1706 Mayhew Drive Wheaton, Maryland 20902
This past New Year's eve probably saw just about every person owning anything powered by steam with a whistle attached sounding in the advent of the new decade with a better than average increase in decibels of steam artistry. However, few traction engine owners can top the special caper pulled off in upper Montgomery county, Maryland by that devil-may-care engine owner Billy Hall and his capable throttle artist, Edgar Adams. Hall, the owner of a twenty-two horsepower Aultman-Taylor engine originally purchased in 1912 by Joseph Miller of White Oak, Maryland has always been known for his ability to put just about anything, no matter how insane it appears, into reality. This writer was present the other evening and wishes to share this rather unique experience.
Bill Hall resides on a farm in Burtonsville, Md. halfway between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. To reach it, one must turn off of a state route into a winding narrow dirt county road. At 7:30 p.m. on the 3lst of December I was positioned with camera and tape recorder several hundred feet ahead of the engine to take pictures. No opposition was encountered as the engine moved out down the dirt road on its way to the Burtonsville, Md. firehouse, where a New Years party was in progress. It may be of interest to note here that the fire chief had a wager with Hall that the engine would NEVER make it. As the engine made its progress down the narrow road, I encountered an automobile coming toward me and as it slowed to a stop, the window was rolled down and a woman occupant seeing me armed with recorder and camera asked me what was coming down the road. With as straight a face as I could manage I replied 'lady there's a train coming.' Well, she gaped and made the rather wry comment that there were no tracks to which I shot back 'you know that and I know that but the engineer doesn't.' Well then the driver very quickly pulled the car off the road and at that moment engineer Eddie opened both whistles. Even though the engine was still several hundred feet from where we stood, the expression on the faces of the occupants of the now abandoned automobile were priceless. Then the gentleman mustered up enough courage to come up to me and in a rather timid tone of voice inquired if I was crazy to which I answered 'yes Happy New Year!' When at last the engine stormed by in a cloud of steam and coal smoke we instantly had more converts to the cause.
For the next two hours we waited by the edge of the state road building up the courage necessary to risk being put away for life and when the traffic had subsided, we decided to move out on maneuver. I was to follow the engine in my car with flashers on so that someone would not come around a curve at high speed and find themselves feasting on hot coals and cylinder oil. Having seen no officers of the law the entire evening and seeing that the hour was 11 p.m. we moved.
We had not been on the road more than five minutes when a car loomed up in back of me and staring in my rear view mirror I saw the reflection of a dome light and the white insignia of the county police. Our hearts were in our mouths, however, the good fellows followed for several hundred feet, each one craning
his neck out of a window not knowing what to think. At last they pulled up beside me and stared curiously into my car and then moving ahead they ran parallel to the engine with our two nervous heroes holding back their urge to give it to 'em with both whistles. Suddenly, and so help me but I'm telling the truth, they took off in a cloud of dust and were seen no more. I can only surmise that if they had had the courage to call the dispatcher and report a steam engine on the road at 11:30 p.m. they would probably have been recalled for being under the influence of new year cheer. I am quite certain that more than one person who passed us that night went on the water wagon and the two good officers not wishing to become involved just plain did't see nuthin!
When we arrived at the fire station the chief had a pretty glum expression on his face I wonder why. After disturbing the peace and quiet of Burtonsville we then proceeded to the local Seven Eleven to pick up needed supplies for the party and while there managed to stun more than a few local customers who were rather reluctant to come anywhere near the green, red and black monster. A particularly choice moment occurred when the pop valve let go and sent people up trees, telephone poles and under cars. Arriving back at the firehouse we awaited zero hour and when it came, did our part in ushering in the steaming seventies as we like to refer to it.
Not wishing to stretch our luck and realizing that when the party broke up there would be more than an ample share of people feeling no pain on the road, we promptly took leave of the premises and within twenty minutes were safely back on our snug secure nest of county road.
I am sure that for the few moments we were there, the quiet little community of Burtonsville shared in a rather unique experience and one which will not be soon forgotten by those who participated in what is I am sure a classic in the annals of steam engine lore.