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Commentary

Another fine opportunity for exposure of the EBT, this article, written by the Dallas Morning News, was picked up by papers across the country, including Columbus, OH and Rochester, NY.

Article

Aricle Photo
East Broad Top No. 14 backs down the tracks in Rockhill Furnace, Pa. The Turn-of-the-centrury railroad now operates as a tourist attraction.

June 6, 1999

PENNSYLVANIA
Once sold for scrap, railroad still running

By Jim Landers
The Dallas Morning News

ROCKHILL FURNACE, Pa. - A little steam locomotive sighed along the narrow tracks of Orbisonia Station. Leaning out of the ticket window was a red- faced man with white hair mustache.

"What time's the next train?"

Joe Kovalchick pointed to a shingle over his head. I read 1 p.m. "That's unless a hundred people show up and we get another one going," said Kovalchick, owner of the East Broad Top Railroad.

A busload of rail fans sought shade and a lemonade and waited for the day's only train. For Three hours, we had been listeneing to railroad historian and Smithsonian tour guide Joe Nevin explain the magic if a trip to the East Broad Top.

Rare Railroad

South central Pennsylvaia is home to the nation's oldest operating narrow-gauge railroad, the lat operating narrow gauge east of the Rockies.
The East Broad Top offers a preserved turn-of-the-cuntury railroad. The same locomotive and coal hoppers were here 80 years ago. The newer passenger cars arrived in the 1930's, and those were New England hand-me-downs. "They look a little sad, they look a little tired, but they're kept in operating condition," Nevin said. They've sold off some of the land and the water company, and they rent some of the tracks to the Rockhill Trolley Museum. But the shop complex is intact. It's the last in North America featuring steam-powered, belt-driven machines: lathes, drills and stamping presses. All the tools, the parts patterns, the pushcarts and the brooms sit where they were left when the last shift went away 43 years ago.

Endangered Attraction

In 1964, the East Broad tOp was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1996, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the East Broad Top on its list of most endangered historic sites in America. Each year, employees and rail fans wait to see whether Kovalchick feels like opening for another season of summer weekends and the Columbus Day weekend Fall Spectacular. And year after year the railroad limps on. The East Broad Top was built with rails laid just 3 feet apart so the little trains coule snake around the coal mines of Broad Top Mountain. Its coal-fired locomotives hauled passengers, pig iron, timber and coal. From Rockhill Furnace, the tracks ran 11 miles north to Mount Union, where cargoes were transferred to trains running on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. East Broad Top's first owners got their charter in 1856, started building in 1872, and opened for business to Mount Union in 1873. Most of the seven locomotives still on the site were built between 1911 and 1920. The railway station that serves as home of the East Broad Top was built in 1907 on the eastern edge of Rockhill Furnace.

Saved By A Dreamer

The East Broad Top exhausted its reason for being in 1956. It was sold for scrap to Nick Kovalchick. The 530 employees put their tools away, closed the doors and headed home. The reason the railroad stayed intact varies depending on who is asked. Nick's son Joe says his dad got a train set for Christmas as a boy, but an older brother filched it, leaving young Nick with a longing filled years later by the East Broad Top.

Visitors ride a coal-fired steam train up the line 5 miles to Colgate Grove, a picnic ground in the forest where there's a Y in the tracks to turn the train around. The 10-mile round trip lasts 50 minutes.

During the Fall Spectacular, all four operating steam locomotives are fired. It's also the only time the public gets a look at the inside of the shops.

From, 1988 to 1991, the National Park Service spent $2.5 million shoring up some of the buildings and indexing the East Broad Top's inveritory. Since then, federal attention has turned to Steanitown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa. Employee Stanley Hall and seven others do what they can to keep the railroad alive. "You can see my biggest enemy is time," he said.

The East Broad Top Railroad is in Rockhill Furnace, a two hour drive east of Pittsburgh near Orbisonia, Pa. It is open Saturdays and Sundays June through mid-October, with departures at'll a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., though the I p.m. departure is surest. Fares are $9 for adults, $6 for children 12 and younger. Call 814-447-3011.

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