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Excursion line's railroad cars sold at auction Union Bridge firm closed in May with 100 creditors


Buyers carted away the EnterTRAINment Line piece by piece yesterday, as everything from furniture to dinnerware and crock pots to rail cars became the bargain-rate spoils of a court-ordered auction of the bankrupt company's assets.

The Union Bridge excursion line closed in May, leaving more than 100 creditors and owing more than $300,000 in amusement taxes and interest dating to 1989.

Despite yesterday's auction, some feel a new passenger entertainment train service could rise from the EnterTRAINment Line's ashes in Carroll County.

A prospective buyer would have to negotiate with Maryland Midland Railway -- which owns the tracks the excursion line used -- and the governments of Westminster and Union Bridge, which would receive a portion of amusement taxes collected by the state.

The possibility that an excursion line could run again on Maryland Midland tracks was raised by Ken Bitten, a New Jersey resident and president of Classic Rail Cars Inc.

"We are going to start a dinner train," Mr. Bitten said after buying five cars. "Where is yet to be determined."

Auctioneers refused to say how much 19 rail cars brought, but bids ranged from $20,000 for a Pennsylvania Railroad diner car -- a bid rejected by the car's owner, former EnterTRAINment Line owner J. Thomas "Gus" Novotny -- to $150 for the last car up for auction.

A tally of individual bids showed that the cars brought in about $75,000.

The rolling stock "is just in fair condition," said Edward Kemmet, general manager of Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, an excursion line that runs from Frostburg to Cumberland.

When other prospective bidders grinned at his description, Mr. Kemmet acknowledged that "fair condition" was a generous assessment.

Several cars had broken windows. One was heavily sprayed, inside and out, with graffiti. Another had only partial flooring, with snow-covered tracks visible through a large hole.

The rail cars were the main attraction for the 130 or so rail car hobbyists and excursion line operators, including about 65 registered bidders, who crowded into an old feed and grain building near the railroad tracks.

But the accumulated assets of six years in business also included dinnerware, microwave ovens, deep-fat fryers, Christmas decorations, a crock pot, a steam iron, desks, chairs and clipboards.

Some buyers said that the equipment and rail cars would have yielded higher prices through negotiated sales rather than a public auction.

However, Baltimore attorney Howard A. Rubenstein, who is overseeing distribution of the bankrupt line's assets, said his 40 years of experience in bankruptcies have taught him that in a negotiated sale, "You have cherry pickers. You'd have all the good stuff gone and a lot of little stuff that brings nothing."

The sale was a sad day for Paula Eckenrode of New Windsor, who had cleaned the cars for the EnterTRAINment Line. Ms. Eckenrode wandered with her daughter among the Christmas decorations, a Santa's chair and a fuzzy orange stuffed animal the little girl had named "Elmo."

"It's too bad," she said.

A potential lawsuit that had threatened to block the auction was not filed.

Mr. Rubenstein said he received a call Tuesday night informing him that the suit was being dropped, but no explanation was given.

He declined to identify the person who had threatened to try to block the auction.

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