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Introduction to the East Broad Top Railroad

EBT #11 in the 1920's.
#11 turning in Mount
Union in the 1920's.
What is the EBT? Today the EBT is a tourist hauler offering steam excursions on five miles of track, but the story of this time capsule goes much deeper. The East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Company was a short line narrow gauge railroad built in 1872-74 to service the coal fields of the remote Broad Top Mountain area of south-central Pennsylvania, and haul the coal to the Pennsylvania Railroad at Mount Union or to on-line iron furnaces. The EBT dutifully and, for the most part, profitably performed this duty for over eighty years. The Broad Top coal business faded in the mid 1950's as oil and gas replaced coal power in many applications and the need for Broad Top coal haulers came to an end. On April 14, 1956, the line officially ceased freight operations.

A 1950's EBT excursion nearing Mount Union.
#15 pulls a special
excursion in the 1940's.
Even at that time the EBT was the last original narrow gauge east of the Rocky Mountains. As with it's contemporaries, the EBT was closed and sold for dismantlement and salvage. Unlike them, the EBT was never dismantled. Nick Kovalchick of Kovalchick Salvage purchased the line in 1956, but did not dismantle it immediately. The entire line laid dormant until 1960, when at the request of the Orbisonia Bicentennial committee, the EBT began operating excursions on a short portion of the line. The rides were so popular Nick decided open the railroad as a tourist attraction the next year and since then 5 miles of the line has served as tourist hauler while the remaining 28 miles of the road went into a kind of stasis for the next 40 years.

A 1950's EBT excursion nearing Mount Union.
The EBT shops are a complete
remnant of the 19th century.
It is a complete, intact 19th and early 20th century railroad and infrastructure. The entire 33-mile, 3-foot gauge main line is intact as are seven steam locomotives (two operable) built for the EBT, over 200 steel freight cars built by and for the EBT, a complete, belt-driven shops complex that has no equal in North America, and a living history from the people who worked the road and the industries it served. As far back as the 1930's the EBT was recognized as a unique railroad when the National Railway Historical Society began sponsoring excursion trips on the road. The National Park Service designated the EBT as a National Historic Landmark in 1964 (today one of fewer than 2,500), it's highest designation of historic places and placed the railroad on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966 upon the inception of the Register.

Restoration work on the shops.
Volunteers work hard to
restore the historic shops.
The East Broad Top continues to operate as a tourist railroad, delighting thousands of riders each year. The remoteness that made the EBT special then has helped save it for today. Alas, time and the tight budgets of an isolated attraction have taken their toll on the railroad, particularly on the unused portions of the line and the historic shops complex. Public efforts to preserve and restore the EBT have been building for two decades now. Today the Friends of the East Broad Top Works to restore bulding along the disuesed part of the line as well as performing restoration and maintnance in Rockhill Furnace. The neighboring Rockhill Trolley Museum lends volunteers to help maintain the EBTs track and diesel and gas locmotives.

A 1990's excursion train.
#14 in Rockhill ready
for today's excursion.
The East Broad Top is the greatest untapped historical resource of the Industrial Age. It is a unique time capsule of the life and times of the rural industrial culture, one waiting to be opened and shown to the world. All it needs is your help. Buy a ticket and ride a train. Volunteer to help with the FEBT Restoration Crews. Donate to the FEBT Restoration Fund. Tell freinds about the East Broad Top Railroad, oldest narrow gauge west of the Rockies!


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