40 Years Older, not Over the Hill
The East Broad
Top hits another milepost
by Hank Inman
with additional text from Chris Coleman and Vagel Keller Photos as noted
Originally published in the
Timber Transfer, Vol. 17, No. 1, Summer 2000
On August 12, 2000, more than 1,200 railfans gathered at the East Broad Top Railroad to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the start of tourist operations. Just as in 1960, this year's festivities coincided with the annual Orbisonia-Rockhill Furnace homecoming celebration. The activities at the EBT were sponsored by the East Broad Top Railroad, Friends of the East Broad Top, and the Rockhill Furnace Trolley Museum. Events keyed to the EBT celebration were also held at the FEBT Museum in Robertsdale and at the trolley museum located in the EBT's Rockhill Furnace yard.
A special EBT operating schedule for the day featured two of the railroad's 2-8-2 locomotives in steam. Between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM, trains departed hourly from Orbisonia station for the round trip to Colgate Grove. In addition, two special twilight trains ran at 6:00 that evening. In appreciation for the support railfans have provided to the EBT during the past four decades, tickets to ride all trains cost only $5.00. Purchasers of the first 1,000 tickets for the day's trains received special commemorative tickets, whose design was based on the original tickets used in 1960. Red, white, and blue bunting decorated the station and a special speakers platform set up near the roundhouse. East Broad Top employees, aided by volunteers from the Rockhill Furnace Trolley Museum, set up an interesting display of photos, artifacts, and memorabilia from 40 years of train operations in the baggage-express room of the Orbisonia station.
Before the first train left the station, several speakers took part in a ceremony commemorating the history of the railroad, and the people and events which led to the 1960 reopening. Among those invited by the EBT to participate in the 2000 "birthday party" were four surviving members of the 1960 Orbisonia Bicentennial Committee: Edward Harry, Sr., Ann Hiles, Harold Jim Kimmel, and Richard Potts. They joined two other individuals who have played leading roles in the EBT's operations since 1960 and who were intimately involved in the railroad's rebirth 40 years ago. Current EBT owner and president Joseph Kovalchick was the principal speaker of the day. In August 1960, he stood with his father and other members of the Kovalchick family as his sister Millie broke a bottle of extra dry ginger ale over the coupler of locomotive #12 to signify the formal resumption of EBT operations. EBT general manager Stanley Hall acted as master of ceremonies and concluding speaker; 40 years earlier, he had been one of those hired by C. Roy Wilburn to prepare the EBT for its second life.
Mr. Kovalchick expressed his appreciation to all of the public officials who have supported and encouraged his family's efforts to keep the EBT's tourist operations running. The bulk of his comments, however, praised EBT employees - past and present - for their dedication and hard work over the past forty years. Mr. Kovalchick remarked that without the efforts of the men and women who worked on the EBT, often under very trying conditions, none of what was being celebrated on August 12, 2000 would have ever come to pass.
In concluding the ceremony, EBT General Manager Stanley Hall expressed his appreciation for the support of "all of the friends of the East Broad Top," both in keeping the EBT alive and in contributing to the 40th anniversary celebration. It is important to note that FEBT is just one of many entities rolled into that group of "friends" mentioned by Mr. Hall. Members of another important group of EBT "friends," the Rockhill Furnace Trolley Museum, spent many hours in the weeks leading up to the celebration repainting and stenciling freight cars in the Rockhill Furnace yard and performing other tasks. Clearly, too, Mr. Hall included all the people who have come back, year after year, just to buy a ticket and ride a train in that group he called "friends of the East Broad Top."
Other speakers contributing remarks to the August 2000 ceremonies were Judy, Nathan, and Karen Kovalchick; Huntingdon County commissioners Alexa Fultz Cook, Kent East, and Roy Thomas, Orbisonia mayor Ronald Rowe and Rockhill Furnace mayor Michael Detweiler, state representative Larry O. Sather (R - Dist. 81), Julia Covert, representing state senator Robert Jubelirer (R - Dist. 30), Belly Viener, current president of the Orbisonia - Rockhill Furnace Homecoming Association and Joel Solomon, president of the Rockhill Furnace Trolley Museum.
Representative Sather recalled that as a member of the Huntingdon County commission in 1985 he had participated in the EBT's 25th anniversary celebration. He then presented a citation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to the Kovalchick family recognizing them for the preservation of the East Broad Top Railroad. These sentiments were echoed by Ms. Viener and Mr. Salomon, who emphasized the contributions made by the Kovalchick family to keep the EBT alive for 40 years. Philip Raynes provided an invocation at the start of the day's ceremonies.
At the request of the EBT, another veteran of the railroad’s 1960 reopening also returned to Rockhill Furnace for the 2000 celebration. In 1990 FEBT purchased an EBT maintenance-of-way Buda handcar from a New York dealer in railroad artifacts. Now a central component of our museum collection, in 1960 the handcar was still owned by the EBT and was one of the pieces of equipment displayed by the railroad during the week-long bicentennial celebration. As one of our contributions to the 2000 anniversary celebration, FEBT was pleased to transport the handcar from Robertsdale to Rockhill Furnace, so the handcar could again be part of a celebration at the EBT.
In addition to the EBT’s trains, the Rockhill Furnace Trolley Museum offered trolley rides throughout the day and in the evening, after the return of the last train. Rockhill Furnace Trolley Museum volunteers also operated a food tent and staged a show of EBT films at the museum. Events at or near the EBT sponsored by the homecoming association included an antique car show, tractor-pulling contest, food sales, homecoming parade, and homecoming pageant. Continuous live radio broadcasts on WXMJ-FM and WHUN-AM from the EBT ran from 10:00am to 8:00pm. Arranged as part of the homecoming festivities, the cost of these remote broadcasts was partly underwritten by the EBT, FEBT, and RTM.
Railfans interested in EBT memorabilia who visited the railroad on August 12 could purchase more than the special commemorative train tickets printed for the day. The EBT had discovered some of its original 1960 souvenir booklets in storage, and copies of A Quick Review of the East Broad Top: The Narrow Gauge of the East were available for sale in the EBT gift shop. Also for sale were unsold original copies of the 1960 Orbisonia bicentennial publication. N. Dale Wakefield, Sr. handled the photographic reproduction for this booklet, and it contains many rare historic photographs which then or later became part of his well known collection.
FEBT contributed to the anniversary celebration by maintaining a full schedule of activities both at Rockhill Furnace and at our museum in Robertsdale. Throughout the day volunteers at the FEBT information tent near the EBT roundhouse answered questions and distributed information about the EBT, FEBT, and nearby amenities. With the cooperation of the EBT, FEBT organized and conducted guided walking tours around the railroad’s Rockhill Furnace shop complex and yard. Originally, there were three scheduled tours. Popular demand, however, prompted two additional tours later in the afternoon.
Vagel Keller and Chris Coleman conducted the guided tours tag-team style with Chris handling the tours at 12:15, 2:15 and 4:15 and Vagel guiding tours at 1:15 and 3:15. The tours covered the history and operation of the railroad and the shops installation at Rockhill Furnace with each tour lasting between 50 and 70 minutes. Tour attendance numbered approximately 25 at 12:15, 20 at 1:15, 25 at 2:15, 10 at 3:15 and 5 at 4.15. Although the tour attendees were generally familiar with the EBT as a tourist operation, the majority were new to the details of the railroad as a whole; its story as an 80 year coal hauler and its importance as a preserved historic treasure. Several participants took the time to comment at the FEBT booth and EBT ticket window how much they enjoyed the tour.
In Robertsdale, the FEBT Museum marked the occasion with a day-long open house. In addition to exhibits and refreshments at the museum, members of the FEBT volunteer work crew discussed current projects, future plans and past history with a steady stream of visitors. Repairs to window sashes in the Depot, work on the doors of the Old Post Office, and paint applied to the Depot window sashes, Post Office doors, and exterior trim of both buildings allowed plenty of time for talk, while demonstrating to our visitors that actual work does sometimes take place at Robertsdale! The workday and open house concluded early, permitting the FEBT members working as Robertsdale volunteers to go to Rockhill Furnace for the end of the homecoming parade and the two EBT twilight trains.
Railroad operations proceeded smoothly during the 40th anniversary celebration. EBT train crew members on August 12 included David C. Brightbill, Daniel Gilliland, Stanley Hall, Jr., Tom Holder, Roy Miller, Ronald Rabena and Aaron Sholley. Stanley Hall, Erica Miller, Richard Morgan, Deb Salomon and Barbara Woodward handled office operations, ticket and gift shop sales.
Friends of the East Broad Top is pleased to have been a sponsor of the 2000 EBT anniversary, and we thank the following FEBT members who assisted us as volunteers: Vagel C. Keller served as volunteer coordinator and on-site organizer for FEBT activities at Rockhill Furnace. Vagel and Christopher D. Coleman conducted the Rockhill Furnace walking tours. William Adams, Reginald Arford, Patricia J. Downs, Bob Goldby, Walter Goldby, and Dave Steinberger maintained the FEBT information tent or helped us with the display of the EBT handcar at Rockhill Furnace. At Robertsdale, Chad Diehl, Thomas A. Diehl, Jr., Hank Inman, Douglas R. Linebaugh and Douglas O. Langdon combined restoration work and museum operations with assistance to open house visitors.