Original East Broad Top Railroad coal hoppers rest in front of Orbisonia Station at Rockhill in southern Huntingdon County as the new EBT Foundation Inc. prepares for the reopening of the historic narrow gauge railroad in 2021. During the heyday of King Coal on the Broad Top, these same EBT hoppers hauled the black diamonds from the mines at Robertsdale and Wood.

(Part 3 of 3)

The EBT Foundation has been busy this spring and summer rehabilitating the East Broad Top Railroad for a return to service in 2021. With volunteers coming out of the woodwork, much has been accomplished as the foundation heads down the home stretch, reports Lawrence Biemiller, foundation board member and communications manager.

“Work on the placement of wooden ties is progressing,” said Biemiller. “We will be ready for next year’s opening, something that many EBT fans have waited a long time for.”

Old railroad ties are being replaced with newer ones from Rockhill, north to Colgate Grove and a short distance south to accommodate proposed excursion activities next year, continued Biemiller, a long-time EBT fan and activist in the Friends of the EBT.

To date, a total of 6,300 ties have been brought to Rockhill for use on the mainline right of way, wyes and railroad yard. In addition, maintenance work and replacement of switches has been performed by workers.

Likely, a new wye will be constructed at Colgate Grove and improvements made to the picnic grounds. The foundation also wants to utilize the picnic area for a variety of purposes ranging from weddings and seasonal observances to community activities and holiday celebrations.

As work continues inside the railroad shops, work crews are also busy restoring several steam locomotives and other rolling stock.

Built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1912, EBT’s No. 14 was rebuilt in the 1980s and used extensively on the railroad for excursion service. No. 16 was constructed in 1916 and is the oldest of the three larger locomotives, explained Biemiller, adding that the engine was upgraded prior to the closing of the railroad in 1956 and used only a few times.

“The steam locomotive (No. 16) was never used for tourist service after the EBT reopened in 1960,” said Biemiller. “We look forward to its return to service in 2021.”

The two locomotives are among six positioned in the roundhouse at Rockhill. Each of the locomotives played a major component of the railroad’s operation during its career as a coal-hauler, Biemiller added.

As work progresses for the EBT’s reopening, the foundation is in the process of preparing a master plan that will guide the National Historic Landmark both short and long term including use of the mainline right of way north and south. However, foundation officials caution that they “will not make promises they cannot keep” regarding future restoration of the line.

“The mission for now, is getting the EBT back into service,” noted Biemiller. “We are looking at a number of possibilities, but it is necessary to have a master plan to help guide us.”

On a short-term basis, the reopening of the EBT to Colgate Grove and use of the railroad shops for tours is the top priority. Subject to public response, the availability of money and other factors, the foundation continues to plot out long-term goals for the railroad, it was explained.

One proposal being studied by the foundation is the use of the Rockhill Elementary School, which is scheduled for closure by the Southern Huntingdon County School District. Biemiller sees “plenty of potential” for the future use of the former school.

“We are also working closely with the Rockhill Trolley Museum to achieve maximum benefits from its operation,” continued Biemiller. “Also, we want to look at what structures and sites around the railroad that are actually of historical importance to the EBT.”

Continued restoration and stabilization of the machine shops and other railroad-related structures at Rockhill is continuing in hopes of conducting public tours of the buildings as a part of the “EBT experience.” Demonstrations and tours of these buildings are considered “add-ons” to the train ride, said Biemiller.

The foundation is also continuing its cooperative activities with the Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT), including restoration work on EBT rolling stock and structures.

The FEBT is also moving ahead with restoration of two structures at Robertsdale (former EBT depot and former post office), which is being developed as a museum complex at the center of town, often referred to as the “company square.”

Adding to the importance of the Robertsdale activities is the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Museum, located a short distance away from the FEBT buildings. The Coal Miners Museum, which operates inside the former Robertsdale United Methodist Church, is owned by the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Historical Society, which is anxious to work with the foundation and FEBT in future activities on the southern end of the EBT at Robertsdale and Wood.

Looking long-term, the foundation wants to underscore the key elements of the EBT story, from its ironmaking and coal mining to other important aspects of the narrow-gauge railroad.

Regarding restoration of additional trackage, it was explained that a short part of the line will be opened south to accommodate the operation of small gasoline-powered engine equipment, pulling miniature passenger cars. To help guide future restoration, the foundation will study a variety of “wants and needs” supported by adequate funding and economic benefits to the area.

Included in future endeavors will be the preparation of a business model (what works and what does not), as well as public meetings to gauge the interest and support of the public along the EBT right of way.

Biemiller reminded EBT fans and residents of Orbisonia and Rockhill that the 60th anniversary of the EBT’s return to service as a tourist operation in 1960 is planned for Aug. 8-15 including a special EBT ceremony set for 1 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 13.

The foundation will also be sponsoring numerous other activities in cooperation with the Rockhill Trolley Museum and the FEBT, noted Biemller.

In addition, the Orbisonia Lions Club and Orbisonia-Rockhill Volunteer Fire Co. will conduct numerous activities Aug. 12-15 including a historical exhibit in the Orbisonia Lions Club building. Additional details will be announced later.


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