2000 marks the fourth year for the FEBT annual Spring Exploration, this year held on April 8 and 9. Saturday had been perfect sunny 65 degrees as had Friday before it, up until time for the Exploration to start. The 40 preregistrants and a few walk-ups assembled at the FEBT Robertsdale Museum for the start of the tour. Promptly at the 1:00 start time the sky let loose as a cold front rolled in from the west. Unfortunately the soggy ground and cold air would set the tone for the remainder of the weekend.
The first stop was a short trip up to Woodvale to tour the facilities there, and as promised we went in rain or shine. The tour proceeded as far north as the Woodvale Bridge over Trough Creek and south to the departure of the Mine #7 and #8 branch from the main. Among other sites the group visited the location of the #6 mine shaft, the mule barn, likely location of the Woodvale station, the boiler, winch and engine houses, machine shop remains and the truck loading ramps.
Next on the agenda was a tour of the Joller area and the west end of the Coles Valley Branch. This was in stark contrast to the visit during the first exploration of 1997. Since then the area has undergone mine reclamation, changing the area around the mine heads dramatically. The group visited the remains of the mule barn, the location of the drift, slope and shaft mine openings and the locations of the two tipples and company store. The group then hiked the lower line as far as the deep cut and the upper line through it's own cut and to the divergence of the lower branch from it.
The group then headed into the valley to visit Coles Tankhouse. As had been reported to us earlier in the day, the building had been vandalized yet again. This time the hasp had been broken at the pin and the temporary window sashes had their glass broken out. It is truly unfortunate that some have such little respect for a historic treasure. Fortunately that seemed to be the extent of the damage. The broken hasp afforded us an opportunity to examine the damage done by the vandals who stole the tank slats. The missing part of the tank was nearest the door, and fortunately temporary bracing placed by the volunteers is keeping the remainder of the slats in place.
We ended Saturday in Saltillo with a brief tour of the facilities there including the station, bridge and tankhouse location. We were all heartened to see additional longitudinal and diagonal bracing inside the station. By this time our original number of 45 had shrunk to 14 cold, soaked, yet determined explorers. To add insult to injury as the tour wrapped up promptly at 5:00, the constant rain tapered off and stopped completely at the very same time. Thanks mother nature!
That evening about 30 explorers gathered for the evening slide show. The show featured photos of EBT #6 in Connersville, IN, the 1997 FEBT exploration, a ride on the Rio Grande Southern Galloping Goose #6 on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge and a ride on the narrow gauge Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.
The rain had stopped but the cold had not. Overnight, the cold had worked it's magic to place about an inch of snow on the ground. Sunday's tour started back up at Saltillo and was looking more like a Winter Spectacular (minus the trains) than a Spring Exploration. About 20 determined explorers arrived for the beginning of the second day, with about 10 more joining up later in the day.
The group first took the scenic route past the old Saltillo tannery and along the old NARCo spur and over to Three Springs. The first out of doors hike was back along the EBT main to the second NARCo tipple remains. This is the tipple that serviced the line after the wood tipple, (pictured in Rainey and Kyper) and before the construction of the NARCo branch in 1942. The remains consist mostly of the large concrete supports and the clear remains of the funicular path up the side of Jacks Mountain, including the drive cable.
Next we took the short route up to Mount Union where Al Levin of the Mount Union Connecting Railroad was kind enough to have the enginehouse open for the explorers to have a look and take some shots of EBT switcher #3 and the interior of the enginehouse. MUC has yet to receive it's locomotive, but has painted most of the wood parts of the building in an appropriate if a bit bright yellow with brown trim. The building has also received new electrical service coming in the rear, exterior security lights and internal quartz halogen lamps.
The group then took the obligatory walk through the Mount Union yard, specifically observing the additional clearing done by the MUCRR folks. We then drove down to the siding at Adams to examine the extent of the MUC clearing which now extends from the yard to the beginning of the siding.
In keeping with the mission of the Exploration, we had all 'Seen things we hadn't seen before'. I hope you can join us for the 5th annual Spring Exploration (and we can all hope for better weather.) Tentative dates are April 7 and 8, 2001. A special thanks to Hank Inman and Pat Nape for their help during this year's Exploration.
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