Freinds of the East Broad Top Logo

FEBT 17th Annual Fall Reunion

1999 East Broad Top Railroad Fall Spectacular

By Chris Coleman
Originally posted to the EBT Mailing List by Chris Coleman and subsequently published in the Timber Transfer Spring 1999. ed.

Thursday

Rolling into EBT country later than planned I made the obligatory stop to find the Shade Gap Section House just has been for the past three years, leaning precariously. I headed on into Rockhill to find #18 in the yard on track 5 east about 50 feet south of the crossing. She had received her bell but not her number plate or headlight lens. A wood staircase had been built to access the cab. Several ties and gauge bars had been installed to accommodate her on that track. All five painted numbers and EBT lettering had been repainted in burnt orange but the locomotive was otherwise in her common carrier guise. No white to be seen. The original idea had been to have an old fashioned camera taking photos of folks in the cab. Alas, the overhead of developing such photos mandated another course and one of the EBT employees was to bring out a computer system to make digital photos and print them out for $7 for one or $13 for two. A nice painted steel sign had been made up for the photos as well as two for the shops tours. One directed folks toward the shops from the gravel parking lot and the other listed times and prices at the machine shop door.

From peeking through the shops windows the changes were immediately apparent. Both the Foundry and Blacksmiths shop had been completely cleaned up. All the junk piled up had been removed, parts and supplies had been sorted and stacked, the floor leveled, bird droppings removed and gravel paths made around the interior. The boiler and Machine shops had also been cleaned and the old machine signs replaced with new plastic easier-to-read ones. As in past years the service bays and cars shop were blocked by tape strung in the back of the Machine Shop. A large sodium vapor security light was mounted in the east rafters of the Machine Shop pointed west and another similarly positioned in the Boiler Shop. This increased ambient light but made photography tricky. The contents of the shops are about the same as usual. No big changes in the yards.

A power line had been strung from the car shops along the ties and under the tracks into the brake cylinder of an abandoned hopper. From there a cord was run up to #18 to power the headlight, computer and PA system. Speaker lines were also run to a bull horn on the last disused hopper and another along the parking lot.

In front of the station Phil Raynes' ex-EBT speeder was parked. Despite reports, this is NOT the same speeder parked in the lean to at the EBT. It is the same model Fairmont but does not have sides. The engine and drive train look pristine, but the body still needs cosmetic work.

Six of the ten restored hoppers were down at the south end of the yard. Two were cut into the freight train and two were in the usual location. The freight also consisted of Box 170, Box 181, Box 175, Flat 111, Caboose 27

Being dark by the end of dinner at the ever-popular Pizza Star, I forwent a visit to Mount Union until the morning.

Friday

Having missed Mount Union on the previous day I spend a couple hours there in the morning. MUCRR has abandoned the cleared track that passed under the Timber Transfer and is instead clearing track 2 west parallel to the main in the same yard area. About two thirds of that track has been cleared to 3' stumps so far. The tie-in to the NS spur is complete and the main is passable all the way through the yard. Some clearing has been done to widen the path along the main, removing brush along the hoppers and between the main and adjacent tracks. The track work at the connection is quite good for a short line. The track to the engine house is complete and the switch is fully operational. The track work to the engine house is less that ideal, but would be adequate for very low speed. Posted signs specify no unauthorized vehicles at rail and road entrances to the yard.

Down at Rockhill the locos were steamed up and taking their usual turns coming out to be fed and watered at the ash pit. All four were showing their fresh white and silver detail paint and looking quite sharp. #15 came out and hooked up to the passenger train long enough for a brake test. A new feature that arrived by flatbed was self propelled scissor man lift for use for the two whistle salutes. No riding in the loader bucket this year.

Later in the day I took a run to Coles to check out things there. All seemed reasonable well and I did not notice any signs of the tank boards having been stolen.

What was wrong with #18 is a mystery, but the rumor of her having broken a rod is disproved by and examination of her rods which are complete. In any event her air reservoir is still stenciled "tested 3-13-56" indicating that she was likely repaired before the end of operations. By this time she had received her number plate and headlight lens and her headlight was lit up by external power. Also she had annoying pink tape tied to her pilot and sides. I suppose it was opposed to keep people from climbing on her. her number and builder plates had been buffed up for the occasion. She also sported white flags on the pilot.

There were apparently some new maintenance of way cars parked in #18's stall. At dusk Phil Raynes' car came across the turntable and parked in the same stall.

Saturday

One of the first orders of the day was to bring out the new MOW cars. The two cars fixed up for last year's spectacular were coupled to a set freshly restored and functional powered and trailer cars. At first they were brought out onto the turntable under the power of the new powered car (and a lot of pushing.) This proving to insufficient power, the Silver Sightseer rode the turntable and pulled all four cars out and down the lead track.

Growing tired of the gathering crowd at the turntable I decided to pursue the cars as they passed through the yard. They passed the station and revered back onto track #2 east and tried unsuccessfully to cross meadow street. idle for some time, the flangeways had become filled with gravel and about 5 minutes with 3 picks had them cleared and the cars delivered to their parking place near #18. M-1 followed into track 2 to park and M-7 went onto track 3. If only the switch for track 4 were working there could have been a 4 track line-up.

the locos came out is the usual order - #14 to the passenger train then #15 to the picnic train then #17 to the freight train. #12 waited in the wings for the first doubleheader. I got my train riding done early, riding the first shade gap train and the first freight of the day.

I got back in time to set up for the noon whistle salute. Joe Kovalchick made the usual thank you and thanks to the past and present employees of the railroad. He also said that his entire family had made it this year for the spectacular and introduced them. This year they did something a bit different. Each locomotive sounded off as usual, but then Joe came off the lift and climbed a ladder closer to locomotives to lead them in a 21 whistle salute. It was a series of 20 short blasts by all four locos then one long blast by all four. It appeared that the photos at #18 had not panned out, possibly due to equipment trouble. The cab was still open for the remainder of Saturday, though.

I elected to mingle in the yard and catch the next trains at the coal docks. I then took a tour of the cab of #18.

Word came out late in the day that #17 had sprung a couple of small flue leaks. After inspection it was found that the problem was minor and that she would be kept in steam for Sunday service.

In the evening the bad weather started rolling in. Drizzle started about dusk and by the time both section of the night train were under way it was raining for real. Unlike this year myself and groupies hopped the passenger train instead of the picnic train. It was not so hot for photography, but a LOT drier.

The next order of business was the night photos shoot. About 35 photographers and their tripoded cameras assembled across the lot from the turntable. Steve Barry of Railroad and Railfan Magazine provided flash illumination via several backpack battery supplied strobes.

Four photo shoots were staged with the large flash packs providing the lighting. Six shots were made of #15 and a coal train with coach #8 on the end on the main at the Car Shop. The photo line was shooting southwest. The first two were of just the train. the second two included a period photographer with camera and lantern not unlike the pose on the front of Winston Link's Thunder on Blue Ridge. The last two featured General Manager Stanley Hall on then beside the pilot of #15.

Next the photo line moved to the Sand house shooting southeast towards #15 posted in front of the Boiler Shop. Three photos were taken with a period bystander and lantern in the shot. We then moved on to the turntable where there were two shots with the period photographer taking a shot of #15 over the ash pit, pilot on the turntable. The last two shots were of just #15. The Car Shop and Ash Pit photos included a headlamp burst to add it to the shot.

The rain did not let up on account of the photo session, so plastic bags and paper towels were the order of the evening. A few people bugged out at each change of location, but most stayed to the cold and wet end.

Sunday

As promised #17 was back out and in action on Sunday and pulled the first freight before being relieved by #12.

I took the occasion of the first shop tour of the day to enter the EBT's hallowed ground. As described above the shops are much cleaner and more friendly to the visitor, but there has been no noticeable structural improvement. There is, however, fresh plastic over the windows which will limit damage by bird droppings and blown in rain and debris.

Again on Sunday the Locos gathered for the salute, though this time #12, #14 and #15 were side by side and #17 sounded off from the ash pit. I didn't tape the speech unfortunately and it was a bit hard to hear but I could just. As before he thanked some people and said again his whole family was there, but had 'headed out' after Saturday and listed some of the places where they lived. He turned the mike over to Nathan who spoke of Phill Glass and his work on the M-1 and lead applause to that end. Joe took the mike back and said something to the extent of "Yesterday I spoke of the railroad's past. Today I'd like to speak of it's future." He said they were continuing to work on the TEA21 monies and that we will know in the next few week whether it will happen or not. He said that he believed that progress toward the restoration of the railroad would snowball if the TEA21 money went through. I think he may have mentioned Saltillo and Coles but I don't recall for sure. Sorry I can't remember any more details. I hope someone taped it.

After the salute I had volunteered to act as 'host' at Coles for two hours for anyone who decided to come down. In the first hour and 45 minutes we had a grand total of about five persons. In the last 15 minutes a group of 16 showed up, who were not FEBT members nor had they heard there was an open house. They just saw the sign and wandered in.

Things as the railroad wound down about as usual, and I spend time watching #14 and #15 move from the sand house to the inspection pit to the ash pit then into their stalls. #18 remained out.

Monday

I planned a short visit to Mount Union before heading south. I made the obligatory loop around Harbison Walker and little had changed there. There was a semi transferring something to the building at the east end of the plant. I headed down to the yard and snooped around briefly. I found more signs of the few remaining journal brasses being pilfered from the hopper cars. Fortunately I loitered around long enough to observe a high-railer being placed on the track at the dual gauge crossing. Slowly a late model green GMC work truck rolled down the EBT, the first traffic since the end of NARCo service I expect. I later observed the standard gauge rail was looking a slight bit polished.

The truck disappeared around the curve in the yard and I followed. The truck had disappeared from site until I observed that the engine house switch had been realigned and I saw the orange flashing light at the engine house. I headed back to the truck and drove over to find the hi-railer pushing a road trailer carrying a small shed into the engine house. The shed is to serve as the offices of the MUCRR (and restroom) It took about two hours for the building crew and the MUCRR crew to finish placing the shed inside while #3 silently stood by. Although sound, #3 has significant surface rust, pitting in places. She is missing her bell, whistle, number plate (all in Rockhill), one air pump, rear light and most of her backhead accoutrements. All her rods are in place and her wood components are mostly in good shape. I took what photos I could under the very poor photo conditions. The building interior is in fine shape, despite the abundance of junk lying about and in the pits.

The switch to the engine house lead has been installed and is a fully functional three rail switch. The engine house lead itself is passable by light traffic and has received a new tie every few feet and several gauge bars. At the engine house MUCRR is adding timber between the rail to aid in the transition of their hi-rail truck onto and off of the track. MUCRR hi-rail truck has been making runs periodically on the main and engine house lead.

The connection to the NS spur is complete and passable as is the entire main through the yard. The brush at both and ends has been removed and the brush along the main and engine house lead has been cleared from a narrow tunnel to fully passable loading gauge. Clearing on the Timber Transfer siding has been abandoned and allowed to grow up. In its place track #2 west along the main is being cleared and is about half done. Best guess is that the TT track would have provided access for freight transfer between railcar and truck and the idea was likely abandoned because of the EBT cars in the way. Authorized vehicles only signs have been posted at the south, north, west and northwest entrances (rail and road) to the yard. Apparently there is a problem with 4-wheelers and dirt bikes on the property now that the track has been cleared.

Reliable reports state that MUCRR is not responsible for the restenciled car numbers, but rather a third party is. MUCRR is also not responsible for the clearing of brush at the industrial park. The Industrial Park itself, with permission from the railroad, cleared the area to increase their exposure, which will surely benefit MUCRR. Also the park is erecting a more permanent sign at the entrance road to FCI (formerly Berg). One wonders what it will say about rail service.

The previously rumored 25 ton unit is no longer the power available. Two 90 ton (one for parts) two axle units are to be inspected shortly and are good possibilities. The track is adequate to receive the loco when it arrives, though it still needs work. A LOT of clearing down the mainline still needs to be done to get to their customers, but the MUCRR appears to have the needed financing and staying power.

MUCRR is planning to open track to mile 3 not 2.5, where it can service Silco Services. This will open the track over Morrison's Summit. Current EBT operations end just below mile 7. (My opinion starts here) This leaves a scanty 4 miles to increase the EBT's length by 7 miles. The EBT could use some variety in its operations to encourage repeat riders. Trains running both ways could do so, providing four tips, round trips either way or either side to Colgate Grove and back. If TEA21 funds pan out for the shops and work continues on Saltillo Station and Coles Tank, this would be a good next step.

Next stop was Sideling Hill tunnel. I brought along a 1 million candle power spotlight to try illuminating the tunnel interior for photography (from OUTSIDE the tunnel.) The results were encouraging but I need some faster film and a second spotlight. I was planning to attempt the same at Wrays Hill, but time was running out and I just walked down to the tracks to see how the brush was. Not bad, but not I-70.



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