FEBT Spring Exploration - 2002
Industrial Broad Top
By Chris Coleman
photos by the author
Originally published in The Timber Transfer, Vol 19, No 4, Spring 2003
The 6th annual FEBT Early Bird Exploration saw overcast weather and damp ground beneath the attendees' feet. Temperatures were at least moderate. Registration and orientation were held in the Old Post Office building. This year's theme was the industries of the East Broad Top.
At the conclusion of orientation, the group assembled just outside the museum to tour the most important industries on the railroad, the coal mines of Robertsdale. Vagel Keller did the honors for this part of the tour, being very familiar with the mines and giving tours there every Fall Reunion. The group toured the facilities starting with the location of the Mine #1 tipple, the #1 repair facilities and the #1 mine entrance location. Proceeding further back along the hillside, the group next visited the fan house for the Robertsdale mines. Although without a roof, the building does not seem to have deteriorated more than in previous years. Beyond that was the mule stable location.
Hiking even further, the area of mine #5, "The Slope," was next. The group inspected the engine house foundations, boiler house remains, tipple remains, the area of the repair shops and the mine entrance itself. Lastly, the group visited the likely location of the coking pits that were at one time located at Robertsdale. On the way back to the museum, Vagel expounded on a theory as to location of the original coal breaking plant, which was in Robertsdale prior to the construction of the Mount Union plant in 1916.
Following the mine tour just outside the museum, the group saddled up for a carpool to the largest non-company owned coal mine, the Miller mine at Joller. Parking at the hunting area parking lot, the group walked into the remains of the village of Joller. As in years past the foundations of the town remain visible in the brush, but the remains of the mine head were destroyed in the mine reclamation work of 1998. The two spurs of the Coles Valley Branch were explored as well. The upper grade was hiked as far back as the divergence of the lower grade from it, then after a return hike to Joller, the lower grade was hiked through its deep cut.
Next stop was the Rockhill Iron Furnace ruins in Rockhill Furnace. Unused since 1907, the site is heavily overgrown. Only the first story of the engine house still stands, but the remains of the other furnace structures can be located, giving an idea of the large scope of this early operation.
After the last hike of the day, the group retired to the gourmet of Pizza Star in Orbisonia to discuss the days journey and the railroad we all came to see (plus a few "broad gauges” as well). Most of the day's group returned to Robertsdale for the evening picture show.
The show featured photos from the Sumpter Valley narrow gauge railroad in Oregon, the Huckleberry Railroad in Michigan and the Doe River Gorge Railroad in North Carolina. Intermixed were the requisite photos of past EBT events. The 8mm films for the evening featured common carrier operation on the Rio Grande over Cumbres Pass, Pennsylvania Railroad steam operations and winter railroading in the Sierras. Snacks were provided to the group and everyone left with a full stomach.
The next morning the group met adjacent to the EBT Saltillo Station. The day began with a talk about the relevance of Saltillo on the railroad and the ganister operations that took place there, from 1911 until 1956. The group then drove to Three Springs at the EBT crossing to begin a short hike to the second NARCO tipple. Although short, this was a more challenging hike due to the denser brush. The concrete foundations of this second NARCO tipple were substantial. This tipple, which was taken out of service in 1942, was connected to a cable driven tramway from the working on Jacks Mountain. Foundations of the tramway connection as well as old cable sections from it were present above the tipple.
The group then returned to their cars and stopped at Orbisonia Station to consolidate into carpools or to drive to Stanton. At Stanton, just north of Neelyton, was the Stanton GRefCo tipple. Like the second NARCO tipple, this one was also supplied by a cable driven tramway, this time from a quarry on Tuscarora Mountain. The foundations were smaller and made of mortared stone. The purposes of the various parts of the structure were more difficult to determine and as the group studied them, the owner of the property arrived to question our presence. Once it was determined that we were not hunting turkeys, the owner began relating what he knew about the site. We all thanked our host and were on our way.
On the way back to Orbisonia, the group stopped for a tour of the Shade Gap Culvert. Though the site had no relevance to industries it was close and there was a request from the group to stop there. Members of the group photographed the twenty foot culvert from every conceivable angle before departing.
The final formal stop on the tour was at Blacklog, the site where today US Route 522 crosses the old Shade Gap branch. Relevant to the tour theme for the ganister, iron ore and timber loaded in the area, the more pressing need to visit the site was due to the coming rebuild of 522 that would result in massive changes to the area and the likely obliteration of part of the site.
At that point the formal tour came to an end, but the group proceeded to Mount Union anyway to see what was up with the Mount Union Connecting Railroad. We arrived to find the railroad's second piece of equipment had just arrived on its first piece. A rusty, but operable standard gauge track car was strapped to the back of the MTC's hi-rail truck. Several of the stronger FEBT members assisted the MTC staff to lift the car off the truck and onto the rails. A few attendees assisted further by taking the car on test drives up the engine house spur, the longest up onto the main. Those who remained through the testing process departed for an impromptu Mount Union yard tour. At the conclusion of the mini-tour, those who had not moved on then departed for home.