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Western Maryland Railway Historical Society (WMRHS) License Plate/Tag

In July 2004 I started a campaign to get specialty license plates for WMRHS. The plates are now on vehicles in the state of Maryland. If you look around in the parking lot at a local train show or at the WMRHS headquarters in Union Bridge, MD, you may just see a few of them around. Read on to learn about the custom tags and to see how you can get your own WMRHS license plates.

About the WMRHS License Plate

On July 16, 2004, the WMRHS Board of Directors officially motioned and accepted this as an official WMRHS project. The plate that was accepted is visible in the shot below.

If you have not yet contacted me about getting your own Western Maryland Railway Historical Society license plate, please email me (Pete Brown) at this address: wmplates (-AT-) irritatedVowel.com. (replace the (-AT-) with the @ symbol. Please remember to Include your name and your current Maryland vehicle tag number.



License Plate Design

The WM circle "Fast Freight" herald lasted throughout more of the WM's paint schemes than just about any other mark. Even during the Chessie era, there were a couple round-herald flatcars still hanging around. The circular Fast Freight herald was a proud symbol of the Western Maryland Railway, and served as the central part of the now-famous "fireball" that appeared on steam and diesel alike, as well as on a few structures, and rail motorcars.

The gold on black round herald here evokes the image of the proud herald on the nose of an F3 or F7 cab unit, or my personal favorite diesels, the FA2 and the RS3.


Given the timeless appeal of the herald and the constraints imposed by the MVA plate design requirements, the round herald makes the best use of available 3" square space to provide the most visible and eye-catching WM logo.

The letters "WM" were already taken by the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company, Inc., so I opted to select "WMR" instead.

Final Round Herald Artwork

On September 12, 2004 I finally finished the high-resolution artwork for the plate. This turned out to be quite an effort (probably around 40-50 hours or so), and very interesting as well. Upon close inspection, I found that the WM Round herald changed quite a bit between the different locomotives and rolling stock, depending on the template used. In particular, the size and spacing of the text inside the center of the herald was quite different.

The herald also differed depending upon the locomotive manufacturer. For example, The "M" in the herald on #1205 differs quite a bit from the M in the nose herald on #63. In any case, I believe I have created (from scratch) a decent 3"x3" 1200dpi representation of the herald suitable for use on the license plates. A small version of it can be seen to the here.


The version I built is based mainly on the round herald that appeared on the front of F7A #63. My primary reference is the photograph in the 1952 copy of "Western Maryland in Pictures". If you don't have this large-format brochure, try and snag one next time it appears on eBay. The photos, many of which WM fans have seen before, are beautiful.

How the Logo was Created

For those who are interested in the technical details of creating the logo, here is some additional information.

I tried several different approaches to create the herald. The way I finally ended up doing it was by starting with the Egyptian font offered by Railfonts.com. This font is fairly close to the one used by the WM on the heralds.

I fit the top "Western" to a curve. The end result was messy, but closer to the final version than I would have gotten by myself. The bottom "Maryland" was placed on the curve one character at a time as fitting it to a curve did not yield acceptable results.


Once I had the text placed, I used the vector editor in Paint Shop Pro (my tool of choice in 2004) to modify each character one point/vertex at a time. You can see an example of this by clicking on the image above. In that screenshot, I am editing the "S" character. Notice the control points around the letter. The point/vector editing enabled me to get in some of the signature lettering such as the unique S and G used on the herald, and the low bars on the "A" characters. I learned a lot about the vector editor in Paint Shop Pro in doing this. Based upon my experience here, I can definitely see using this on other work in the future.


To see two very obvious differences between the stock font and the final letters, click on the image above. In that, you can see the modifications made to the letter "S" and to the letter "G". In both cases, the curves needed to be straightened out, and the "hook" removed from the ends of the characters. This results in the "S" not having quite so happy a look to it.

In the case of the "G", I also needed to extend the arm (I'm sure there is a proper typesetting/fontographer term for that) up a bit to give it more of a chin. Other types of modifications were made to virtually every character in the logo.

Finally, I manually adjusted the spacing (kerning) of all the characters in the logo to bring them closer together as seen on the prototype. This is another spot where the various heralds differ significantly. The heralds on the diesel locomotives have much closer kerning than the version seen on the rolling stock and cabooses.

The stars were created using one of the Windows WinDings font characters.


How to Get your Own Western Maryland Railway License Plate

Individual eligibility is pretty simple. All the hard work is done at the historical society level. You need only meet the following criteria:

  • You are a member in good standing of the Western Maryland Railway Historical Society.
    • If you are not currently a member, I can direct you to the right people so you can join. Membership is very inexpensive, and besides the ability to get the custom Western Maryland Railway license plate, you also get a yearly calendar filled with WM photos, a quarterly magazine The Blue Mountain Express packed with WM information, discounts on merchandise, first notice of WMRHS-sponsored custom runs of various models, and an invitation to the yearly convention.
  • You have a vehicle (car, SUV or light truck) registered in the state of Maryland.
  • You agree to return the plate to the MVA upon termination of your membership with the WMRHS.

Ordering the Custom Western Maryland Railway Tag

Simply email me at wmplates .AT. irritatedVowel.com and I will send you the agreement. Once you sign and return that with the WMRHS $5 fee, I will send you the signed MVA form which you can either bring to the MVA or mail to them.

The cost per plate set from the MVA is only $25. There is a $5 fee payable to the WMRHS to cover their expenses in processing the applications and obtaining the new plates. Once you receive your new plates, you will turn in your current Maryland plates to your local MVA office.

Please note: Please do not ask if I can request or allocate specific tag numbers; the MVA generates them sequentially using a numbering scheme that is out of our control or influence.


Frequently Asked Questions


Q: Is this an Official WMRHS project or are you doing this on your own?
A: As of July 16, 2004 this is an official WMRHS project with full backing from the WMRHS board of directors. I am the chairperson handling all the details on behalf of the WMRHS.

Q: What is the cost for the plates?
A: The cost is broken down into two pieces. There will be a small one-time $5 fee paid to the WMRHS that will be used to cover the expenses the WMRHS has incurred. In addition, there is a one time $25 fee paid to the MVA to cover the cost of the plates themselves. Total cost for each set of plates is therefore $30, paid one time. You do not need to re-register your vehicle to get the new plates. Your new plates/tags will expire the same time as your current plates.

Q: Can I get more than one set of plates?
A: Yes, as long as all vehicles that display the plates/tags meet the MVA requirements, and are registered in the name of the WMRHS member. The fees for each set of plates will be the same as the fees if ordered individually.

Q: Can I request a specific plate number?
A: The plates are numbered by the MVA based on the order in which the applications are received. If you pick up your plate in person at the Glen Burnie office, you may be able to request a plate number within the current batch of 50. If that number has not already been taken, you will get that number. Please do not get your hopes up, though, as it is likely that the number has already been allocated, or is outside of the current batch of 50 plates (1-50, 51-100, 101-150 etc.)

Eligibility and Membership

Q: What vehicles are eligible?
A: Any car, multi-purpose vehicle (SUV), or light truck under 1 ton, registered in the name of a WMRHS member, is eligible to display the tags. Only vehicles registered with the member as the owner or co-owner are eligible. When in doubt, please ask the MVA.

Q: How long can I keep the plates?
A: You are eligible to display the plates on your vehicle(s) as long as you are a member of the WMRHS, in good standing.

Q: What happens if I end my membership with the WMRHS?
A: If you leave the WMRHS, you will need to turn in your organizational tags to the MVA and obtain standard replacement tags. There may be a fee involved.

Q: How do I get new plates if I rejoin the WMRHS after terminating my membership?
A: Once you terminate your membership and turn in your tags, you need to go through the original process and pay the current WMRHS and MVA fees to get a new tag. You almost certainly will not get the same tag number you had originally, it is up to the MVA.

Q: What happens if I move out of state?
A: If you move out of state, you will need to turn in your old tags to the MVA just as you would any other tags. In addition, please let the WM Historical Society know that you have turned in your tags.

Q: How do I get new plates if I move back in state after moving out of state?
A: Once you move out of state and turn in your tags, you need to go through the original process and pay the current WMRHS and MVA fees to get a new tag. You almost certainly will not get the same tag number you had originally. The MVA controls the allocation.

MVA Registration

Q: How does this affect my normal registration?
A: You will still need to renew your car registration as before on or before the date the registration expires. The fee for the custom plates is paid only once. After that you pay normal MVA renewal fees directly to the MVA.

Q: How do I read my tag number?
A: Your new tag/registration number is the three letter prefix that appears on the plate (currently "WMR") plus the four numbers. For example, if you have plate number 0236, your tag number is "WMR0236".

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