East Broad Top Railroad
|East Broad Top Railroad|
|Dates of operation||1872 – present|
|Track gauge||3 ft (914 mm)|
|Headquarters||Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania|
The East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Company was a railroad company chartered in 1856. Due to financial constraints and the Civil War, the railroad was not built by its original charterers, but a new group of investors renewed the charter in 1871 and was able to construct the railroad in 1872-1874. It ran from Mount Union, Pennsylvania to Robertsdale, Pennsylvania and later was extended to Woodvale and Alvan. At its height it had over sixty miles of track and about thirty-three miles of main line. The primary purpose of the railroad was to haul semi-bituminous coal from the mines on the remote Broad Top Mountain plateau to the Pennsylvania Railroad in Mount Union, Pennsylvania. The railroad also carried substantial amounts of pig iron, ganister rock, lumber and passengers with some agricultural goods, concrete, road tar and general freight. In its first three decades the railroad supplied much of its coal to the Rockhill Iron Furnace, owned by the railroad's sister company, the Rockhill Iron and Coal Company. As the iron industry in the region died off, the railroad subsisted on coal sales for about 90% of its revenue. The railroad was generally proftable from the 1880's through the 1940's and was able to modernize its infrastructure far more than other narrow gauge railroads. A coal cleaning plant and a full maintenance shops complex were built, bridges were upgraded from iron and wood to steel and concrete, wood rolling stock was replaced by steel, and modern high powered locomotives were bought. In the 1950's coal demand plummeted as oil and gas took over and not enough coal could be sold to support the railroad. The railroad closed as a coal hauler in early 1956 and was sold for scrap to the Kovalchick Salvage Coporation.
Nick Kovalchick elected not to scrap the railroad right away, instead letting it sit in place. In 1960 the twin boroughs of Orbisonia and Rockhill Furnace, operating hubs for the railroad, were celebrating their Bicentennial and asked Nick to put a train out for display. Doing them one better, he rehabilitated four miles of track and two locomotives and operated a train for several months that summer. The rides were so successful that the ride, now extended to five miles, opened as a full time tourist operation in 1961. The railroad has operated tourist trains every summer since then. The railroad was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The railroad is still owned by Kovalchick Salvage and is tended by Nick's son Joe and his son Nathan.
The EBT is unique in that it is a complete, original railroad rather than a collection of pieces from various locations as most tourist railroads are. In the 45 years following its opening as a tourist hauler many of the structures along the disused portion of the railroad fell into disrepair and were lost to neglect or arson. Maintenance on the original railroad shops at Rockhill Furnace and unused equipment was secondary to operating the train, causing them to deteriorate as well. Currently the Friends of the East Broad Top perform restoration work on the historic railroad one weekend per month. The Friends restore the railroad shops and other buildings, repair track and rolling stock, and help maintain the premises.
The EBT is located in Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania 19 miles north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and 11 miles south of US 22, the William Penn Highway. Today the railroad operates as a heritage railway, with steam powered trains pulled by narrow gauge 2-8-2 steam locomotives. Excursions run on weekends June through October. The Fall Spectacular, when all operating equipment is in use, is the best weekend to attend. The Spectacular is held on the Saturday and Sunday of Columbus Day weekend in October. There are also special events at Community Appreciation Day in early August and the June Opening the first weekend of June.
The Rockhill Trolley Museum, operated by Railways to Yesterday, is next to the Railroad. RTM volunteers help the railroad by maintaining its vintage internal combustion equipment.
There are many pieces of rolling stock and a very rare Brill-Westinghouse motorcar on site. The original shops still stand, complete with overhead line shafts and leather belt drives. All 30 miles of the original main line are still in place.
- East Broad Top Railroad website
- Friends of the EBT
- The East Broad Top Railroad Homepage
- PDF of magazine article about railroad history published May 2005
- Lee Rainey and Frank Kyper. "East Broad Top." San Marino, California: Golden West Books, 1982. ISBN 0-87095-078-9.