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Railfan Extra Board - October 2012

East Broad Top

East Broad Top 2-8-2 No. 15 heads north on the original EBT main line above Orbisonia, Penn., during the EBT Fall Spectacular on October 7, 2011. The narrow gauge Mikado has a ballast car on the head end, followed by the ubiquitous EBT coal hoppers. No. 15 pulled a similar consist almost daily for three decades until the EBT shut down in 1956. Photo by Steve Barry

Un-Spectacular at East Broad Top

By Steve Barry/Photos as noted

By all accounts, the East Broad Top shouldn't even exist. With the demand for coal dwindling through the 1950s, there was little need for the odd three-foot gauge railroad. It was sold for scrap value to the Kovalchick family in 1956. Normally, that's where our story would have ended, but Nick Kovalchick decided to leave the railroad in place for the time being. In 1960, neighboring Orbisonia and Rockhill Furnace were celebrating their centennial and asked the Kovalchicks if they could put a train on display. They did better than that, rehabilitating a few miles of track and operating steam-powered passenger excursions throughout the summer season. It was so successful that the operation continued for many years, quickly becoming a fan favorite in the narrow gauge community and beyond.

East Broad Top
The morning fog is lifting in the Aughwick Valley as EBT No. 15 takes water from a still-active water plug at the shop complex in Rockhill Furnace. The EBT returned the plug to service in 2011, which included getting an employee's kid to enter the shallow pit to work on the valve (an adult won't fit in the narrow opening). The results are worth the effort as the Mikado recreates a timeless scene on October 7, 2011.
Photo by Steve Barry

We're entering October, and traditionally that would be a time for a staple of heritage railroading — the East Broad Top Fall Spectacular in Rockhill Furnace, Penn. The Fall Spectacular replaced the Winter Spectacular in the 1980s when winter operations became too hard on the machines and men needed to run the railroad. Since the change, hundreds of the narrow gauge faithful would descend on Rockhill Furnace (a suburb of Orbisonia) each Columbus Day weekend.

Over the years the number of locomotives in service for the Spectacular dwindled. From four in the 1980s heyday down to three, then down to two. Finally, for the last few years, only 2-8-2 No. 15 has answered the call. This year, no steam will operate. Nonetheless, the Friends of the East Broad Top will still be around and the folks across the street at the Rockhill Trolley Museum will still be running almost everything that runs. Even though there is no steam in the Aughwick Valley, if your travels take you near the area during the holiday weekend stop in and take a trolley ride and see the improvements being made to the EBT by the Friends. It'll still be worth your time.

In the meantime, let's go back to last year. EBT 2-8-2 No. 15 works its way through the shop complex at Rockhill Furnace, pausing at the functional water plug to fill its tender; the employee in the shot is actually controlling the water plug valve. The sandhouse is on the right, and the EBT's belt-driven shops (recently restored, by the way) occupy the buildings on the left. Careful inspection of the switch will reveal it has no points — it's a stub switch where you literally have to "bend the iron" to change tracks.

Railfan Extra Board

Away from Orbisonia, only about ten percent of the EBT main line remains in service (although just about all of it is still intact). The small piece that is still used heads north towards the Pennsylvania Railroad interchange in Mount Union, but stops well short of there in the woods near Shirleysburg. Visually, this short stretch appears pretty much the way it did when the EBT was hauling coal — especially when photographed in the morning, which keeps ever-expanding U.S. 522 from appearing in the background. Civilization has encroached on the EBT, but vignettes of the past still exist.

What's spectacular about the Spectacular is its absolutely unspectacular scenes — these were just a plain ol' everyday occurrences in the 1940s and 1950s. Sometimes a steam engine going to work in the morning is spectacular in its own little way.


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