A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Tell Us About Your Rides!

A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Rick F. » Sat Aug 14, 2010 7:40 pm

At long last, I got back on the road in the mighty BMW Z4 3.0i for further exploration and driving enjoyment. My destination on August 9 was several parts of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal that I'd never been to before. As everyone probably knows, the C & O Canal was built before railroads had established their ability to move goods quickly and efficiently. In the 1820s, a canal promised a much easier way to transport coal, timber, tobacco, and the all-important whiskey than hauling it over the mountains in wagons. Eventually, the C & O Canal connected Washington, DC and Cumberland, MD and featured over 180 miles of canal, 75 locks, and a 3,118-foot-long tunnel, carved by hand tools through solid rock. (All historic photos are courtesy of the Western Maryland Historical Library.)
Image

The Paw Paw tunnel, incidentally, took 14 years to complete. By the time it was done, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was well on its way to making the C & O Canal obsolete. The Canal operated, partially or wholly, from 1828 to 1924, but it was never a major financial success. Almost all of the canal is still in place today, although, as we'll see, some of the most interesting parts are deteriorating badly and may not last much longer.

A fascinating silent movie from 1912 shows the canal in action. It's available in three 4-minute segments from the American Memory Project:
C & O Canal film, Part I
C & O Canal film, Part II
C & O Canal film, Part III

My first goal was to find the ruins of the Charles Mill, near Four Locks, MD. Naturally, I tried Charles Mill Road, which I figured would lead me right there. Along the way, I spotted the foundation of a mill, large house, or other building. "There's treasure everywhere!"
Image


Investigating, I saw that there wasn't much left other than the foundation, which bordered on what appeared to be a mill race…
Image


…and this not-so-trustworthy wooden bridge.
Image


A little further along the road, I found this Ford sedan languishing in the woods. Okay, John, can you identify it without seeing the grill??
Image


As best I could tell, the Ford belonged to this property (or vice-versa):
Image


The Charles family seems to be alive and well in this area, by the way, judging from the number of No Trespassing signs I saw with the name Charles on them. This farm, at least, seems to be doing much better than the others.
Image


Eventually I reached the end of Charles Mill Road—and found an unoverlookable Do Not Enter sign on a private driveway. Dang! I decided to try my fallback approach to the mill ruins, starting from Four Locks and hiking a half mile or so on the canal towpath. As I drove to Four Locks, I passed by this intriguing gateway (and more No Trespassing signs—these guys have no sense of historic exploration).
Image


Soon enough, with skillful navigation and several tries, I located the Potomac River. (It involved driving to the end of Four Locks Road and then stopping before falling into the river.)
Image


Four Locks is so-named, naturally, because of its four locks on the C & O Canal, which carried barges up or down a significant vertical distance in a relatively short distance. This picture is taken looking through Lock 50 downstream toward Lock 49. Locks 48 and 47 are further down the hill.
Image


Since the C & O Canal locks operated strictly through a gravity-flow basis, negotiating the four sequential locks apparently took a while—as evidenced by this waiting line.
Image


Armed with my trusty Zumo GPS, I set off along the towpath to try and find the ruins of Charles Mill, a grist mill built alongside the canal. It turned out to be easy, thanks to a fading historical marker. There's not a lot left of the mill, but it was a haunting sight nonetheless.
Image


So haunting, in fact, that I apparently tumbled down the bank and into the mill race, capturing this picture in the process.
Image


Okay, I didn't really fall down the hill. But I did clamber around the end of the National Park Service fence that was designed to keep passers-by away from the mill ruins. Well, I had to get a good picture for you all, didn't I??

As I hiked back along the towpath, I spotted another building off in the distance and decided to investigate further. It involved climbing down the bank into the (dry) canal, crossing over the canal bed, and walking a little further into an overgrown field. There, in the distance, was this building, looking a bit forlorn and abandoned:
Image


Remember the large abandoned gateway? I began to wonder whether it was associated with this abandoned building, which looked vaguely like a guesthouse. I decided to investigate. Moreover, as every good motorcyclist and Z4 driver knows, it's always best to take a different route back than the one you took to arrive. Having adequately justified a round of trespassing to myself, I waded through the field and arrived at the guesthouse. It was not fancy or even particularly old. It featured a very large letter "R" over the front entrance but was otherwise not as interesting as I'd hoped.

As I anticipated, it had a much-overgrown dirt driveway in front, and I walked along it on my way back to civilization. The trip involved passing by another abandoned house, before arriving back at—yep—the abandoned gateway. All in all, a fun little off-course adventure.

From there, I walked back along Four Locks Road to where I parked. This is a picture of the Lock 49 lockhouse, which is still there. You can even stay in it for $85 a night, courtesy of the National Park Service.
Image


For some reason, I didn't get a "modern" picture of the lockhouse, but I did photograph this nice stone mansion, which is nearby. Four Locks used to be a thriving community during the canal's heyday, with numerous houses, businesses, and…
Image


…this one-room schoolhouse.
Image


Peeking through one of the dirt-streaked windows, I saw various old desks, chairs, and the Mother of All Stoves.
Image


After one more picture at Four Locks (of the spillway for Locks 48 and 47), I hopped back in the trusty Z4 and continued on.
Image


My next goal was one of the 11 aqueducts that carried the C & O Canal over various creeks and rivers. At 90 feet, the Licking Creek Aqueduct is the longest of the single-arch C & O aqueducts. Every one is a work of art, with impressive craftmanship. Most of them, however, have suffered badly through various floods and lack of repair. The 3-arch Catoctin Creek Aqueduct has collapsed completely, a victim of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. The stunning 7-arch Monocacy River Aqueduct was reinforced and rebuilt a few years ago and deserves a visit by anyone in the area. Fortunately, the one at Licking Creek was in reasonably good repair, having lost only its upstream wall.
Image
Image


A little farther north along the canal, the builders took advantage of a mile-long island in the Potomac River to create Little Pool. It's easy to reach by a series of stone steps, followed by a section of the ubiquitous shale rock formations.
Image


And what a sight it is!
Image


Locks 51 and 52 are near Hancock, MD. In the distance is a 1780 brick farmhouse, which has very recently been turned into one of the C & O Canal National Park visitor centers.
Image


Did I mention that the temperature had risen to 95 degrees and that all this hiking around was wearing me out? I decided to stop in at the farmhouse and enjoy the exhibits there (not to mention the shade!) for a little while. The building was quite impressive and in excellent condition, thanks to the NPS restoration work.
Image


It was built in about 1780 by the Yates family and named Sarah's Fancy. The Bowles family bought the farm in 1875 and realized that they had an "automatic" market for their produce. Before long, they became quite well-to-do and expanded the house to its current upscale configuration.
Image


I learned most of this history from Ranger Samantha and volunteer guide Charlie, who were friendly and very generous with their time.
Image


Although the other farm buildings are long gone, the original summer kitchen is still in reasonable condition.
Image


Leaving the visitor center, I hiked along the towpath in search of the Little Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct. Along the way, there were numerous views of the Potomac. Notice the shale rock formations lying just below the surface in the foreground of this picture. Kayakers and rafters beware!
Image


The Little Tonoloway Creek Aqueduct was easy to find but not in very good shape. Both side walls have washed away over the years, and the main arch is held together by iron straps, duct tape, and assorted band-aids. You might want to visit sooner, rather than later. Notice how the far end of the arch rests on an elevated stone outcropping and is thus much higher than the base on the near side.
Image


Here's a vintage photo of the aqueduct in better days. I guess leaks were pretty common when stonework was used to contain thousands of gallons of water.
Image


This close-up of the original railing shows the high quality of the workmanship.
Image


Now, as it happened, I had parked at the location of the old visitor center, having missed the sign for the new one (at the Bowles farmhouse). I had hiked a good three-quarters of a mile downstream on the Western Maryland Rail Trail to reach the new visitor center and then a ways upstream on the towpath to the aqueduct. At this point, I was pretty worn out, and I decided to stick to the towpath back to the parking lot, in hopes of shortening my return trip. Of course, I was aware that the canal itself—steep banks and all—was now between me and the parking lot…

As I wandered along, I spotted these ducks who seemed to prefer a hot old rock to the nice cool Potomac River. Go figure.
Image


Walking along upstream, I was beginning to despair of finding a viable way back across the canal to where I'd parked. Eventually, however, I saw that the near bank could be descended without too much difficulty and that the far bank was only 20 or so feet high—much better than the towering climb that would otherwise be required. So, down I plunged, taking the opportunity to get this picture of the bed of the canal. (The canal has been "rewatered" in a few places. Thankfully, this wasn't one of them!)
Image



Well, getting up the far bank was still a pretty good adventure, but with feet sliding and scrabbling all over the place, I managed to grab various saplings and branches, plough through some of the thickest spiderwebs I've ever seen, dodge the poison ivy, and eventually end up at the top—right on the Rail Trail and only a quarter mile from the parking lot! :D

My adventures were not over for the day, however, as I next set off to find Cacapon Junction, MD and the Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct. The roads were initially well-paved and very entertaining, with numerous bends and elevation changes—the perfect setting for a capable sports car like the Z4. However, I suspected that my path would subsequently involve some Questionable Dirt Roads, and I was not mistaken. This section of the road was typical (but not really all that bad):
Image


As I drove along this road, I lost reception for the station I'd been listening to, so I scanned for another. As the next one tuned in, I realized that it was the Diane Rehm show on NPR—and that they were talking about me! Here I was, trying to escape the hustle-bustle of my job by going for a drive in the middle of nowhere… It was a downright odd, if not surreal, experience. If anyone's interested, the show is available here:
The Diane Rehm Show: The Future of Entitlements


As if hearing myself talked about on the radio (sometimes favorably, sometimes less so) wasn't scary enough, next I happened across this place!
Image


As the dirt road wound around corners and up and down hill, there were occasional scenic vistas. At one point, I found myself looking down at an evaporating pond, populated by a solitary waterbird.
Image


After driving by, I had a moment of sudden recognition—could that have been a Great Blue Heron in the pond? They are notoriously private birds, and it's rare to see them. I carefully reversed back up the hill and, sure enough, there he was.
Image


The dirt road continued for a number of miles, passing by Cacapon Junction in the process no doubt, although I saw no signs of it (whatever it is—it was listed in my C & O Canal book). Before long, however, I spotted a large, collapsing building down another dirt road.
Image


As it happened, this dirt road continued a bit further and ended right at Lock 56. A passing park ranger told me that the Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct was just another half mile or so upstream, so this was a convenient break. Here's the basin, lock, and lockhouse on the day that I visited…
Image


…and here's one of the water gates to Lock 56, tended by the lockmaster and his family. To quote from the Western Maryland Historical Library's caption for this picture, "Photograph of Thomas Donegan, Ann Gotner, and Anna Kent resting on a swing beam of a lock gate. Thomas Donegan was a canal boatman before settling down at lock 56. He built a large house there and raised 13 children." (Sly old dog!)
Image


Here's one more picture of Lock 56, featuring a rather dusty Z4.
Image


After hiking yet another half mile in the blazing heat, I reached Sideling Hill Creek, shown here emptying into the Potomac.
Image


Looking upstream along the creek, here's one of the B & O railroad bridges that helped doom the canal to historical oblivion. (Boo! Hisssss!)
Image


My vantage point for both of the prior pictures, of course, was the aqueduct itself. Here's a vintage photo of it, apparently during a significant flood.
Image


And, Faithful Readers, just for You, I clambered down one more steep embankment and hiked (yet another) quarter mile down the creek to get this current-day picture of the Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct. It, too, is being held together with the proverbial duct tape. I hope some of the free-flowing American Recovery and Relief Act funding can find its way to these aqueducts, before all that's left are the photos.
Image


In view of the late hour and my state of fatigue, I took some entertaining back roads up to Interstate 68 and slabbed it on home. I missed the last fifth or so of my planned route, but I'll be back!

Rick F.
Last edited by Rick F. on Mon Sep 14, 2015 5:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
For all my tour articles, check out rsftripreporter.net.

2013 BMW 335i convertible
2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
2006 BMW Z4 3.0i roadster (sold)
2005 BMW R1200GS (retired)
2003 BMW F650CS (sold)
User avatar
Rick F.
Board Wizard
 
Posts: 1687
Joined: Sun Jul 31, 2005 5:43 pm
Location: Catonsville, MD

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby JimVonBaden » Sat Aug 14, 2010 8:48 pm

Great report Rick!

Dina and I often walk along the canal in Great Falls. She loved your photos, as do I!

Jim :brow
User avatar
JimVonBaden
Smooth Motorcycle Operator
 
Posts: 17226
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2003 11:48 pm
Location: Alexandria, VA

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Rick F. » Sun Aug 15, 2010 2:04 pm

JimVonBaden wrote:Great report Rick!

Dina and I often walk along the canal in Great Falls. She loved your photos, as do I!

Jim :brow

Jim,

Thanks much. I've decided that the best way to tour the C & O Canal is by trail bicycle. (An R1200GS would be even better, but the National Park Service probably frowns on that…) Walking is good, but it's a long canal. Driving to various spots, as I've done, isn't bad, but it's hard to figure out from the canal maps how best to reach the particular points of interest. If you're right there on the towpath to begin with, it's a lot more straightforward.

Regardless, it's a lot of fun to have such interesting historical stuff all around in Maryland, Virginia, West B.G. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and so on.

Rick
For all my tour articles, check out rsftripreporter.net.

2013 BMW 335i convertible
2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
2006 BMW Z4 3.0i roadster (sold)
2005 BMW R1200GS (retired)
2003 BMW F650CS (sold)
User avatar
Rick F.
Board Wizard
 
Posts: 1687
Joined: Sun Jul 31, 2005 5:43 pm
Location: Catonsville, MD

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby JimVonBaden » Sun Aug 15, 2010 11:06 pm

Rick,

The park rangers use a cool Yamaha XT 250 (IIRC), and I envy them every time they ride by!

Jim :brow
User avatar
JimVonBaden
Smooth Motorcycle Operator
 
Posts: 17226
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2003 11:48 pm
Location: Alexandria, VA

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby RocketMan » Mon Aug 16, 2010 12:17 pm

Rick F. wrote:
A little further along the road, I found this Ford sedan languishing in the woods. Okay, John, can you identify it without seeing the grill??
Image




Well, Damn! So THAT'S where I parked my car when I was up that way hanging and doing ....(things with pipes..) back in 72! I Thought I had driven up there, then decided I must of just Imagined driving up..... :lol:
How'd the tires look? I may have to go up and retrieve it soon! ha Ha!

RM
Fromerly MR. MonkeyButt now Mr. Breezy-Butt!
http://roadrunes.com

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts" - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

"I think you're a NUT!"- Tina
User avatar
RocketMan
Board Wizard
 
Posts: 4532
Joined: Tue May 11, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: State of Confusion

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Unity » Mon Aug 16, 2010 1:17 pm

Image

I'll have to ask RM for confirmation, but I'm settling on Ford Fairlane ca. 1965.

Very interesting travelog, Rick. :D

--John
2002 R1150RT, Silver
Silver, the "cool and aloof" color.
(Road & Track Vol. 56, No.2, p. 19)

1971 Triumph Bonneville, Gold
Gold, the "paying the restorer" color.
(Trust me.)
User avatar
Unity
Shaman
 
Posts: 7168
Joined: Fri Sep 17, 2004 11:26 am
Location: Reston VA

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Slider » Mon Aug 16, 2010 3:37 pm

Super photos, what camera are you using? =D>
Slider
Board Guru
 
Posts: 335
Joined: Wed Nov 18, 2009 4:53 pm
Location: conus

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Rick F. » Mon Aug 16, 2010 4:09 pm

JimVonBaden wrote:Rick,

The park rangers use a cool Yamaha XT 250 (IIRC), and I envy them every time they ride by!

Jim :brow

Jim,

Yes, that would be just the ticket! Hmmm, it looks like for me to travel the canal by motorcycle, I'll have to become a park ranger. There could be worse jobs!

Rick
For all my tour articles, check out rsftripreporter.net.

2013 BMW 335i convertible
2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
2006 BMW Z4 3.0i roadster (sold)
2005 BMW R1200GS (retired)
2003 BMW F650CS (sold)
User avatar
Rick F.
Board Wizard
 
Posts: 1687
Joined: Sun Jul 31, 2005 5:43 pm
Location: Catonsville, MD

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Rick F. » Mon Aug 16, 2010 4:13 pm

RocketMan wrote:
Rick F. wrote:
A little further along the road, I found this Ford sedan languishing in the woods. Okay, John, can you identify it without seeing the grill??
Image




Well, Damn! So THAT'S where I parked my car when I was up that way hanging and doing ....(things with pipes..) back in 72! I Thought I had driven up there, then decided I must of just Imagined driving up..... :lol:
How'd the tires look? I may have to go up and retrieve it soon! ha Ha!

RM

RM,

Well put! =D> :roller3: :biggrin: :beer: O:)

I've always wondered where all these parked, forgotten cars come from. Say, how many cars did you own back then??

Rick
For all my tour articles, check out rsftripreporter.net.

2013 BMW 335i convertible
2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
2006 BMW Z4 3.0i roadster (sold)
2005 BMW R1200GS (retired)
2003 BMW F650CS (sold)
User avatar
Rick F.
Board Wizard
 
Posts: 1687
Joined: Sun Jul 31, 2005 5:43 pm
Location: Catonsville, MD

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Rick F. » Mon Aug 16, 2010 4:20 pm

Unity wrote:Image

I'll have to ask RM for confirmation, but I'm settling on Ford Fairlane ca. 1965.

Very interesting travelog, Rick. :D

--John

John,

A knowledgeable vintage car enthusiast over on the ZPOST board also thought it was a 1965 Ford Fairlane. I was inclined to agree, but then I turned to Google for confirmation.

The bottom line (drumroll, please): It's a 1965 Ford Custom 500 2-door sedan. Which is a fairly close cousin of the Fairlane 2-door hardtop, but a closer cousin of the Galaxie 500 hardtop. Counting the 2-doors vs. 4-doors, the hardtops vs. the sedans, and the convertibles and wagons for good measure, I had no idea that Ford had so many different models of largely the same car back then (with the emphasis on "large"!) And that's before you start considering engine and transmission options.

BTW, the secret give-aways to identifying the car were (i) the forward-angled upper headlight shroud (only on the Customs and Galaxies), and (ii) the sedan window pillars, versus the pillar-less hardtops (only the Custom was available in a 2-door hardtop, as best I can tell).

Don't feel bad--I never would have gotten the Chevy Panel Truck… :?:

Rick
For all my tour articles, check out rsftripreporter.net.

2013 BMW 335i convertible
2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
2006 BMW Z4 3.0i roadster (sold)
2005 BMW R1200GS (retired)
2003 BMW F650CS (sold)
User avatar
Rick F.
Board Wizard
 
Posts: 1687
Joined: Sun Jul 31, 2005 5:43 pm
Location: Catonsville, MD

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Rick F. » Mon Aug 16, 2010 4:26 pm

Slider wrote:Super photos, what camera are you using? =D>

Slider,

Glad you enjoyed 'em!

I'm using a Canon SX10 IS "superzoom" camera. It has all the features I need, in a small-enough package. The one thing I miss is the extra crispness of a good digital SLR, like RocketMan and DogHouse use. One of these days...

Note, by the way, that the great majority of the pictures are "HDR" (high dynamic range), made up of 3 otherwise-identical pictures taken at different exposures. You get a lot of additional detail (for some additional work). See http://www.bmwbmw.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=52&t=16354 for an extended discussion of HDR photograph, with a lot of excellent examples.

Rick
For all my tour articles, check out rsftripreporter.net.

2013 BMW 335i convertible
2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
2006 BMW Z4 3.0i roadster (sold)
2005 BMW R1200GS (retired)
2003 BMW F650CS (sold)
User avatar
Rick F.
Board Wizard
 
Posts: 1687
Joined: Sun Jul 31, 2005 5:43 pm
Location: Catonsville, MD

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Unity » Mon Aug 16, 2010 7:15 pm

Rick F. wrote:Don't feel bad--I never would have gotten the Chevy Panel Truck… :?:

Oh, well, Fairlane is close enough for me. The whole bunch of them were pretty dull cars that I never paid any attention to. :D

--John
2002 R1150RT, Silver
Silver, the "cool and aloof" color.
(Road & Track Vol. 56, No.2, p. 19)

1971 Triumph Bonneville, Gold
Gold, the "paying the restorer" color.
(Trust me.)
User avatar
Unity
Shaman
 
Posts: 7168
Joined: Fri Sep 17, 2004 11:26 am
Location: Reston VA

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby RocketMan » Tue Aug 17, 2010 9:28 am

deleted double post
Last edited by RocketMan on Tue Aug 17, 2010 9:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
Fromerly MR. MonkeyButt now Mr. Breezy-Butt!
http://roadrunes.com

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts" - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

"I think you're a NUT!"- Tina
User avatar
RocketMan
Board Wizard
 
Posts: 4532
Joined: Tue May 11, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: State of Confusion

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby RocketMan » Tue Aug 17, 2010 9:29 am

Rick F. wrote:
RocketMan wrote:
Rick F. wrote:
A little further along the road, I found this Ford sedan languishing in the woods. Okay, John, can you identify it without seeing the grill??
Image




Well, Damn! So THAT'S where I parked my car when I was up that way hanging and doing ....(things with pipes..) back in 72! I Thought I had driven up there, then decided I must of just Imagined driving up..... :lol:
How'd the tires look? I may have to go up and retrieve it soon! ha Ha!

RM

RM,

Well put! =D> :roller3: :biggrin: :beer: O:)

I've always wondered where all these parked, forgotten cars come from. Say, how many cars did you own back then??

Rick

not That many! Living in the city proper back then the few I owned were $99 Friday Payday specials, if it started it was yours! Now as to motorcycles, I forget how many I went thru (mostly used..) :lol:

RM
Fromerly MR. MonkeyButt now Mr. Breezy-Butt!
http://roadrunes.com

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts" - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

"I think you're a NUT!"- Tina
User avatar
RocketMan
Board Wizard
 
Posts: 4532
Joined: Tue May 11, 2004 1:58 pm
Location: State of Confusion

Re: A Z4 Tour of the C & O Canal

Postby Maria V » Tue Aug 17, 2010 5:53 pm

Unity wrote:
Rick F. wrote:Don't feel bad--I never would have gotten the Chevy Panel Truck… :?:

Oh, well, Fairlane is close enough for me. The whole bunch of them were pretty dull cars that I never paid any attention to. :D

--John

Hey! I spent my wee childhood years riding in a Fairlane!

Nice report, Rick. :D
Maria
Retired Presidente
Kermit's Ride Rule: "Don't hit the person in front of you and no whining."
2009 F650GS - "Moose" Veni, Vidi, Vroom!
User avatar
Maria V
Attack Ninja
 
Posts: 5880
Joined: Tue Feb 10, 2004 5:43 pm
Location: NW Territories of MD

Next

Return to Ride Stories

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

cron