FEBT Spring Exploration - 2003
By Chris Coleman
photos by the author
Originally published in The Timber Transfer, Vol 19, No 4, Spring 2003
About twenty people were on hand this year to take a closer look at what is left of some of the EBT’s branch lines. Powerful thunderstorms had rolled through the night before and thoroughly soaked the Broad Top region and scattered showers came and went through the morning. A noon orientation in the Old Post Office briefed the attendees on the course of events through the weekend.
With many veteran explorers in attendance, the group quickly formed car pools and headed for Woodvale for a brief exploration of the beginning of the Mines 7&8 branch and the surrounding Woodvale area. At Woodvale the sun made the first of a number of brilliant but brief appearances.
Next on the agenda the group took a long drive to Jacobs on the Rocky Ridge Branch. Jacobs is truly in the middle of nowhere and even our guides had to stop and consult on its exact location. Shortly thereafter the site was found and the group received a talk on the construction of the branch, the short lived competition of the Juniata and Southern, and the death of the branch. This was followed by a hike in to the siding serving the Jacobs mine tipple and the Post office location.
The next location was Joller at the end of the Coles Valley Branch, but the road there was not easy. The group made less than 15 miles per hour on the balance of Jacobs Road due to its poor condition. Once onto Coles Valley Road, the caravan paralleled the branch on the way back to route 994. We then climbed Wrays Hill and parked at the entrance to the State Game Lands. Already parked there was a group from an area college that listened in to the talk about the history of the branch and the mine located there. The group then hiked then hiked to the upper grade of the branch and across the high fill. At the deep cut, all viewed a photo of an EBT excursion train squeezing through the cut over fifty years before. The group then hiked back to Joller and down the lower grade to visit the other fill and cut. Then all were faced with the long climb back to the cars.
From Joller, the caravan proceeded to Saltillo for a short visit to the start of the NARCO branch, picking up four additional early birds on the way. The short hike back to the end of the Saltillo Yard was also rewarded by the viewing of an intact high switch target.
The last tour for Saturday was a first-time tour of the Booher Branch, the early days iron ore branch near Rockhill. Parking at Jordan Summit on the main, the group hiked about three-quarters of a mile to the first major trestle on the branch and back. This scenic section is truly a hidden treasure on the EBT.
Pizza Star II in Three Springs was the choice for dinner as about eight of our party elected to eat there. All there elected to return to Robertsdale for the slide show that featured FEBT's recent work session in Rockhill Furnace, the 2002 Fall Spectacular, and the Durango and Silverton, Cumbres and Toltec and Tweetsie narrow gauge railroads. Snacks were enjoyed by all during the show.
Rising early on Sunday, sixteen of the previous day's explorers arrived at Rockhill Furnace to commence the second day of the event, which would prove to be a unique day of hiking. First stop was near the quarry site of General Refractories above Stanton. The landowners granted the group permission to visit the area and were kind enough to even give us a personal guided tour. The bulk of the group walked while the less mobile members followed in a vehicle. After about a half mile walk the group reached the beginning of the rock operation. Spikes, joiner bars and other less identifiable objects abounded. The incline locomotive shed foundations were clearly evident. Three structures still remained from the quarrying days, a storage shed near the locomotive shed, the dynamite house, and the detonation caps storage house. Thankfully, all three have received and/or will receive maintenance from the owner. During the hike we saw the picking track grades above where loose ganister was loaded into rock cars and the three rock faces where ganister was blasted loose from the mountain itself. No less than four sections of light rail were found. A few members were even permitted by the owners to take souvenir pieces of ganister, one weighting over fifty pounds! Please note that the quarry site is on private property and uninvited guests are not welcomed.
After the hike, a record number of hikers felt nature calling, so the entire group enjoyed the spectacular views from the top of Tuscarora Mountain en route to the nearest restrooms at Spring Creek. This also gave our resident snack expert from the night before time to distribute the leftovers to the hungry hikers.
The next stop, and the last as it would turn out, was a section of the graded but never laid South Penn Extension. Again, with the kind permission of the land owner, the group visited a section of the grade about a mile short of the planned connection with the never completed South Pennsylvania Railroad. The hike started at the planned location of a short bridge, where the cut stone abutments had been built and even mounting bolts driven. This turned out to be the most challenging hike in the history of the Spring Explorations. First, ginger rock hopping was needed to cross the creek, which proved to challenging for many hikers to keep their feet dry. Although the grade started fairly clear, the brush proved increasingly challenging as the group proceeded. After many slips on mud, abrasions from branches and sticks from thorns, the group arrived at its destination, the next planned bridge site on the line. Also built of cut stone, these abutments were larger than the first we had encountered. We stared across the deep water toward the entirely clear grade on the opposite side, only having to turn around and fight our way back through the Pennsylvania brush. Another planned hike on the South Penn Extension had to be skipped as the unexpected length of the first two hikes had used up all the time. So the group mounted up and returned to Rockhill Furnace to head home, thus ending this year's Exploration.
All were thanked for attending and encouraged to come again to the upcoming FEBT events. I’d like to thank Wade Woodcock for his efforts to gain permission for the group to hike on the South Penn Extension and the Grefco quarry and to Patricia Coleman (Downs), master of Spring Exploration registration and snacks for the past three years.
Are you interested in seeing the “rest” of the EBT? Join us for the the 8th Annual Exploration, tentatively scheduled for April 3 and 4, 2004 as we again see the true story of the East Broad Top, the queen of the narrow gauges.