FEBT Spring Exploration - 2001
Bridges and Tunnels of the EBT
By Chris Coleman
photos by William Adams unless noted
Originally published in The Timber Transfer, Vol 19, No 4, Spring 2003
About forty-five attendees arrived at the FEBT Robertsdale Museum on Saturday April 7, 2001, for the 5th annual FEBT Early Bird Exploration. The weather was mild, but drizzly with scattered showers, after all it wouldn't be a real Spring Exploration without at least some rain.
After registration and orientation, the group set out on foot for the first of the bridges to be visited on this year's exploration, the Robertsdale Wye Bridge. The group then visited the Robertsdale bridge over Trough reek and returned to the museum to start a car pool to the next destination of Cooks.
At Cooks, Vagel Keller was drafted to speak on the subject there, having written an article on the "lost" bridges of the EBT, including those at Cooks. Much discussion ensued about what became of the Cooks Station, but no conclusions were found.
Next on the itinerary was the weekend's first long hike, this one to Rocky Ridge. Brush was low, although there were a couple fallen trees for the group to divert around. The group stopped enroute to examine the mortarless retaining wall, remains of Wrays Hill and the Rocky Ridge siding before reaching Rocky Ridge proper and hearing a oratory about the bridge, tunnel and station located there.
After returning to the cars, the next stop was Coles for a hike to the opposite side of the Wrays Hill Tunnel. The hiking there was a bit more challenging as where the briars from the previous year were still high enough to cause some discomfort. Of particular note is that a large amount of selective tree cutting has been done in the woods about 11 yards or so on either side of the railroad for a distance of about ¼ mile about halfway between Coles and the tunnel. This was not the case when the Early Birds hiked this stretch in 1999. The tunnel itself is essentially unchanged from two years ago. Unlike the south end of the tunnel which is dominated by two large rock falls, the north end is mostly intact, with a relatively small fall about 150' inside. All this was illuminated with 3,000,000 candlepower of spotlights brought up for the occasion. Daylight can still just be seen through the tunnel. After the second hike there was just enough time in the schedule for the short hike to Sideling Hill Tunnel's south portal. Here again the spotlights came in handy to illuminate the details of the tunnel interior. Short of time to visit the opposite tunnel portal, the group broke for dinner and then the evening slide and film show.
That evening, slides consisted of those from the recent 40th Anniversary celebration at the EBT in 2000, photos of EBT combination passenger car 18 and baggage-express 29 in Fort Lupton, CO, selected Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad and a visit to the Alpine Tunnel of the long abandoned narrow gauge Denver, South Park and Pacific. Eight millimeter film included scenes from eastern railroading around the turn of the century, and the gem of the evening, the Blackhawk Film “East Broad Top” featuring EBT common carrier footage from all over the railroad.
Sunday dawned brisk and surprisingly chilly 40s compared to Saturday, but the clouds cleared and the temperature rose into the 60s by mid-day. The group gathered near the EBT Saltillo Station, with most all attendees from the day before returning.
The group commenced the second day with a visit to Tank House (Saltillo) bridge. Next we visited the sites of the two tannery area bridges removed early last century. Having missed a site due to lack of time the previous day, the group car pooled again, backtracking to the north portal of Sideling Hill Tunnel. A discouraging surprise was waiting for us, as the tunnel doors which had defied the elements for 40 years finally succumbed and fell from the portal. On the bright side, it revealed more clearly the differences between this hexagonal portal and the similar, but arched portal at the south end of Wrays Hill Tunnel. Also shown more clearly is the fact that there were in fact two roll doors on the portal, one nested inside the other.
Departing the tunnels for the tour, the group passed Three Springs Bridge and commenced another long hike along the EBT main from Spring Creek Road to visit Kylers Bridge, the longest single span on the line. As at Cooks, much discussion ensued here about the steep angle of the skew of the bridge, its tall girders and the possibility that it was the bridge that was photographed under construction nearly 100 years ago.
Driving past Prices Bridge, the group headed on to the mother of all EBT bridges, Pogue Trestle. There, many vintage photos were shown and many tales of the site's colorful history were shared. Now running a bit short on time, the three bridges on the active line were skipped in favor of Shirleysburg Bridge just south of the Shirleysburg Methodist Cemetery. From this relatively short bridge the Shirleysburg Section house was also visible.
No tour of EBT bridges would be complete without a visit to the concrete spans of the Aughwick Mills Bridge. The battered, but structurally sound arches are still impressive even 40 years after the last train crossed them. The last spot on the formal tour was Mount Union. Mr. Alien Levin of the Mount Union Connecting Railroad was on hand with the engine house doors open for all to gaze on EBT switcher #3. After the group finished with picture taking, an abbreviated tour of the Mount Union Yard ensued as the attendees walked south to visit the final bridge on the tour, the Mount Union Yard Culvert. Clearly evident in the yard was the tie replacement project of the MUCRR which had been in full swing the week before. Also evident were the two hopper bodies left in the yard after being sold to the Pine Creek Railroad in New Jersey for their trucks and brake gear. The culvert itself is one of the soundest on the line also being one of the youngest. 40 years of disuse have left little mark on the 20' high arch.
At that, the formal tour ended and all were thanked for attending and encouraged to come again to the upcoming FEBT events.