Friday, February 15, 2013

Snow Storm Forces Horse Racing Fans to Sleep at Bowie Race Track

Bowie Race Track, February 23, 1958, Baltimore Sun
February 15, 1958 (55 years ago today): Eighteen inches of snow fell on Bowie, causing a massive traffic jam, and forcing hundreds of horse racing fans to spend the night at the Bowie Race Track. Nearly 14,000 fans came to Bowie for the races despite the forecast for heavy snow. One foot of snow fell by the time the last race of the day was over around 5:00pm. Thousands of cars soon left the parking lot, and drivers found the country roads hard to navigate. Several of the lead cars weren't able to make it up slippery hills, stranding an estimated 3,000 cars behind them. A tractor-trailer overturned on Route 197 making matters worse. People waited in their cars for hours, and many ran out of gas. Cars were abandoned, and some racing fans walked as far as three miles back to the warmth of the clubhouse. Despite the fact that the races were over, heavy betting continued on games of craps, poker and gin rummy. Track officials estimated that 250 gallons of coffee and 6,000 to 8,000 sandwiches were given to the stranded fans. The Pennsylvania Railroad dispatched a special train to the track later that night, and 1,600 passengers were taken to Penn Station in Baltimore. Hundreds of fans spent the night at the race track, sleeping on couches, in the track's infirmary or anywhere else they could find to sleep. A second train came back to the race track the following morning to pick up more passengers.

The picture above can be purchased from The Baltimore Sun.  Click on the following link for more information.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Record Turnout for Open Day at the Bowie Race Track

February 8, 1958 (55 years ago today): A record 17,971 horse racing fans descended on the Bowie Race Track for what was the earliest opening day at the track at that time. Nearly one thousand of the fans traveled by bus from New York City, and some came by train from Philadelphia. The track was nearly frozen, and fans had to contend with wind and cold temperatures.

Pictured here is a race day traffic jam from August, 1973 (photo by Arnie Miles).

Photos of Bowie Maryland 1973 through 1975 by Arnie Miles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Snowmageddon Dumps More than Two Feet of Snow on Bowie

February 6, 2010 (3 years ago today): Snowmageddon dumped 25 1/2 inches of snow on Bowie. The snow started Friday night, February 5th, and lasted until late in the afternoon on Saturday, February 6th. Another snowstorm brought an additional eight inches of snow to Bowie the following week.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Six People Killed and Scores Hurt in Bowie Train Derailment

Railroad ties along the former Bowie Race Track Spur, November 23, 2012
 February 2, 1961 (52 years ago today): Six people died and scores were injured when a train carrying more than 300 passengers bound for the Bowie Race Track derailed near the Bowie State Teachers College (now Bowie State University).  The engine and multiple cars careened down an embankment, ripping up some of the track. The accident resulted in a massive emergency response that included approximately 45 ambulances, 50 police officers and numerous firefighters.  Several area hospitals including Glenn Dale Hospital and Prince George's General Hospital implemented disaster plans in anticipation of the arrival of the injured.  Some of the injured were taken by train to Baltimore area hospitals.

The train, known as the Bowie Special, crashed as it entered a two-mile spur that connected the main rail line between D.C. and Baltimore to the Bowie Race Track.  During race days, the railroad spur was used four times, twice for incoming trains before the races, and twice for outgoing trains after the races.  This "special" had picked up horse racing fans in Philadelphia, Aberdeen, Baltimore and a handful of other stations before the crash.

Some passengers continued on foot to the race track after the accident, including a man with a broken collarbone.  Another "special" train was dispatched from the race track to the accident scene to pick up some of the racing fans.

A subsequent investigation revealed that the train was traveling 55 miles per hour on a sharp curve with a speed limit of 15 mph.  The engineer claimed that the train lost all braking power miles before the accident, but the train was equipped with a monitoring device that told a different story.  Despite having 18 years of experience, it was the engineer's first time on the Bowie Race Track route.

The races went on as scheduled despite the train wreck, but a four-alarm fire later in the day in a building at the race track caused the last horse race of the day to be canceled.  Firefighters had to be dispatched from the site of the train accident to the race track to fight the fire.  According to the Baltimore Sun, 80 pieces of firefighting equipment were sent to the fire.  No horses or people were injured in the fire, but a building containing betting machines was destroyed.

The two mile railroad spur connecting the Bowie Race Track  to the D.C./Baltimore line no longer exists, although a rough path lies in its place.  Old rails, railroad ties and utility poles can be found along the route of the old spur, including the railroad ties pictured here.  Plans are currently being considered to pave a portion of this path as part of a project that would link the WB&A trail in Prince George's County with the WB&A trail in Anne Arundel County.

The following photographs of the accident were taken by the Baltimore Sun.

Fire at the Bowie Race Track on February 2, 1961