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Get Out of Town: Fall, by the Wayside

By John Deiner
The Washington Post
Sunday, August 24, 1997; Page E04
   


What: A 32-mile fall foliage trip via Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.

Where: Cumberland to Frostburg.

Why: Because sometimes, getting there is all the fun.

At least that's what I was thinking that autumn morning we barreled through the Alleghenies aboard Mountain Thunder, a 1916 steam locomotive. All eyes were riveted on the track's left side, where we'd just been told that the Bone Cave would be visible. The Bone Cave! A child chattered how it was filled with dinosaur bones, and that you could see them sticking out of the rocks.

Naturally, we believed every word.

And, naturally, the Bone Cave was a rip. With all 700 passengers on Cave Patrol, the train rumbled past . . . a rocky grotto engulfed by shrubs. No Jurassic Park this, but then again, we hadn't come to Western Maryland to see a T-Rex.

What we had come to see didn't disappoint. As the train shuddered onward (and upward -- it climbs nearly 1,300 feet), a leafy kaleidoscope of gold and crimson provided nonstop entertainment. The narrator kept us tidbit-stoked -- the engine burns up to four tons of coal per jaunt, for example -- but it was the show outside that proved irresistible. The iron truss bridge and 917-foot tunnel we encountered didn't hurt, either.

After 45 minutes, the train pulled into Frostburg for a 1 1/2-hour layover. It was a Sunday, so many businesses were closed -- though the town wasn't tumbleweed-in-the-streets deserted. We passed by the carriage museum in favor of lunch at a funky vegetarian place and window-shopping. The rest of our visit was spent watching the steam engine being rotated for the return trip.

Then we climbed back aboard for the show's splendid encore.

The WMSRR operates May through December with a variety of regular trips and special events, but the leaf season -- late September through October -- attracts the big crowds. Reserve early, especially since trains will be limited to 520 passengers this season. Tickets are $16 in September, $18 in October. From the Beltway, Cumberland is about a 2 1/2-hour drive up I-270 and I-70. More information: 1-800-872-4650 or http://www.wmsr.com

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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