The East Broad Top Railroad & Coal Company was chartered in 1856 but it was not until 1872 that work started on building the narrow gauge (36") line. Service began from Mount Union to Rockhill, PA, in August 1873 and to Robertsdale, PA, in November 1874. The line was later extended to Woodvale and Alvan, PA, with several short branches. At its height, the railroad had over sixty miles of track and about thirty-three miles of main line.
The main business was hauling coal from mines on the east side of Broad Top Mountain plateau, but it also carried general freight and passengers. Until the early 1900s, much of the coal went to the Rockhill Iron Furnace, operated by its sister company, the Rockhill Iron & Coal Company. After the local iron industry declined, coal was shipped to Mount Union where silica brick factories had been established. The plants also used ganister rock, which was quarried at different points along the railroad.
In the 1950s, demand for coal plummeted as homes and industries, including the Mount Union factories, converted to cheap oil and gas. Not enough coal could be sold to support the mines and railroad, which ceased operations on 14th April 1956 and was sold for scrap.
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The EBT was generally profitable until the 1940s, which allowed it to modernise its equipment and facilities quite regularly.
It is unusual in being a complete, original railroad rather than a collection of pieces from different locations and operations, like most tourist railroads. All six steam locomotives that operated in its last years are still on site, as well as much of the original maintenance of way equipment and rolling stock. The yards include the original maintenance shops, roundhouse, company offices and classification yard.
Nick Kovalchick, president of Kovalchick Salvage which had bought the railroad, decided not to scrap it immediately. Then, in 1960, when the twin boroughs of Orbisonia and Rockhill Furnace celebrated their Bicentennial, he rehabilitated four miles of track and two locomotives and operated tourist train rides for several months that summer. These proved so successful that the ride, extended to five miles, opened as a regular operation the following year and ran for more than fifty years.
However, the railroad has not operated public excursions since December 2011 and has operated no excursions since October 2013.
Above, EBT #14 is a Mikado (2-8-2) type locomotive built by Baldwin in 1912.
The engine weighs 150,000 lbs, 124,00 lbs on its 48" drivers. With a 36 sq ft grate, 131 sq ft firebox, 19" x 24" cylinders and total heating surface of 2,228 sq ft, it operates at a boiler pressure of 180 psi delivering 27,600 lbs tractive effort.
After several extensions to its FRA 1,472 day inspection, #14 has been out of service since
It is currently stored pending overhaul.
#17, another Baldwin Mikado, was built in 1918.
Weighing 163,000 lbs, 134,000 lbs on its 48" drivers. With a 42.5 sq ft grate, 141 sq ft firebox, total heating surface of 2,485 sq ft including 465 sq ft superheating and 20" x 24" cylinders it operates at a boiler pressure of 180 psi delivering 30,600 lbs tractive effort.
Below, also on my first visit, EBT #M-7 was standing at one of the roundhouse stalls.
Built by GE as a 50 ton switcher in 1964, a previous owner increased #M-7's weight to 55 tons.
It was bought by EBT in 1993 and is the railroad's heavy duty yard
switcher. It also substitutes for steam engines on occasional excursions.
#15 at the end of the turntable before coaling and watering.
#15 was built by Baldwin in 1914. It weighs 150,000 lbs, 124,00 lbs on its 48" drivers. With a 36 sq ft grate, 131 sq ft firebox, 19" x 24" cylinders
and total heating surface of 2,228 sq ft, it operates at a boiler pressure of 180 psi delivering 27,600 lbs tractive effort.
The third Mikado bought by the East Broad Top, #15 was acquired to handle increased freight and passenger service. Although heavier, it is similar to #14 in many ways and delivers the same tractive effort. Both locomotives could haul eighteen loaded hoppers of coal from the East Broad Top mines.
With #12, #14 and #17 out of service, #15 was EBT's main steam motive power when I visited.
A mile and a half north of Blacklog Creek, two railfans have a grandstand view of #15 approaching a bridge on a private road across the railway line.
Below and right, some photos I took from the bridge on my second visit as #15 approaches and passes under.
The bridge can be easily missed, but is just off US Highway 522 / Croghan Pike.
Below, the train stops at the wye just south of Shirleysburg for about twenty minutes. Passengers and crew stretch their legs.
The wye was built by the new owners of the EBT to turn trains for the return journey to the Orbisonia depot.
Above, approaching and crossing Runk Road. The ¼ mile long S curve here used to be a timber trestle but was filled in the late 1870s.
Below, various shots of the train as it turns through the wye.
The final three photos show #15 pulling the train through the yard back to the depot.