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On December 1, 2000, Railways to Yesterday, the operators of the Rockhill Trolley Museum adjacent to the EBT, announced their formal plans to extend their trolley line, the Shade Gap Electric Railway, 3000' nearly to US 522. Two motivating factors were cited for the decision to proceed with the long planned extention. One was the fact that GPU (power company) recently rebuilt it's power line that parallels the old EBT Shade Gap Branch on which the SGE is built, thus clearing the right-of-way. More pending, are the reconstruction plans for US 522 from Orbisonia through Blacklog Narrows including the crossing of the Shade Gap Branch right-of-way.
Over the past twenty years 522 has been rebuilt section by section between US 22 at Mount Union south towards McConnelsburg. This work became particularly significant when the new route north of Shirleysburg included a bridge that, in its first design, would have blocked the EBT mainline. The most recent sections to be completed were between Orbisonia and Shirleysburg and the Mount Union Bypass (see related article). At present the only two sections between US 22 and the PA Turnpike not yet reconstructed are a section between Fort Littleton and Burnt Cabins and the Blacklog Narrows section. In the past five years archeological excavations have taken place at the two iron furnaces and the old grist mill in the narrows to document the historic sites that are threatened by the planned road reconstruction.
The current tentative design at the SGB crossing calls for a raised road grade that track on the old trackbed could neither cross at grade or pass under. Virtually all access to that end of the line would be cut off. With limited time to access the roadbed from the east and an open path, RTY decided to move forward.
Estimated materials and fee costs for the extension total $126,000 which has been partially offset by member contributions. RTY is presently soliciting further contributions toward the project. Kovalchick Salvage, owners of the EBT and lessors of the roadbed to RTY, has generously provided the rail and some rail hardware for the extension. Contractors have been selected for most operations involved in the project with volunteers performing certain operations like hanging wire. Plans call for the extension to be completed in time for the 2001 Fall Spectacular on October 6 and 7. Preliminary work started in December and grading and drainage work is likely underway by the time of this writing.
It is unclear at this time if there is a possibility of revising the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's plans for the road reconstruction at the crossing to allow track to be extended beyond the road and/or allow access to the east end of the new extension. Plans are reported as tentative and negotiations are reportedly continuing on the subject. Although considered out of service, the crossing still has EBT rail buried in the asphalt and is still considered a crossing by law. RTY has possession of roadbed for some distance east (far side) of the 522 crossing and with the extension in place, they will have a sounder case for the preservation of the crossing.
Left: Graded roadbed at the Blacklog US 522 crossing.
Center: About halfway between the current end of track and US 522.
Right: The narrowest part of the route.
With preliminary brush cutting done by RTY volunteers over the winter, spring marked the beginning of contractor work on the extension. Thus far tree removal, ditching, drainage and grading operations have been completed and line pole installation is in progress.
As of this writing track work is nearly finished. The track is built to the end of line and ballast is laid. Ballast tamping has proceeded to within about 1000' of the end of track. The remainder of the track is tied in with the existing line and is essentially serviceable to self-propelled vehicles.
Tasks remaining primarily involve the installation of the overhead wire system to power the traction equipment and the construction of a pocket track and terminal at the far end of the extension. The frog for the pocket track was installed by the track contractor.
Before the Fall Spectacular in October, it is planned to have the entire length of the line serviceable for traction equipment and rehabilitate the passing siding on the older portion on the line to allow several pieces to be on the line at once. The passing siding has been used mainly for equipment storage in recent years.
Track construction is completed as is overhead wiring on the main line. At the Fall Spectacular, RTY operated traction equipment on the entire length of the line. The extension, minus the pocket track, is fully serviceable as is the passing siding. Although I did not have an opportunity to ride until the last run on Sunday, reports stated that four trolleys were out on the line at once.
Many more plans are in store for the extension. The most immediate of those is the completion of the pocket track at the far end of the extension and the construction of a terminal facilities there to allow debarkation.
As of this writing ties and rail are in place for the Blacklog pocket track, minus the curved rail and switch components. The rail has yet to be spiked or ballasted. Steps have been located at Altoff Siding and Blacklog for Bullet car 205. Plans call for the construction at Blacklog to continue through the winter, weather permitting.
June 1st 2002 the installation of the pocket switch track began with bending rails to the proper curvature to fit in the tight switch. By the end of June all the rails had been formed and spiking was started in July and finished by mid-month. In August the track was jacked into level and ballasting started late that month. The track was ballasted and tamped in time for the Fall Event on October 12 and 13, although the overhead lines were not in place for operation.
Work on the platform at Blacklog Narrows restarted in April 2003. Electrical conduit was installed, stone was distributed to level up the area for the platform and holes were dug for the line poles to electrify the track. By the end of April construction of the concrete forms had started. Plywood and dimentional lumber for the forms as well as the rebar for the concrete were all donated to the museum. By mid May all the forms were built and were transported to Blacklog for assembly. The museum's Burro crane was refitted with a new cable and clamshell bucket to help with the Blacklog work. Volunteers are currently working toward a deadline of August 9 to finish the Blacklog Narrows concrete platform, pocket track and overhead lines.
Other improvements are afoot at the museum. A large amount of brush clearing has taken place along the line and around the Wye. The area in front of the Iron Furnace ruins has been cleared of brush and an informational sign hung about the site. Additional signs are being erected along the line to identify points of interest. Plans are afoot for a picnic area somewhere along the line.