Posts Tagged ‘maryland’




Dedication of the first Job Corps Training Center on Catoctin Mountain. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Catoctin Mountain in Frederick County, Md., can boast a lot of interesting history from Camp David to the Blue Blazes Still raid. From an OSS training camp during World War II to Camp Misty for children.


“Also on the Government side is the ‘mother’ camp of President Johnson’s Poverty Program,” the Frederick Post reported in 1965.

President Johnson had been the Texas director of the National Youth Administration. It was a New Deal program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt similar in objective to the Job Corps. Johnson convinced Congress it could work again, according to Barbara Kirkconnell in Catoctin Mountain Park, An Administrative History.

The camp, called Camp Round Meadow, opened in January 1965 and served as the place to train people who would be sent out across the country to depressed areas to open and operate other similar camps.

At the camp, 75 people were hired and trained on how to run a poverty training camp. “While these people are being instructed, some 20 persons accepted as trainees by the new program, will be working in the area.

Consideration of using the park for such a site began in May 1964. Federal government officials visited the park and inspected possible sites for the camp. Within a month, the government began converting the 60-acre Central Garage Unit Area in the country’s first Job Corps Center, according to Kirkconnell.

Besides building the camp, officials met with residents of Thurmont, Hagerstown, and other communities where the camp attendees might spend their off hours. They wanted to make sure that there would be a good relationship between the camp and towns.

“Thurmont merchants were wooed by an expected $200,000 in revenue from supplies, equipment and food sold to the camp for the program,” Kirkconnell wrote.

Camp officials spoke at civic meetings and invited officials and organizations out to tour the camp.

“On January 15, 1965, 85 young men between the ages of 16 and 21 arrived at Catoctin MP to inaugurate the job Corps Program at a site “largely unimproved” since the CCC left in 1941,” Kirkconnell wrote.

The Jobs Corps Center was dedicated on February 27.

The center got off to a rocky start with staffing problems and too many visiting dignitaries not only from the federal government but also foreign governments, such as Japan, Canada, British Guinea, England, Israel, the Philippines and the Ivory Coast.

“Continual recruitment brought a total of 157 recruits into the program but 57 left before the end of June.  The bleak winter contributed to homesickness; stark conditions of the camp without indoor recreation facilities and high expectations added to the general ‘depressive atmosphere,” Kirkconnell wrote.

Camp Director C. A. Maxey blamed the high drop-out rate on the recruits who had “temperamental and emotional problems in boys who had known little but failure,” according to a Baltimore Sun article.

The boys had been recruited from families earning less than $3,000 a year (around $23,000 today) and had an average of a 9th grade education. At the camp, they earned $32 a month plus $50, which was put in a bank account for them. “If they made a family allotment of $25 from the $50, the government matched it with another $25,” Kirkconnell wrote.

The program included a half day of work and a half day of education in the winter. The work time increased and the education time decreased as the weather warmed up. The work consisted of park projects, such as building trails, picnic tables, and needed buildings. They also did work improving the Gettysburg Battlefield.

As they mastered basic skills, they were given more-complex work.

“A sign construction program teaching printing, mechanical drawing, hand routing, measurement skills, painting, and organizational skills produced 225 signs for Catoctin, Greenbelt, Cunningham Falls State Park and Antietam Parks in Fiscal Year 1965-1966,” Kirkconnell wrote.

They also performed work in the surrounding community such as building a ball field and picnic pavilion for Thurmont parks.

By 1966, things were running far more smoothly. By the end of 18 months of operation, 439 men had been recruited to the camp. And 102 had transferred out, 165 had resigned, 24 graduated, 16 went back to school or jobs, leaving 111 Corpsmen in camp at the end of June 1966, according to Kirkconnell.

By that time, it became an election year issue. Congress criticized the program and cut funding. Discipline was a problem and so were community relations.

The Job Corps Center finally closed in May 1969.

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Three Japanese snipers who got into a shoot out with U.S. troops and lost during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is considered by many to be largest naval battle during World War II, so it is often forgotten that troops were sent ashore to capture Leyte Island once the gulf was won.

The United States’ victory in October 1944 secured the seas around the islands in the Leyte Gulf, but the Japanese still held the islands. On December 7, the 77th Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Andrew Bruce, made an amphibious landing at Albuera, a city on Leyte Island. The 305th, 306th, and 307th Infantry Regiments came ashore without incident, but that peace wouldn’t last.

Kamikaze attacks sunk U.S. destroyers. Japanese troops on the island regrouped and began fighting back against the Americans. Private Denver C. Sharpless of Deer Park, Md., was among the U.S. troops taking fire.

He had been overseas for a year after having gone through basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. He had enlisted in the army at Fort Meade in April 1942 for the “duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months,” which was a standard enlistment for WWII.

The 30-year-old infantryman had just taken cover in a ditch during a firefight when he saw a Japanese soldier emerge from his cover.

“He was the biggest Jap I ever saw,” Sharpless told an interviewer while he was in the hospital recovering from a nerve ailment in his right leg. “Must have been more than six feet and I’m not exaggerating when I say that his head was as big as one of our helmets.”

The average height of Japanese soldiers during the war was under five feet five inches. Sharpless himself was only five feet eight inches tall and weighed 152 pounds.

Sharpless wasn’t too scared of the Japanese solider. Sharpless had found cover and he had his rifle. And that big, hulking soldier made an easy target.

Then the Japanese soldier saw Sharpless and dropped out of sight. The Japanese soldier began crawling and Sharpless saw him again when he passed through an open area 25 yards away.

“Then I began to get frightened because, when I pulled the trigger, my M1 wouldn’t fire,” Sharpless said. “I yanked open the bolt and saw that the firing pin was broken.”

Sharpless was considering scurrying away so he didn’t fall within the soldier’s sights. Then Sharpless saw another American with a Browning Automatic Rifle coming toward him. The American soldier had also seen the Japanese soldier.

Sharpless asked to borrow the man’s rifle, but the soldier told him that he wanted to take out the Japanese soldier. He fired a couple shots and the Japanese soldier went down.

“I wished at the time that I had a camera to take his picture,” Sharpless said. “He looked like one of those oversize freaks you see in comic strips.”

Besides fighting at Leyte, Sharpless also fought on Guam. He earned the Combat Infantry Badge for exemplary conduct under fire and the Philippines Liberation campaign ribbon. Despite surviving enemy fire, the nerve ailment manifested itself a few months later. It severity required that he be sent to a California hospital for treatment.

He was the son of Robert and Bertha Sharpless. His parents had divorced at a young age, though, and he had been raised by his mother in Deer Park. His father was a coal miner who lived in Swanton and had remarried.

Denver died in Ohio in 1991.

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The Arion Band performing in 1908 in Frostburg. Courtesy of the Albert and Angela Feldstein Collection.

For longer than anyone has been alive today, Frostburg, Md., has always had the Arion Band. Before Alexander Graham Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here I need you,” Watson could listened to the band playing a march or other popular piece of music.

Through the Great Depression and victory at war, the Arion Band brought joy to Western Marylanders and celebrated with them whether it was a holiday or victory at war. Even as music styles changed, the Arion Band kept up with them and adapted.

“The Arion Band is believed to be the oldest, continually operating band in the country,” says Blair Knouse, president of the band. You might find bands that have been around longer, they have gaps in their history where most likely they weren’t performing for a time.

While the Arion Band’s membership fluctuates from season to season, it maintains about 30 active members who love making music, much like the founders of the band. Knouse has played flute with the band for five years.

Back in 1875, German coal miners in the Frostburg area formed a chorus that performed locally. The following year, the chorus purchased instruments so that the singers would have some accompaniment. Local furniture maker Conrad F. Nichol organized the musicians into the German Arion Band and became its first director.

“By 1877, they were saying, ‘This is fun. Let’s forget about singing,’” says band director Ron Horner, who has been in that position since 1995 and is only the seventh director that the band has had.

The band started practicing at the Gross and Nichol Furniture Store on February 5, 1879. This was where they continued to practice until the store burned down in 1888.

“The blaze claimed instruments, uniforms, music, and even the director as Mr. Nichol set about rebuilding his business,” Jay Stevens wrote in his history of the band, which was included in the program for the 125th anniversary performance.

Band members and residents of communities in the area bought new instruments for the band and rehearsals continued in the Odd Fellows Hall in Frostburg.

In 1889, while under the direction of the second band director, John Miller, the band was sworn in at the 4th Battalion Band, a component of the Maryland State Militia. The band nearly went to war during the Spanish-American War.

“The entire band was drafted en masse as an army band, but then the war ended so they wound up not going into the war,” Knouse says.

As anti-German sentiment rose during World War I, the band, under the direction of its third director, George Vogtman, decided to drop “German” from its name.

During the Great Depression and much of World War II, R. Hilary Lancaster led the band. He was followed by Darrell Zeller, who led the band from 1943 until 1989. George McDowell led the band from 1989 until 1995.

Now in its 138th year, the Arion Band continues playing each summer season from mid-May through mid-September. During the season, they will play around 10 performances. They stay local playing at festivals, nursing home, and sporting events. Practices are held in the Arion Band Hall on Uhl Street, which was built in 1900.

“The furthest we’ve ever traveled since I’ve been a member is Altoona to play for at an Altoona Curves baseball game,” Knouse says.

However, the band did travel by train to Luray, Va., where it performed in the caverns, according to Stevens’ history.

The band gets its name from the ancient Corinthian, Arion He was a poet who was known for his musical invents, including the dithyramb. He is also remembered for the Greek myth of being kidnapped by pirates and thrown overboard, only to be rescued by dolphins.

All of the members are volunteers, who participate because they love playing music. They range from middle-school students to retired musicians.

“We have a lot of nice history and multiple generations playing,” Knouse says. This includes a father and daughter who play trumpets, in-laws, aunts, and cousins from local families.

There was time in its early years when musicians had to try out for the band. Once in the band, there was competition to play in the first seat for a particular instrument. This meant that musicians were serious about their practicing.

“If you were talking, they could hold your instrument for a week so that you couldn’t practice,” says Vice President Jeanette Tucker.

In modern times, the band has been open to anyone who has a desire to play music.

“We will work with whoever comes to play,” Tucker says. “The ones who don’t fit in kind of weed themselves out.”

She joined the band 19 years ago after she heard them performing at the Frostburg Soapbox Derby Day.

“I heard them play and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to be a part of,’” Tucker says.

Any money the band gets from its performances are used to pay the band’s expenses, such as travel and hall upkeep.

“We keep going because we have a sense of responsibility to keep the tradition alive and keep it going,” Horner says.

One way the band keeps that tradition alive is through their music choices. Horner’s job as director is to find the music that will appeal to the audiences that they play for. This has led to an evolving repertoire that remains top quality.

The musicians themselves are another reason for the longevity of the band. Once members join, they tend to remain with the band because it is fun and they form close relationships with the other members.

“We create something together that no one can do individually,” Horner says.

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A road cleared of snow during the 1958 blizzard in Garrett County.

The call came in that Thomas J. Johnson needed an ambulance. He was seriously ill and needed to get to the hospital. Normally, it wouldn’t be a problem, but in early 1958, getting anywhere in Garrett County, Maryland, was to say the least difficult.

The ambulance attempted to reach him, but it couldn’t get through to Johnson’s Herrington Manor home. Help came in the form of bulldozers and snow plows that struggled to carve a path through drifting snow as high as 15 feet. It took six hours for the plows to reach the 67-year-old Johnson and rush him to Garrett Memorial.

During another incident that winter, Trooper First Class Robert Henline walked three miles through deep snow that vehicles couldn’t get through to deliver medicine to a desperate family near Gorman.

Other incidents occurred, some serious and some just major inconveniences, but there were a lot of them. In seven weeks in 1958, nearly 112 inches of snow fell on the county, beating out the previously bad winter of 1936. No other winter in the 20th century to that point even came close.

The Cumberland Sunday Times reported that the bad weather “practically isolated most of the county despite heroic efforts of State Roads and county roads crews, National Guardsmen and other volunteers.”

Although the first snows of the new year had fallen mid-January, the first big storm came at the end of the month. Ten inches of snow fell on January 24 followed by three more inches two days later. “For a short time on Friday afternoon there was snow, sleet and ice falling at the same time,” The Republican reported. A heavy fog also slowed things down.

The heavy snows led to the rare occurrence of closing Garrett County schools in the county for three days at the beginning of February.

“It was the first time in several years that there had been the loss of even one day of school,” The Republican noted.

School Superintendent Willard Hawkins said he “was afraid to put the buses on the roads because of poor visibility and icy conditions.” The Republican reported that Hawkins had intended to resume school on the third days until he found out that many children and teachers were still snowbound.

A week later nearly 10 inches of snow fell on three consecutive days. Pleasant Valley, Kempton, North Glade, Sanders Lane, and Herrington Manor were the worst hit, reporting snow drifts of 15 feet or more. With visibility near zero, the Maryland State Police issued an emergency travel only order.

The blizzard left about 40 percent of the county roads impassable for two days, according to Paul DeWitt, assistant county engineer. Garrett County had 140 men working 45 snow plows around the clock to try and open and clear the 740 miles of county roads.

State road crews were running 20 snow plows and a giant snow-blower over the 158 miles of state roads in the county. The only state road that was impassable was Route 495 between Bittinger and Grantsville.

With so much snow on the ground, the snow plows were only able to push it so far off the road before running into previous piles of snow that had been pushed off the road. “By that time there was no place to push it and consequently many of the highways drifted completely over,” The Republican reported.

In Oakland, snow and vehicles competed for space and the snow often won. “Parking space was at a premium and many of those who found places at the edges of the drifts found themselves unable to move when they returned to their cars,” The Republican noted.

All of the snow busted the county’s budget that year with rented equipment costing $1,000 a day and snow removal equipment using 2,000 gallons of gasoline a day.

Although the snow totals blew away previous snowfall records in the county, at least the temperature records still stood. In 1958, the temperature fell to -17 degrees, but the 1912 record was -40 degrees.

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4948.4966From Baltimore’s Pratt Street Riot in April 1861 that saw the first fatality of the Civil War to President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train in 1865, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was a rolling witness to history.

“You could argue that it was the most crucial railroad in the United States during the war because it ran across the dividing line between the North and South,” says Courtney Wilson, executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.

At the beginning of the war, the B&O had 513 miles of track that ran from Washington, DC, to Wheeling, Virginia.

“From Wheeling, the train would be taken across the river on floats to Parkersburg,” Wilson notes. From there, connections could be made to other railroads, but the Washington, DC, connection was the critical one. In terms of rail service, the B&O was Washington’s lifeline to the Union.

Despite being in the Union, the rail line ran through states with Southern sympathies or states that were actually in the Confederate States of America. This made it a target too tempting to ignore. Over the course of the war, 143 raids and battles would involve the B&O.

New Tactics

In terms of tactics and strategy, the Civil War was unlike any conflict fought before, largely because of the use of railroads.

Most of the nation’s 200 railroads at the start of the war remained loyal to the Union. Among these railroads, the majority used a uniform distance between their rails. This allowed the Union to move troops and goods faster and with fewer transfers.

This was a significant tactical advantage for the North. The trick was for Union generals to learn to make use of it.

“I would say that they adapted to it very quickly, particularly that they could move troops six times the distance in a 24-hour period,” says Wilson.


“A Southern Railroad”

Marylander John W. Garrett (for whom Garrett County is named) was president of the B&O during the Civil War years. Garrett had been born in Virginia and still loved the Old Dominion, though it was considered an enemy of the state where he lived as an adult.

“His loyalties were in question at first because he had called the B&O a Southern railroad,” Wilson says. He also referred to Confederate leaders as “our Southern friends.”

However, the Confederacy also had doubts about Garrett’s loyalty to the Southern cause. After the Pratt Street Riot, a group of Southern sympathizers threatened to “destroy every bridge and tear up your track” along the railroad.

“It was two to three months before he won the confidence of the president,” Wilson says, and that came about because Garrett, as well as many Maryland businessmen with pro-Southern leanings, realized that their commercial interests lay with the Union.

John Stover wrote in History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, “John W. Garrett might claim that the B&O was a Southern line, but in his heart he knew that both the prosperity and the future of his railroad lay with the North, the West, and the Union, rather than the South.”

Once Garrett came to this realization, he committed himself to the Union cause and didn’t waver.

Pre-War Engagements

Even before the Civil War started with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861, the B&O had been caught up in the tensions between the North and South.

In 1859, conductor A.J. Phelps sent a panicked telegram to Baltimore that read, in part, “Express train bound east under my charge was stopped this morning at Harpers Ferry by armed abolitionists. They have possession of the bridges and of the arms and armory of the United States.”

This was the beginning of John Brown’s ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry and is often considered the first battle of the Civil War. Brown realized what Confederate generals would also come to see in a few years: If they could sever the B&O Railroad’s connection, they could cripple their enemy.

In 1860, President-Elect Abraham Lincoln made his way from Illinois to Washington, DC, for his inauguration. It was supposed to be a leisurely trip, but rumors began that Lincoln might face violence in pro-Southern Baltimore.

Lincoln’s schedule was adjusted so that his train arrived in Baltimore at 3 a.m. Horses quietly dragged Lincoln’s rail car along Pratt Street from the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore depot to the Camden Street depot, where it was transferred to the B&O line. The B&O then delivered the president-elect safely to Washington at 6 a.m.

Damages during the War

In the early years of the war, when Northern Virginia was contested territory, sections of the B&O that ran south of the Potomac River would sometimes be under Confederate control. Whenever this happened, the Confederate Army was sure to burn bridges and tear up tracks.

“Millions and millions and millions of dollars of damage was done to the railroad during the war,” Wilson says.

The B&O’s annual report for 1861 showed that it had been a particularly costly year for the railroad. Losses totaled 26 bridges nearly a mile in length, 102 miles of telegraph line, two water stations, and a lot of rolling stock lost because of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.

On May 23, 1861, Jackson’s men shut down the B&O between Point of Rocks, 12 miles east of Harpers Ferry, and Cherry Run, 32 miles west of Harpers Ferry. Jackson captured 56 locomotives and more than 300 freight cars. Some of them were put into use with Confederate railroads, while the rest were kept at Martinsburg, Virginia.

The following month, at Martinsburg, Jackson’s men blew up the seven-span railroad bridge; 400 rail cars and 42 engines were destroyed. This represented a significant loss to the railroad and shut down the B&O for close to 10 months.

This turned out to be the Confederacy’s most successful action against the B&O. Though they recognized the importance of the railroad to war-time tactics, they were unable to permanently stop the B&O or match the railroad’s success with the Southern railroads.

Recognizing the importance of the B&O to its own success, the Union government dedicated brigades on the eastern and western ends of the line to protect the B&O from not only regular Confederate Army actions, but also raids from the growing number of ranger units.



The relationship between the B&O and the Union proved beneficial to both. The Union was able to move its men and equipment quickly to where they were most needed.

For instance, when General William Rosecrans required back-up to defeat Confederate General Braxton Bragg in Georgia, help came from 30 trains pulling around 700 cars filled with 25,000 troops. They made a large part of the journey on the B&O.

For the B&O, revenues increased dramatically, and not just from its government contracts to provide transportation.

“Both passenger and freight revenue greatly increased between 1861 and 1865, passenger receipts increased more than fourfold in the four years, and freight revenue climbing nearly threefold,” Stover wrote.

“However, the 1861 revenue, partly because of the destruction caused by Stonewall Jackson, was much below that of previous years.”

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LBToday is the last day to get the Amazon.com bestselling book Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland as a FREE Kindle e-book.

The book is filled with true stories about Western Maryland that will keep you reading whether you’re a native of Western Maryland or just someone who has heard about it.

  • Did you know that a Russian prince once worked as a priest in Cumberland?
  • Have you heard the story about the German POW camp near Flintstone during WWII?
  • Do you know about the mining wars that were fought to try and unionize the coal mines in the Georges Creek region?
  • Do you know the story behind Cumberland’s only lynching? Have you heard the story about the baseball game played between the Cumberland Colts and the New York Yankees?

These are the stories of Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland found in old newspapers, history books and other places. It’s the stories of people who tamed the mountains, established cities, raised families and lived their lives.

 Journey back in time and look beyond the photos that so well document the region’s history. This collection of 40 stories spans 220 years of life in Western Maryland.

Looking Back hit no. 1 in Amazon’s Mid-Atlantic E-book category yesterday (I took a screenshot to mark the occasion) and has since climbed into the top 500 of non-fiction e-books. 071216-First No 1

Grab your free copy today and let me know what you think by leaving a review. That will help my future marketing efforts for the book.

Here are some of the types of stories that you’ll find in Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland:

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Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

The Cumberland Municipal Airport has never been busier than when sports cars raced around its runways.


Yes, sports cars. Not airplanes.

Each May from 1953 to 1971 racers from across the country would travel to Cumberland to test their sports cars against other top cars to see whose was the fastest.  Roger Penske, Shelby Briggs and Carroll Shelby all raced at the Cumberland Airport. The races featured some of the greatest racing cars of the time: Birdcage Maserati, Ferrari Testa Rossa, D Type Jaguar, Porsche 356 Speedster, Cobra, Mustang, Camaro, Sunbeam Alpine, Austin Healy 100, and the Howmet Turbine Car.

“It was a great time,” said Dave Williams. “A who’s who of American sports car racing came through Cumberland.” Williams watched many of those old races as a young man and he remains a racing enthusiast and promoter of sports car racing today.

The Cumberland Municipal Airport offered a 1.6-mile-long course for the racers. In the days before permanent automobile racetracks became common, airport runways offered a satisfactory alternative.


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

Cumberland Lions Club staged the annual races and their proceeds helped provide free eye exams and glasses for needy children in the county, helped build Lions Manor Nursing Home, contributed to the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins and provided funding to the local Salvation Army, Boy Scouts of America, and YMCA.

May 1953 saw the first races at the airport. It was a result of months of planning between officials from the airport, Cumberland Lions, and Pittsburgh Steel Cities Region – Sports Car Club of America.

“The initial 1953 event started as Steel Cities/Pittsburgh Regional Races with 80 entries and a rather sparse group of spectators,” Bob Poling and Bill Armstrong wrote in Wings over Cumberland: An Aviation History.

Word spread locally and through the racing community that the airport in Cumberland was a great track on which to race.

The following year 122 racers and their cars showed up to compete before a crowd of around 12,000 people. This led to Cumberland’s regional event becoming a national one.


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

“Being a national event meant that it was the most-important event in your region in a year,” said Williams.

It also meant that only racers with a national competition license could compete at Cumberland. There were only 1,100 nationally licensed drivers in the country at that time and 284 of them showed up in Cumberland to race in 1955. They came from 40 of the 48 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada. The racers competed in 11 races from 8:30 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. giving racing fans a full days of thrills.

As a national event, Cumberland began getting featured in media across the country. Sports Illustrated listed the Cumberland Airport Races among the big coming events in the world of sports.

“It represented the largest car race conducted in the US and included many prominent racing figures such as the Briggs Cunningham team of Maseratti race cars. Also, the American manufactured Corvette was making its presence known,” wrote Poling and Armstrong.

The Cumberland Sports Car races continued to grow in popularity with fans. Some of the highlights over the years include:

  • 1956 – Band leaders Paul Whiteman and Skitch Henderson along with actor Steve Allen race in Cumberland.
  • 1957 – Famed racer Carroll Shelby wins the main event at Cumberland.
  • 1958 – Roger Penske taking his SCCA driver’s test in Cumberland in a 283 Corvette. Penske got his license at the cost of his car. He blew the engine and then it fell off the trailer as he took it home.
  • 1965 – The new GT Mustang driven by Bob Johnson wins the Production Car race.
  • 1966 – The Walt Hansgen Memorial Trophy is awarded in memory of a five-time winner at Cumberland. Hansgen was killed in a crash at LeMans earlier in the year.
  • 1967 – What would become a classic—the Z28 Camaro—won its first race.
  • 1968 – Ray Heppenstal drove the turbine-powered Howmet TX Turbo car. Billed as the “car of the future”, it lost its race to Bob Nagel’s McKee Ford 427.

The peak year for the races, as far as attendance goes was 45,000 people in 1958. This was also the year a racer went over the embankment at the airport. Louis Jeffries was driving a Siata Special when the brakes failed coming off a long straightaway. The car went over the embankment, rolling several times until it reached the bottom. Jeffries was injured but not seriously. It was the only time that this type of accident happened during the races.


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

“By the early 1960’s, though, airport courses were being replaced by permanent sports tracks and attendance at airport races declined,” said Williams.

Though the community supported the races, some people were starting to complain about the ground at the airport being torn up and that the cars racing at Cumberland were starting to show their age.

Then the Cumberland Mayor and City Council voted to ban car races at the airport after June of 1971. This allowed the 1971 race to go on. Only 200 cars entered the races and competed against each other before 12,000 fans. Almost as if to mark the sadness of the last airport races in Cumberland, it rained through much of the day.

The Federal Aviation Administration agreed with the actions of the city government. In a letter to the city, an FAA official wrote that “it is evident that increased use of the airport requires that all facilities be available for aviation purposes.”

Amateur racing had been struggling in recent years not only because access to airports was being denied organizers, but insurance costs for such events were rising dramatically. Also, many of the big-name draws for these events had turned professional, taking much of the fan base with them.

Allegany County continues to have autocrosses but nothing like the head-to-head competition that once thrilled residents.

For more information:

Here’s are some links to more information about Cumberland auto racing.


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