Tuesday, August 23, 2005

MD weekend report

Readers who check the Photos link obsessively might have noticed already that there are many new photos available now. I've posted pictures from the Pittsburgh trip a few weeks back as well as some photos from last weekend in Baltimore and Bowie. Read on for the details of my brief visit with my family.

I took the train to Baltimore on Saturday morning and my brother met me at the station. The plan was to go straight to the B&O Railroad Museum, but we were a bit early (or my father was running late) so we went to my brother's apartment first. He showed me some pictures from his two-day trip with my dad and our cousin Gibson (visiting from London) to Strasburg and Scranton, PA and filled me in on Gibson's eccentricities (i.e. "he's a complete nutter"). More on that later. Shortly thereafter we went to the museum and met up with my father and stepmother. Gibson, they said, was already exploring the museum's collection of locomotives and rolling stock, so I'd have to wait a while longer to meet him. (I guess I should have mentioned earlier that I'd never met Gibson before, despite three trips to London in the past five years.) We finally caught up with him in the roundhouse, which he was just passing through on his way to take pictures of the train cars outside the museum.

The B&O Museum consists of an old railroad roundhouse, several train platforms, a train car repair shop (closed for renovations and due to reopen next month), and a few hundred locomotives, train cars, and other assorted railroad equipment. The roundhouse's roof collapsed during the blizzard of February 2003, and the museum itself was closed for 22 months while the roof was repaired and some of the damaged exhibits were restored. The roundhouse holds about a dozen steam locomotives of various sizes and types, and several other old train cars used for baggage, passengers, mail, etc. Outside, on the platforms and in the parking lot, they have the more modern diesel-electric locomotives and newer examples of train cars. There's an excellent glassed-in HO scale model railroad in one of the old train cars. I got a few pictures of that where the glass didn't reflect too badly. Outside the museum, in the parking lot itself, sits one of the locomotives for the 1976 America's Freedom Train, which toured the lower 48 states as part of the bicentennial. It's hidden between two other rows of train cars and is in terrible shape. You can see the Great Seal and some graffiti written on it in a few of my pictures. Gibson was disappointed in the museum as a whole (not enough steam locomotives) and in particular by the condition of the Freedom Train. But I learned all sorts of things about steam trains during my visit and found out firsthand just how much of a freak my cousin is when it comes to trains.

Now a few words about Gibson. He's my father's first cousin; his mother and my grandfather were siblings. He's in his sixties and teaches music at a school in England. He's been a fanatic about trains for most of his life, and knows more than I could imagine anyone knowing about the subject. He'd never been to America before now, and he came with a list of things he wanted to see and do, nearly all of which were train-related. He and my father and either my stepmother or brother (depending on the trip) went as far south as Roanoke, VA and north to Scranton, PA to various train museums and exhibits. On these trips, he would disappear for up to an hour, photographing trains. He wanted my father to pull off the road at one point so he could get a picture of a tar-laying road work machine. When he got back to my dad's house, he buried his nose in my dad's collection of train books, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. Yes, he's a bit odd, but he's family, and quite pleasant if you don't mind all the train stuff.

Back to the weekend recap: We went back to Bowie for a steak dinner at my father's house. The steaks and vegetables were delicious, but we had to eat quickly because we had to get to a church in Glen Burnie for my brother's string orchestra concert. He's a member of several orchestras in the greater Baltimore area, and this one is a summer string orchestra comprised of members of various other groups. For a summer group having played only a dozen rehearsals, it was a good concert. They played a Mozart divertimento, a few string suites (including a piece that everyone recognizes as the DeBeers diamond commercial music), and a Vivaldi guitar concerto. Gibson is a music teacher and accomplished pianist and organist, and he loved the concert. Afterwards, he introduced himself to the conductor, the church organist, and a few of the performers. Somehow we were among the last to leave, and I'm sure that Gibson wouldn't have noticed if he'd been locked in the church accidentally.

On Sunday morning Gibson practiced the piano for about two hours, playing Bach, Chopin, Schumann (I think), and a few pieces of his own. The impromptu concert reminded me of my grandfather's practice sessions when we visited my grandparents in England in 1989, and the music was just wonderful to hear. Over lunch we shared stories of crazy conductors and performers we knew, like my old college music director Patricia and musicians in the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra back home. It was a quick trip, but completely worth the effort to meet Gibson and get to know him a little. Next time I'm in London I'll have to get in touch with Gibson and treat him to a good meal (ah, the privileges of business travel).

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