For those of you who’ve followed my blog, it’s been a little over two months since I visited Portland, ME. But my pursuit for ‘Narrow Gauge happiness‘ didn’t quite end there! I persist late into the year and head south this time, to the state of Pennsylvania.
Huntingdon, PA, where we’ll stay for the night, is about 60 miles closer to NYC than Portland, ME is. Thankfully, my journey there is a lot less complicated too! And there’s good reason why I’ve waited this long to get my fix again – to experience it during the Northeast spectacle that is Fall!
The East Broad Top Railroad (EBT) began life in 1874, in the town of Rockhill Furnace, PA. Built to a 3 ft gauge, it carried coal for the Rockhill Iron & Coal Co. (from which the town got its name), and did so faultlessly till operations ceased in 1956. In 1960, a scrap dealer who had bought up all its assets, decided to preserve it instead, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Today, the EBT is one of the most authentic, beautifully preserved heritage railroad operations in North America – best exemplified at their yard in Rockhill Furnace, where little seems to have changed since the railroad’s humble beginnings in the late 19th century!
We arrive early – as all self respecting railfans would – earlier than the railroad’s official opening i.e., and scout the yard for photo ops, of which there are plenty! We follow #15, a 1914 Baldwin built Steam Locomotive, out of its stall in the roundhouse, across the turn table, into the yard, and finally, as it couples on to a lash-up of passenger cars (or coaches), into Orbisonia station.
Suffice to say that a photograph – or even a video for that matter – can never do justice to the sheer richness of the experience – be it the unmatched aroma of steam (and some burnt coal!), cinders in your hair (the smart ones leave their caps behind!), the gentle pitch of the ride, the staccato rhythm of the connecting rods, or the clickety-clack of wheel over rail joint, that one can never tire of!
After an exhilarating 5-mile run, and on negotiating the wye (a triangle that enables trains to reverse), we ease in to Colgate Grove for a brief halt.
The EBT brochure advertises Colgate Grove as a picnic area – where one can “carry a hamper, get off the train, picnic there, and head back on a later one.” The thickly wooded spot is inviting for sure, but better sense prevails and we decide instead on another ride down Fall Avenue 😉
About an hour after leaving Orbisonia station, we are back where we started, having negotiated yet another wye at Rockhill Furnace. The next departure is at 1 pm, should we choose to repeat the experience, but there’s plenty more to do in the area!
The Rockhill Trolley Museum is conveniently located right across from Orbisonia station, offering an all-you-can-ride day pass for just 7$, on any of their vintage trolleys.
Of the 20 odd trolleys (or trams) in the museum’s roster, some of them over a century old, 3 are in service on this day, and we take our first ride on #163, a couple of miles out to Blacklog Narrows.
#163 was built in 1924 and served the trolley system of York, PA till ’39. From then till ’72 it served as a summer home, stripped of all its interiors! It took the museum’s volunteers 17 years to restore it to its original, immaculate condition!
Today, wearing its original York colours, which coincide perfectly with Halloween season, it makes a stop at the ‘Pumpkin patch’, where its younger riders alight and go Pumpkin picking!
While the youngsters busy themselves decorating the Pumpkins, the adults look around for another dose of entertainment. At Rockhill Furnace, there is enough to be found. For the more adventurous amongst us, there is the 86-year old Fairbanks-Morse ‘Speeder’!
What essentially equates to an inspection trolley back in India, the Speeder is powered by an 8 HP, single cylinder engine, has a cruising speed of no more than 6 mph, and in the absence of any kind of suspension, provides a noisy, bone-jarring ride! It is a thrilling ride nevertheless, and one that will remain etched in our memory forever 😉
The 3 pm departure from Orbisonia is the last scheduled run of the day, and as we watch it leave the station, the penny drops! Few rail enthusiasts would consider an outing like this complete, without a bit of train chasing! We are no exception to the rule, and within minutes are hot on the heels of the train, following its route by car! The chase pays off and we are suitably rewarded!
This weekend we’ve been blessed with great weather, fabulous fall foliage and a most memorable day at the EBT. Yet, on our drive back, the good lord has one last treat in store for us..