MA & PA RR, Muddy Creek Forks (York County, PA)

copyright, Peter H. Anderson, Baltimore, MD, Mar, '99


Muddy Creek Forks. This is about 7 miles north of Fawn Grove.

You really should have a map to get there as there are a good many twisting roads in Pennsylvania and they are not all that well marked. I use my ADC Maryland / Delaware State Road Atlas which shows Pennsylvania north as far as the city of York.

I also have a map of York County by Visual Encylopedia. Many rural roads in Pennsylvania are gravel and this map which provides relatively good detail helps me to discern a road from a driveway. This map is available at the store in Fawn Grove.


Muddy Creek Forks is a settlement of some ten buildings at the junction of the North and South Branches of Muddy Ford Creek. Most of the buildings in the town are being restored by the Ma and Pa Railr oad Preservation Society. This, along with preserving some six miles of rail is an ambitious effort.

Note that this part of York County is very rural. Don't expect to find a convenience store or gas station at any town that appears on the map. Fawn Grove seems to have the only facility.

Plenty of parking is available near the Muddy Ford Forks Roller Mill.

I hiked upstream along the rail which closely parallels the North Branch of Muddy Ford. There is a substantial open area behind the country store the remains of a water channel parallels the rail. About 100 yards up there are ruins which I assume was us ed to divert water into this channel which was used for power in the mills.

Hiking on a rail line can be difficult. Somehow, the ties never quite are in sink with a comfortable stride. Fortunately, there is a well used path along the side of the rail line.

Walking is pleasant. I happened to go in March and the lack of foliage gives a clear sweeping view of the rail and the creek.

After about a quarter mile, the rail bends away from the creek and the rail continues through a deep cut in the rock for some 75 yards. The walls of the cliffs are some 50 feet high and come mighty close to the track. It is a very impressive work and al l the more so considering this cut was made some 100 years ago when construction equipment wasn't all it is today.

On emerging from the cut, I found myself in another small settlement of High Rock which consists of some six buildings. I believe that the Preservation Society maintains the rail as far as Laurel, but I turned around in High Rock and returned to Muddy C reek Forks.

All of the main buildings in Muddy Creek Forks sit in the secondary floodplain. In fact, the basement of the general store is so high that the store itself might be thought of as being on the second story.

The reason is that the channel I had noted while walking upstream became a raceway and ran under the three buildings that comprise the Roller Mill to provide power for the machinery. I had nver really given much thought to the tricky business of siting a mill; close enough to the water to get power and yet far enough out of high water so as not to get flooded.

The headquarters of the Preservation Society is located in a large building and a few dedicated volunteers were repairing equipment.

I hiked downstream on the rail. There are a good number of pieces of rolling stock on a siding. (Pictures are on the Preservation Societies Web Page). I was struck with the small size.

I continued down the rail some 0.8 miles, always expecting to find Zimmerman Road around the bend, but didn't and I retraced my steps. It had just rained and there were numerous deer tracks and evidence of beaver (or at least some kind of animal that lik es one particular tree and has the resources to gnaw some four inches off a tree 12 inches in diameter.

On returning to my vehicle, I drove to Bridgeton which is downstream. As I recall, Bridgeton is one house. The rail is there on the upstream side and you can hike it upstream about 0.5 miles, but further access is blocked by a fence and rather threateni ng signs. Sandy Hill Road parallels the rail in this area.

I later drove to Woodbine further downstream and could see no sign of a previous right of way.


I really know nothing about railroads.

However, I was struck with the fact that this is quite different from any rail line I have hiked in that it was definitely a low cost operation. The bed is barely raised and there are no drainage ditches along the track to keep water out of the bed. Bot h are importnat to prevent water from collecting in the bed and freezing and buckling.

The cuts are wide enough to barely accommodate the train and there really is no place for the rocks to fall other than on the track. Not the kind of rail where one would chance going 40 mph or even 20 mph though the cut.

There are telegraph poles, but they are spaced quite far apart and held but two wires, which I presume were used for the rail companies' communication. Many rail companies used their right of ways to develop a lucrative side business in providing communi cations. This rail line apparently didn't.

The stock is very small. Small is different to me and my first impulse was "small" equals "old". But, I am not so certain. I used to ride a commuter train into New York and those coaches were manufactured in 1885 and they were huge. Some of this stock running on the "Ma and Pa" was manufactured in the 1940s.

My conclusion is that although "Maryland and Pennsylvania" conjures up an image of importance on par with "Baltimore and Ohio", this rail line was simply a means of transportation connecting such out of the way places as Glen Arm, Fallston, Bynum, Bel Air , Forest Hill, Pylesville, Delta and various settlements in Pennsylvania with each other and with York and with Baltimore. Indeed, it connected Baltimore and York, taking some 78 miles to travel a straight line distance of 44 miles, but its primary purpo se was to serve the small communities.

Thus, the small rolling stock. It did the job and the relatively light weight didn't demand all that much of a road bed.

All is this is not to diminish the importance of this rail line. Afterall, a rural road is important to the people who live on the road, but this rail definitely was not the Interstate 83 of yesteryear.

However, it is an interesting bit of history, and in fact, relatively recent history. Cheap transportation is vital for any community and rail was the best approach for bulk until the Interstate Highway System made trucking a cheaper alternative. I have to assume there were hundreds of these small "mom and pop" type operations thoughout the nation, but they are gone and for the most part forgotten.