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Early Birds Fly the Line of the EBT
Spring Exploration Report

By Chris Coleman
photos by Deane Mellander except where noted

Originally published in The Timber Transfer, Vol 15, No 4, Spring 1999

Spring Exploration Participants
Spring participants gather at the new Hwy 522 rail crossing in Mt. Union.
Chris Coleman photo

This year's Early Bird Exploration took place April 10 and 11 and over $430 was raised for the Friends Restoration Fund. Vagel Keller, who organized the last two fine explorations, was unavailable this year and I volunteered to keep the tradition alive.

This year the tour started in Mount Union and preceded southward to provide the best lighting on the second day. Saturday's weather was a perfect 65 degrees and sunny. Registering attendees on a tailgate was not graceful, but effective and everyone got their name tags and touring packets. A little late the formal tour commenced for record attendance of about 45 antsy explorers. We started at the engine house and did a figure eight thought the yard.

Check in
Chris Coleman (seated), who led the spring gathering, checks in members prior to the exploration of the Mt. Union yard.

Not a lot has changed since Fall, but work is clearly progressing. Most of the work has been on the engine house track. The ramp used to remove locomotive #6 in 1975 has been disassembled leaving the rail lying on the ground and the ties making up the ramp stacked alongside. Many of those ties may be reusable since they were off the soil. Stump removal has started in earnest on that track as well. The ash pit has been surrounded by a orange plastic safety fence presumably to protect the less EBT-savvy yard wanderers. Also, numbers have been stenciled onto both sides of many hoppers with white spray paint. All the numbered hoppers are in close proximity to tracks being cleared by MUCRR so they are the most likely candidates for having performed the lettering. It is clear the numbers are derived from the remaining lettering on the cars (I know because I've been doing the same for about three years.) At least two and probably 4 of the car numbers derived are incorrect, but it is still a valiant effort.

Beside the yard the US 522 bypass is completed as is the dual gauge crossing. The crossing is not signaled yet, but reportedly will be when Mount Union Central operations begin. The yard itself is unaffected by the new road, but the familiar boney piles along the river are gone, as is the boney unloading and NARCo brick spurs.

The next adventure was to head south without loosing any of 15 cars. Mental Note: next time bring a CB Radio that actually transmits. After a momentary stop at Adams the now homogenous line of cars headed south. By the time the procession of cars reached Aughwick Mills we were getting it down. The water in the Aughwick was higher than usual owing to the rain of the previous day. Surprisingly no one forayed to the bridge, likely due the swift current. The next stop was Shirleysburg where most attendees braved the brush to visit Shirleysburg Bridge and catch a glimpse of the Section House.

Cleared yard track
The main track through the Mt. Union yard has been cleared out by the Mt. Union Connecting Railroad.

The next stop with adequate parking was Orbisonia, where, as at previous stops I attempted to elaborate on what the attendees had seen during the last section of the tour. Several also chose to take advantage of the soda machine at the Station. From there we took the scenic route along Three Springs Creek and into Three Springs Creek itself. "Where was the station?" "You're probably standing on it." Well it's actually hard to tell since both the station site and the EBT track are now under a parking lot. After a discussion on the NARCo tipple facilities in Three Springs we headed up to Saltillo.

Things are more afoot in Saltillo. As has been reported earlier the station has received some stabilization work. Several 2x8s were applied to the top of the front and rear walls and cable was strung through the building between them. The cable is wrapped around some 1 1/2" pipe at the front and connected to some threaded rods at the back, used to pull the walls back together. A couple house jacks are supporting the roof from inside the building. On the whole the building looks much better than in February, but it needs some kind of roof covering to really call it stabilized. Elsewhere in Saltillo we visited the location of bridge #11 and #12, removed in a creek relocation around the turn of the century. #12's abutments are visible on all four corners but there was no sign of #11.

To round out the day we headed the other way to the tankhouse site and Tankhouse Bridge to point a features including the wye, limestone quarrying and mammoth excavation locations. As with the rest of the tankhouses each house foundation is a little different. I took a closer look at Tankhouse Bridge and noticed it had lost one if its diagonal braces, likely a while ago. The brace is firmly imbedded in the creek bed beside the bridge. This is a curious little bridge, unlike the others in it's strange ribbing design. By that time it was right at 6:00 so we broke for dinner.

Cleared yard track
Personnel from the Mr. Union Connecting Railroad have been clearing out trees and stumps in the Mr. Union yard in anticipation of beginning formal operations.

The slide show that night was held in the Old Post Office building, despite the slightly unfinished nature of the building. The show featured the Fall Spectacular of 1996 and shots taking in February of this year. Deanne Mellander kindly brought a carousel of vintage photos which made a good contrast from my recent photos. After and hour and a half or so folks started filtering out so we called it a night.

In stark contrast to Saturday, by meeting time on Sunday there was a good rain coming down and the temperature was in the lower 40's, but we were still about 30-35 strong (including three not there on Saturday.) With the weather as it was we drove the scenic route along the Clear Ridge grade and up the south approach of Sideling Hill without stops. After a brief explanation of what we had seen on the way in, we headed up to the tunnel. By the time we reached the portal the rain was letting up for the day. As the last group was about ready to head back along comes Reggie Arford with a motorcycle battery and a 1 million candlepower lamp to illuminate the tunnel interior from the portal. Well that is one chance that a few of use with manual cameras could not pass up (and there I was without a tripod.)

Next we headed on up to Coles. Coles tankhouse has received some repairs as well. Definitely the back wing and apparently the main building have received professionally installed roofs of corrugated galvanized steel. Also some used window sashes have been tacked up behind the small windows openings in the main building.

Next we hiked up the Wrays Hill Grade from Coles. The brush was most cooperative overall, though it was clear that this would be no hike to be made in June. Even with the powerful lamp we could only illuminate about halfway through the tunnel. A rock fall through the timber lining rises about 2-3 feet about 100 feet into the tunnel. About 100 feet beyond a large amount of soil of sand appears to have rushed in from the walls. Clearly the interior of the tunnels are dangerous places. Beyond that it clear for a couple hundred feet or so by which point even a million candle power lamp did not reveal much.

Hill Valley Creek bridge
This big concrete arch bridges Hill Valley Creek at the south end of the Mount Union yard.

At that, the group headed back home, some to as far as California. I wish to thank Hank Inman, Regie Arford and Deanne Mellander for their help and to all the attendees for making the weekend worthwhile, and Vagel Keller for getting the ball rolling for this great exploration. Hope to see you on the railroad in 2000!

For more photos from the 1999 spring exploration exploration see Chris Coleman's EBT website

Hill Valley Creek bridge
The right-of-way of the old NARCO branch swings away from the main line right-of-way at Saltillo.
Mt. Union enginehouse
The Mt. Union enginehouse continues to stand against the elements, residing behind a local bank and the McDonald’s.

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