSX.

The board features a timeline and photos of the railroad, including a picture of its route map, laying out the history of the 77.2-mile route that operated from the late 1800s to the late 1950s.

The last passenger train made its run on the railroad on Aug. 31, 1954.

Richard Streett contributed rail pieces toward the project, as well as funding. His family's former Spenceola cannery, which is memorialized in the red barn of the Daybreak sculpture, represents Harford County's canning industry past.

Valentine and Magness said they thought it would help those who use the trail to further appreciate its history.

"A lot of people don't even realize it was a railroad line," Valentine said. "We just get feedback from people who see the sculpture and they ask about what it represents."

Magness said the project "certainly met and even exceeded our expectations for the sculpture."

He explained the placement of the sculpture was strategic.

"As people are walking on the trail itself, they are going to say, 'What is this? What is it supposed to represent?'" he said.

"I think it's a great addition to the trail," he said. "We are very happy with the final product and certainly look forward to having it there for years to come."

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