FEBT's June Gathering
Sighs of relief, cause for concen
by Vagel Keller
Photos by Deane Mellander
Originally published in the
Timber Transfer, Vol. 15, No. 1, Summer 1998
Over 40 FEBT members met at the East Broad Top's Orbisonia Station on June 27, 1998 for a "Spring Celebration" welcoming another operating season on the railroad. On this, the fourth weekend of operations, the equipment operated flawlessly, with Mikado No. 14, a 1912 product from Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, doing the honors. Early arrivals rode Train No. 1, then wandered the grounds informally while waiting for late-comers to return on Train No. 2, before touring the shops.
EBT General Manager, Stanley Hall, conducted a guided tour unprecedented in its detail and coverage. First, the FEBT group was taken into the roundhouse, where Mr. Hall discussed the planned repairs to No. 12's tender tank (since completed). The tank had been jacked up from the tender deck in preparation for welding a large patch in the left, rear corner of the tank's bottom. Above No. 14's empty stall, all were relieved to note that there was no apparent damage to the roundhouse roof after a June 7th flue fire in the smokejack. Other than the absence of the protruding chimney, the only external sign of the near disaster was a blue tarp visible through the small, square hole left in the roof.
From the roundhouse, the group was led to the shop complex. Inside, Mr. Hall modestly opined that many in the group probably knew more about what they were seeing than he did and, then, proceeded to regale the crowd in his own, inimitable style. The technical and historical details that he holds in his mind come about as close as this observer can imagine to making the old structures speak for themselves. On a more practical note to preservationists, Hall pointed out the difficulties of restoring the shops to operating condition. Deformities in the structural framing due to settling have knocked out of line the complex linkages of the overhead belt-pulley-shaft array. Heavy cribbing surrounding the Corliss stationary steam engine props the roof over a huge wooden beam that cracked several years ago and nearly brought the whole building crashing down. That and other stabilization efforts in the shops complex were made possible, in part, by funds available under the America's Industrial Heritage Project, which ends in October, 1999.
The East Broad Top Railroad performed without mishap, other than a minor brake hanger problem, for the entire weekend, with No. 14 pulling a train of two converted freight cars, Coach No. 8, a caboose, and Business Car No. 20. Combines 14 and 15 sat, unused, on the car shop lead. All trains were relatively full, but the two empty cars indicated that ridership may not have been at the levels necessary to meet revenue goals.
While the active railroad seemed, at least, to be stable, events on the unused sections of the line were cause for reflection. Those who stopped in Mt. Union to explore the EBT's yard there noted the obliteration of the North American Refractories (NARCo) plant that stood between the coal cleaning plant and the Juniata River. The NARCo facility, abandoned for several years, was the last of three silica fire brick plants in Mt. Union and the one most closely associated, physically and commercially, with the EBT. Although the highway construction that occasioned its destruction will have little, if any, visible impact on the EBT's facilities, its loss has removed a very important piece of the industrial and social mosaic that places the railroad in context with its environment. To the south, in Saltillo, the last station between Orbisonia and Robertsdale was observed to have deteriorated further, with the roof holed in several places and the track side wall bulging outward. It is hoped that some way might be found in the very near future for FEBT to prevent this structure's loss.
So, the Summer of 1998, the EBT's 125th, came into being on a somewhat somber note. FEBT members who gathered in Rockhill/Orbisonia to celebrate the railroad's continued life, while glad to see the old place still buzzing, were, nevertheless, surrounded by signs of age, decay, and inevitable change. It goes without saying that we who profess a desire to see the line completely re-stored owe a huge debt of gratitude to the EBT's ownership, management, and employees, past and present, who have kept the East Broad Top Railroad going even when it must have seemed financially foolhardy to do so. This writer hopes that the faith and willingness to find ways to keep the railroad alive that has so characterized EBT people for the past 125 years will continue for the indefinite future.