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Peter Lerro Photography Charter East Broad Top Day 1 4/27/2023

by Chris Guenzler

Our day started at the early hour of 5:30 AM and after preparing ourselves, we drove over to Sheetz for breakast to go then had a thirty minute drive to Orbisonia to arrive there by 6:45 AM. Everyone was required to sign a release and we chatted with some of our fellow participants, some of whom we were acquainted with from other photo charters.

East Broad Top History

Operating from 1871 to 1956, it is one of the nation's oldest and best-preserved narrow-gauge railroads and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The railroad is now preserved for use as a tourist attraction. After a nine-year closure, in February 2020, it was announced that the railroad had been purchased by a non-profit foundation and regular train service resumed in summer 2022.

The EBT is unusual in that it is a complete, original railroad rather than a collection of pieces from various locations, as most tourist railroads are. All six of the narrow gauge steam locomotives that operated on the railroad in its last years as a coal hauler are still on site, and some were used for the excursion trains. Other original equipment includes a standard gauge switcher steam locomotive (non-operational), operating track-gang cars, the M-3 motorcar (built from scratch by the EBT with an engine and transmission from an automobile) and the M-1, a motorcar based on scaled-down J. G. Brill and Company plans built by the EBT in 1927. The majority of rolling stock that operated on the railroad in its later coal-hauling years remains on the property in varying condition, including over a dozen flatcars, several boxcars and well over 150 hoppers. Tourist trains used original EBT passenger equipment, as well as converted EBT freight cars. The original railroad maintenance shops have a pair of Babcock & Wilcox boilers, a 19th-century stationary steam engine and an overhead line shaft system (steel shafts, wood and iron pulleys and leather and canvas belts) that powers antique machine tools, sheet-forming machines, foundry equipment, blacksmithing tools and woodworking machines. Most of the 33 miles of the railroad's original main 30 mile line is still in place, though only five miles are usable. In recent years, disused trackage from Rockhill Furnace southward and Robertsdale southward have been cleared and gauged for use with speeders and handcars.

Common Carrier Operations - 1872 to 1956

The East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Company was chartered in 1856. Due to financial constraints and the American Civil War, the railroad was not built by its original charterers, but a new group of investors began to acquire right-of-way in 1867 and was able to construct the railroad as a narrow gauge line in 1872–1874. Service began from Mount Union to Orbisonia in August 1873, and to Robertsdale in November 1874. The line later was extended to Woodvale and Alvan with several short branches. At its height, it had over 60 miles of track and approximately 33 miles of main line.

The primary purpose of the railroad was to haul semi-bituminous coal from the mines on the east side of the remote Broad Top Mountain plateau. In its first few decades, the railroad hauled most of the coal to Rockhill to be coked and used in iron production in the furnaces of the Rockhill Iron and Coal Company, its sister company. It then hauled the pig iron from the furnace. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the railroad transitioned to haul most of the coal to Mount Union to be processed and transferred to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The railroad also carried substantial amounts of ganister rock, lumber and passengers with some agricultural goods, concrete, road tar and general freight.

As the iron industry in the region faded in the early 1900's, the railroad came to subsist on coal traffic for about 90 percent of its revenue. Large plants for the manufacture of silica brick were developed at Mount Union around the turn of the 20th century, and these became major customers for coal and also for ganister rock, which was quarried at multiple points along the railroad.

The EBT maintained an office in Philadelphia. An 1893 timetable lists their executive offices at 320 Walnut Street, then the main commercial area of the city. The city's business center migrated west and by 1939, the EBT's office was at 1421 Chestnut Street. EBT was generally profitable from the 1880's through the 1940's and was able to modernize its infrastructure far more than other narrow gauge railroads. The railroad's roundhouse, one of the oldest railroad roundhouses in the country still in operation, was built in 1882. A coal cleaning plant and a full maintenance shop complex were also built, bridges were upgraded from iron and wood to steel and concrete, wood rolling stock was replaced by steel, and modern high-powered steam locomotives were bought from Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. In the post-World War II years, most railroads converted to diesel motive power but the EBT considered this switch unnecessary. Steam locomotives had proven longevity and, as EBT was a coal carrier, fuel was abundant and cheap.

In 1929 the EBT formed the East Broad Top Transit Company and operated regional bus service, acquiring the Mount Union Bus Line in 1931. In 1941 this operation was sold to the Huntingdon Bus Company.

In November 1953, the railroad's innovation earned them a cover story in an industry publication. But coal demand was already plummeting as homes and industries switched to cheap oil and gas. The last nail in the coffin came when the silica brick plants in Mount Union converted to oil and gas and not enough coal could be sold to support the mines and the railroad. The railroad closed as a coal hauler on April 14, 1956 and along with the coal-mining company, was sold for scrap to the Kovalchick Salvage Corporation.

First Heritage Operation - 1960 to 2011

Nick Kovalchick, president of Kovalchick Salvage, elected not to scrap the railroad right away, instead letting it sit in place. In 1960, the twin boroughs of Orbisonia and Rockhill Furnace - the latter being the operating hub for the railroad - celebrated their bicentennial and asked Kovalchick to put a train out for display. Doing them one better, he rehabilitated four miles of track and two locomotives and operated tourist train rides for several months that summer. The new attraction was so successful that the ride, extended to five miles, opened as a regular tourist operation in 1961. The railroad operated tourist trains every summer through 2011. From 1960 to 2008 the trains were operated by the EBT under Kovalchick Salvage. From 1956 until 2020, the majority of the railroad was still owned by Kovalchick Salvage, being overseen by Nick Kovalchick from 1956 to 1977 and by Nick's son, Joe, and his wife, Judy after 1977.

From May 2009 until December 2011, trains were operated under a lease to the East Broad Top Railroad Preservation Association, a non-profit founded with the intention of acquiring the railroad and reactivating all 33 miles of the railroad's original main line (only 5 miles operated for tourist operations). The EBTPA made a number of improvements on site as well as adding numerous special events, such as A Day Out with Thomas and Polar Express. In 2011, EBTPA extended the season and operating days of the week. The original three-year lease expired in April 2012 and Kovalchick Salvage and EBTPA were unable to reach an agreement to continue operations. As such, the lease was terminated.

About Heritage Operations

From 1960 until 2011, the line operated as a heritage railway, with trains pulled by narrow gauge 2-8-2 steam engines and vintage diesels operated as backup power. Excursions generally ran May through October with special events and holidays trains ran in November and December.

The rides were ten mile round trips and took about an hour. The EBT annual Fall Spectacular, when all operating equipment was in use, was held on the Saturday and Sunday of Columbus Day weekend in October. There were also local events such as Community Appreciation Day. The train stopped at Colgate Grove, a picnic grove at the far end of the operable excursion trackage. The train was turned on a wye for the return trip. The historic railroad maintenance shops were usually open for tours when trains were running, and for group tours by arrangement. Speeder, handcar and M-3 rides were often available on the restored trackage just south of Rockhill Furnace.

During this era of operations, four of the six Mikados were in service: 12, 14, 15 and 17. 16 and 18 never operated during this era, due to finances, differing opinions and concerns about their weight on the EBT's trackage (17, of very similar size to 16 and 18, was used sparingly, typically only running during the annual fall spectaculars).

There were plans at several points during this era to bring other portions of the East Broad Top back to service, most notably with the 1990 National Park Service proposal, but funding and inner politics prevented this and operational trackage was never further extended.

As the years went on, the condition of the running locomotives deteriorated, and both rising costs and stricter operational standards after the 1995 Gettysburg Railroad incident led to the eventual retirement of many of the Mikados. 12 last operated in 2000, 17 in 2001, and 14 in 2005. Only 15, which had undergone an overhaul in the early 2000's and returning to service in 2005, remained operational at the end of 2011, when the railroad was shut down.

Closure - 2012 to 2020

During the closure, the railroad facilities were maintained by a skeleton paid EBT staff and Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT) volunteers. FRA inspections and paperwork were being kept up on Locomotive 15 in preparation for a possible reopening. Although no public excursions were held from 2012 to 2019, diesel powered trains operated on October 6, 2012 and October 12, 2013 for members of the FEBT, as well as an M-1 excursion as far as McMullens Summit. Motorcar excursions were operated for members of the FEBT attending its annual Fall Reunion on Columbus day weekends.

After the end of its operating lease, the East Broad Top Preservation Association raised enough money to purchase some portions of the EBT. On June 3, 2013, it was announced that the East Broad Top Preservation Association had purchased the first part of the East Broad Top Railroad. In two separate transactions they purchased, the old PRR/Conrail spur from the Norfolk Soutghern mainline to the northern end of the EBT yard from Kovlachick Salvage, and the EBT Mount Union yard from the Conrail Spur tie-in to the US 522 crossing from the East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Company. EBTPA subsequently purchased the line from Mount Union to Aughwick. After these initial purchases, the EBTPA was unable to fund further purchases of portions of the EBT.

The Friends of the East Broad Top continued many ongoing and new restoration projects in Rockhill Furnace throughout the closure of the railroad with the active encouragement of owner Joe Kovalchick. FEBT also assisted with routine site maintenance and repair of the EBT Facilities.

Initially tours of the Historic Shops complex were offered only for groups of 20 or more by prior arrangement with the railroad. Public tours were increasingly offered on selected summer days as the closure continued.

Sale and reopening - 2020 to Present

On Valentine's Day 2020, a press conference was held in Rockhill announcing that a new non-profit, the EBT Foundation, had purchased the railroad and planned to restart excursions in 2021. The sale included approximate 27 miles of line, the yard complex in Rockhill Furnace and all associated rolling stock and equipment. The EBTF board includes notable rail preservationists Bennett Levin and Henry Posner III, Charles "Wick" Moorman (former CEO of both Norfolk Southern Railway and Amtrak) and long-time EBT activists Lawrence Biemiller, Brad Esposito and David Brightbill.

The sale of the railroad to the EBTF did not include portions of the railroad previously purchased by the East Broad Top Preservation Association. The two non-profits are separate and unaffiliated. It did not include EBT standard gauge steam locomotive 3 which was previously sold to a third party, but remains in Mount Union.

Immediately after the announcement, the EBTF began several parallel projects at the railroad to prepare for resumption of operations. All six narrow-gauge steam locomotives were thoroughly evaluated to determine their condition and which were the best candidates for return to operation. 14 and 16 were selected to be the first to be restored and were abated of asbestos and restoration work begun. Stall 8 of the Rockhill Roundhouse was rehabilitated and converted into a restoration facility for the steam locomotives. Woodford Brothers (who performed structural repairs of the Blacksmith Shop during the closure) were contracted to perform a complete structural repair on the Rockhill Shops. The FEBT Restoration crew will perform the balance of the needed work of this project. A contractor has been secured to install a fire suppression system throughout the Shops Complex and Roundhouse. Several large scale track rebuilding projects were executed around the Rockhill yard. Thousands of ties were delivered to Rockhill to rehabilitate the tourist portion of the line. In May and June 2020, restoration efforts encountered setbacks from an act of arson and a bridge was damaged by an overheight vehicle.

The East Broad Top re-opened for limited operations in May 2021 and officially reopened for its first full season in May 2022. EBT 16 returned to steam in early February 2023.

Peter Lerro Photography Information

Lerro Photography is sponsoring a photo charter at the East Broad Top Railroad in April 2023. The photo charter will feature two days of operations, with recently restored EBT 2-8-2 16 pulling a freight train one day and a passenger train the second day. The photo shoot will offer runbys out on the line as well as at the depot and yard. The East Broad Top yard offers nearly endless photo opportunities with all of its buildings and shooting angles. Reenactors and antique vehicles will be on hand for each of the photo shoots. A night photo session will be held.

Day One visit

At 7:00 AM the engine came out of the yard.

Our motive power was newly-restored East Broad Top 2-8-2 16 built by Baldwin in 1916.

The engine crossed the street then Pete called us over for a safety meeting.

While that was happening, the engine went and picked its mixed train, after which I crossed the tracks for the first photo runby.

Photo runby one at Orbisonia. Everyone boarded the two coaches and we proceeded out onto the line north, going to the old farm bridge from where I took pictures back in 2006. We all detrained and set up for photographs.

Reverse move one.

Photo runby two.

East Broad Top hopper car 876 built by the railroad in 1916.

The scene.

Reverse move two. Now Peter would place reenactors into the scene.

Photo runby three.

East Broad Top combine 17, a brand new coach built by Hamilton Manufacturing of Bellingham, Washington, that we are riding in today.

Reverse move three with East Broad Top box car 170 built by the railroad in 1913 in the consist.

Photo runby four.

Cass Scenic's 60th Anniversary Rail Heritage Photography Weekend runby with the antique car.

Reverse move four.

Photo runby five.

The photo line here.

Photo runby six. We reboarded for a short trip and stopped beyond Runk Road, where everyone detrained.

Reverse move five.

Photo runby seven. Since there were a few runbys done in this location, it gave everyone the opportunity to move for different vantage points and angles, which most people did.

Reverse move six.

Photo runby eight.

Reverse move seven.

Photo runby nine.

Reverse move eight.

Photo runby ten.

Reverse move nine.

Photo runby eleven. We reboarded the train and went to Colgate Grove where we would wye the train and have some more photo runbys.

The engine on the southeast leg of the wye; we were the first group to use the new platform here.

Reverse move ten.

Photo runby twelve.

Reverse move eleven.

Photo runby thirteen.

Reverse move twelve.

Photo runby fourteen. We then returned to Orbisonia and our conductor, Jonathan, offered to take any of us on a shop tour so Elizabeth and I joined the group.

Two of our reenactors after we detrained. It was now time to see the shops and have a roundhouse tour.

East Broad Top 12 ton switcher M-6 built by Plymouth in 1968.

Plenty of unique machinery in this shop.

East Broad Top passenger car 8 built by Laconia Car Company in 1882 and East Broad Top 2-8-2 14 built by Baldwin in 1912.

East Broad Top caboose 27 built by the railroad in 1920. I went outside for another few pictures.

East Broad Top 2-8-2 18 built by Baldwin in 1920.

East Board Top three bay hopper car 1036 built by the railroad in 1918.

This stone house is the only building on the propery that pre-dates the railroad itself; it was probably built in the late 1790's and was the farmhouse for the family that owned the land. It became the master mechanic's office and two large storehouses were built connecting to it, each containing about 25 tons worth of parts. In recent restoration work, one of those storehouses had to be emptied by hand, then all the items catalogued and returned. The stone house contained an office and crew call room downstairs and some storage upstairs.

We next went into the roundhouse.

East Broad Top motorcar M1 built by the railroad in 1926 from a motorcar kit supplied by J. G. Brill and Westinghouse. Construction and testing was finished in 1927. Today, M-1 is a one-of-a-kind piece of railroad equipment. Nowhere else can you ride an original three foot gauge gas-electric motorcar on its original right-of-way with all original components. M-1 has never been restored but has had great care over the years and thus retains its historic charm.

East Broad Top 2-8-2 17 built by Baldwin in 1918.

East Broad Top 12 ton switcher M-4 built by Plymouth in 1947.

East Broad Top 2-8-2 15 built by Baldwin in 1914.

East Broad Top 55 ton switcher M-7 built by General Electric in 1947 as a 50 ton engine. A previous owner increased its weight to 55 tons. It is used as our heavy duty yard switcher and on rare occasion, must substitute for a steam engine. It was purchased in 1993 from an Algoma Steel mill in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, where it used to push cars with molds on them into and out of the various pouring stands.

East Broad Top turntable, now an Armstrong turntable.

The rather unique railroad crossing signs. This ended the morning photo session.

Elizabeth and I went to Subway for lunch then returned and met some more of our fellow passengers, including Jim Dent of the Railroad Station Historical Society, whose database we frequently use when we search for railway stations and structures. About 2:30 PM, the afternoon session commenced.

East Broad Top 2-8-2 12 was on a empty coal train.

East Broad Top 2-8-2 12 built by Baldwin in 1911.

Across the street is the old East Broad Top freight house.

Pennsylvania Railroad 40-foot standard gauage steel boxcar 200-2000 built by the railroad in 1934, and acquired by the East Broad Top from the Kiski Junction Railroad in August 2022 to illustrate how the historic common-carrier narrow gauge line once hauled larger cars on interchange trucks. The foundation intends to use the X29 to show East Broad Top’s creative method of avoiding the costly and time-consuming transfer of freight between standard and three-foot narrow gauge cars. An inability to interchange cars is one of the main reasons narrow gauge lines failed. By using its Timber Transfer crane at Mount Union, its northern terminus and interchange point with the Pennsylvania Railroad main line, EBT was able to move carloads of telephone poles, lumber, cement, asphalt and other goods over its lines without the hassle of transshipment.

Pennsylvania Railroad caboose 477138 built by railroad, year unknown.

East Broad Top caboose 28 built by the railroad in 1920.

Peter Lerro put smoke bombs in the stack of East Broad Top 2-8-2 12 and it was interesting to see it work. Everyone walked followed Pete back into the yard where our steam train was.

The group in front of the locomotive.

Another picture of our mixed train.

This shop building had sunk over the ten years of inactivity and has had to be raised. While that part of the restoration work is complete, the building has not yet been repainted so we could not use it as a photography backdrop.

The old locomotive water tower.

Our lady beside one of the vintage cars. We all re-crossed the street and started with reverse move.

Reverse move thirteen.

Photo runby fifteen.

Reverse move fourteen.

Peter Leero dropping another smoke bomb down the stack.

Photo runby fifteen.

The smoke really worked well.

Reverse move fifteen. Peter then put the reenactors into the picture and posed the steam engine in the scene.


The reenactors waiting for a train.

The reenactors did an excellent job with our project.

The reenactors did such a excellent job of waiting, all props were believeable and used with such grace. We then moved across the street.

The reenactors finished their day with an excellent show with rhoto runby sixteen. It was now time for us all to reboard the train and go out north on the railroad. We first went to Enyart Road.

Photo runby seventeen.

Reverse move sixteen.

Photo runby eighteen.

Reverse move seventeen.

Photo runby nineteen. We went north to Colgate Grove and rode around the wye before returning south to Runk Road for more photo runbys. Everyone detrained and walked to Runk Road then chose our photo runby locations, which were plentiful.

Photo runby twenty.

Reverse move eighteen.


Photo runby twenty-one.

Reverse move nineteen.

Photo runby twenty-two.

Reverse move twenty.

Photo runby twenty-three.

Reverse move twenty-one.

Photo runby twenty-four.

Reverse move twenty-two.

Photo runby twenty-five. We all walked over to the other side for unique pictures.

Reverse move twenty-three.

Photo runby twenty-six.

Reverse move twenty-four.

Photo runby twenty-seven.

Reverse move twenty-five. I moved solo to the other side and was rewarded with my last pictures.

Solo photo runby twenty-eight.

After not falling into a ditch thanks to Kevin Gilliam, I made my way through the field towards the train but had one last picture to take. With that complete, I boarded the train and soon Elizabeth joined me and the train returned us to Orbisonia, ending the first day of the Peter Lerro photography charter. We returned to our rental car and drove back to Huntingdon, going to Kelly's Korner Restaurant and Lounge for an excellent dinner with our new friend Bruce, a Detroit Red Wings fan, from Detroit. I then drove us up the hill to the Huntingdon Motor Inn for the final night.