For the past five years, Halloween has brought terror by the trainload to Harford countians who have dared to ride the historic Stewartstown Railroad during this haunted season.
It is a time of year when ghouls, goblins, ghosts and other gruesome creatures lurk along the tracks and even on board as the train slowly makes its four-mile nightmare journey through Deer Creek Valley, just north of the Maryland line.
The train leaves from Stewartstown, Pa., and travels to Orwig's Summit, not far from Shrewsbury.
"What I remember most is that guy on the train with the chain saw," said Sherry Dulkerian of Norrisville, who has traveled on two haunted trains with her husband, Jim, and their two children, J. T., who is 8, and Blaine, who is 3.
"We just had a ball," Mrs. Dulkerian said. "The characters that were on the train added to the effect of it all. We all really enjoyed it. We had so much fun. We were laughing and just a little bit scared."
Last year, about 3,000 passengers came from Harford County and other parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania for the annual Haunted Train, a fund-raising event sponsored by the Stewartstown Lions Club to support its charitable efforts.
"I think it was really nice," said Barbara Engel, who lives in Norrisville and rode the train two years ago with her son, Wesley, then 13, and her daughter, Shelly, who was 9. They went with a group of relatives from Norrisville and Jarrettsville.
"It was nice for the younger kids because it wasn't real scary," Mrs. Engel said. "The only thing that was scary was the inside of the train. It was pitch black, and there were characters dressed up who would come and sit down with you."
The Lions Club charters the train for four nights from the Stewartstown Railroad Co., a classic short-line railroad built in 1885 to connect the farming region of southern York County with the Pennsylvania Railroad at New Freedom. Preservationists have restored the line, and the railroad company now offers excursions year-round.
Vintage cars are pulled by diesel and gasoline engines that date from the 1940s. The train rolls along in total darkness, chugging through shadowy countryside brightened only by the light of the moon. The night air is pierced frequently by spooky sounds and the shrill screams of passengers.
Outside the train this year will be dozens of eerily illuminated Halloween scenes with living characters that range from the grisly to the grotesque. In past years, passengers have seen a dead body floating in a creek, an executioner beheading a man, and a madman lunging suddenly at the train in a crazed attack.
A family of witches stirred their caldron, butchers sewed together body parts, and the headless horseman galloped by. And who could forget the Addams Family or the menu at the Roadkill Restaurant?
"We feel we have one of the best Halloween events in the area," said Maurice Williams of Stewartstown, who is in charge of publicity. "We work in cooperation with the railroad. They provide the train."
"I get a kick out of it," said Mr. Williams. "It's a lot of fun."
It takes about 300 club members and other volunteers to sell tickets, organize, set up the outdoor scenes in the woods and fields beside the tracks and perform.
"It's a lot of fun," said Bill Harrison of Pylesville, who enjoyed frightening railroad passengers with his werewolf costume last year. "There's a lot of excitement. You hear a lot of people hollering and carrying on."
Mr. Harrison, a correctional officer for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, will be among the fearsome characters along the tracks this year.
"It's a good fund-raiser," he said.
The Haunted Train departs from the Stewartstown Railroad Station at 7 p.m., 8:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Oct. 23, and at 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. on October 24, 25 and 26. Tickets are $7 for passengers 11 and older and $5 for children 10 and under. Children under 2 may ride free with a paying adult. Tickets may be available until departure, but advance purchase is recommended to guarantee seating. Information: (717) 993-3452.