Unofficial Visitor's Guide to the East Broad Top Railroad

By Vagel Keller,
Originally posted May 1995
Current version March 2003

Copyright 2003. Reproduction in original or modified form, except for personal use, without the express permission of the author is prohibited. Reproduction on web sites other than this web site or the author's, or on email distribution lists, is prohibited. For further information contact the author at


< Back to the EBTRR Homepage
Page Contents:

Part 1: Introduction

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Many people know about the EBT's tourist operation, running its original equipment over a part of the original mainline between the railroad's Orbisonia depot and a wye approximately 5 miles north. But few seem to realize that the entire railroad (33 miles of track with 13 bridges and a few surviving lineside structures) is still in place, waiting to be re-discovered. I thought it might be worthwhile to post a series of self-guided tours to the EBT for those who plan a trip to the area.

The East Broad Top Railroad runs through southern Huntingdon County in South-central PA. In its heyday, the EBT was a narrow version of its big neighbor PRR: a dedicated Baldwin customer with steel rolling stock, conservative and built to last. Once an integral part of a coal and iron based _local_ industrial economy, the EBT is perhaps most well known as a coal hauling shortline, connecting the isolated Broad Top coalfield to the PRR at Mt. Union, PA. By 1956, with coal markets drying up, the EBT dropped its fires and slept until it was reborn as a tourist line in 1960.

The first challenge to visiting and exploring the East Broad Top Railroad is getting there. Huntingdon County, PA is, to say the least, rural. The two least adventurous paths follow the Juniata River Valley and the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76).

If your RR interest includes broad (4 ft, 8 in) gauge, you'll want to follow the Juniata Valley (PRR Middle Div/CONRAIL Mountain Div) to EBT territory. I'll cover a more direct route to the EBT tourist operation in Part 5. Exit I-81 (connections via I-70, I-76, I-78, or I-80) onto US 22 West on the north bank of the Susquehanna River bridge. Don't forget to stop in Lewistown to see the PRR (now AMTRAK) depot on the south bank of the Juniata. The Lewistown depot is the oldest standing PRR depot and has been nicely preserved. The PRR Technical and Historical Society has its gift shop there and I think it's open until 5:00 pm weekdays.

From the west, follow US 22 East to the junction with US 522 South at Mt. Union. Access US 22 from I-76 (PA Turnpike) by exiting at Bedford and following I-99 North to Altoona or from I-68 east of Cumberland, MD by following US 219 North to Bedford. At Bedford, US 219 becomes I-99. An alternative is to exit either I-76 (PA Turnpike) at Somerset, PA or I-68 about 30 miles west of Cumberland and following US 219 North past Johnstown and striking US 22 about 25 miles west of Altoona.

The US 219 route allows you to access the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, Johnstown's Flood Museum, and the Allegheny Portage National Historic Site. Following US 219 North from I-68 takes you through Meyersdale, PA, which is a short side-trip away from CSX's (former B&O) Sandpatch Tunnel. A 4-lane bypass at Meyersdale passes under the historic Western Maryland Railway's Salisbury Viaduct, which now carries the Pittsburgh-to-Cumberland leg of a hiking/biking trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. via the abandoned grades of the P&LE & WM and the C&O Canal towpath. Both the B&O and WM depots still exist in Meyersdale; the former used by maintenance forces, and the latter restored by the local historical society.

Beween Altoona and Mt. Union, you will pass Huntingdon. Here you can divert from the main highway to pass through the business district. The restored HUNT tower and adjacent brick PRR passenger depot sit on the north side of the tracks. HUNT tower controlled an interlocking and junction with the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain RR, a standard gauge coal hauler that served the same coal fields as the EBT, but on the west side of the mountain. It now houses a small local transportation museum, heavily weighted to the town's RR heritage. When open, it's a great place from which to watch trains, although most of it's machinery has been removed. Part of the HBTM, including a steel deck girder bridge across the Juniata, survives as an industrial spur. The H&BTM's ticket office stood across the former PRR tracks from the PRR station. It was in good condition, but Norfolk Southern demolished the it in 2001.

Many readers will, no doubt, want to explore one or more sections of the EBT on foot. Many abandoned stretches of the railroad are readily accessible by short walks from public roads. But footing can be treacherous, even in dry weather. The best time to explore the abandoned EBT on foot is between late-November and early-April, when the foliage and undergrowth are thinnest. Be aware of hunting seasons and wear bright clothing. You need to watch where you put your feet at all times. Wear long trousers and sturdy high-topped shoes. Layer your clothing, and be aware that a balmy late-Winter day can turn bitterly cold and windy very quickly. Go with a partner. Do not expect to be able to call 911 on a cellular phone; there is no wireless service in EBT territory south of Orbisonia.

Respect private property at all times. The railroad R.O.W. is frequently surrounded by posted ground, and the locals mean it when they put those signs up. Vandalism by an increasingly numerous "bad element" in the local youth population and stupid behavior by out-of-town hunters seriously undermined the region's historical hospitality during the 1980s and 90s. That having been said, I have never had a bad experience with anyone living in EBT country once I knocked on their door and asked. As a matter of fact, most people are ready with their own stories and anecdotes (some of them decidedly anti-company) about the EBT's operating years.

Of course the EBT itself is private property, but the railroad's owner and management have long known of the frequent exploratory incursions by railfans and take no overt action to stop them. Pennsylvania state law states that land is clearly private property if a normally prudent individual would realize it as such, and the law recognizes people entering private property as trespassers if they are not invited by the owner. In other words, fences are not required to delineate private property. There is no more clear indication that you are on private land than the presence of two endless, parallel steel rails on an obvious grade, no matter how derelict or rusty they are. You enter at your own risk, with no recourse of legal action in the event of injury or damage to your own property.


In Part 1, I wrote of the Juniata Valley as being the PRR Middle Div/CONRAIL Mountain Div. In the CONRAIL era (at least since 1980), this area was in the Altoona Division, Central Region. CONRAIL's recent reorganization did away with regions and, now, this area is in the Harrisburg Division.

By referring to the former PRR depot in Lewistown as now being the AMTRAK depot, I assumed that AMTRAK owned it. On reflection, I don't really know who owns it. The PRR Technical & Historical Society archives and visitor center/ gift shop occupy the 2nd floor and about 2/3 of the ground floor. The AMTRAK ticket office and passenger waiting room occupy the western 1/3 of the ground floor.

My thanks to Mark D. Bej for his taking the time to add to my knowledge. And now . . .

Part 2: Mt. Union, EBT's Interchange with the PRR

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Last time, we followed the former PRR Middle Division to Mt. Union. Now, we'll start to explore the EBT that not many folks know about.

Map 1 shows the general layout of main roads, the river, and the PRR and EBT trackage in Mt. Union, PA. With this and all subsequent maps, North is to the top of the map. Set your screen font to Courier New or some other non- kerning font so that the map characters line up.

MAP 1 (Not to Scale; need you ask?)

Huntingdon <--========== US Hwy 22 ===========US 22/522 ====> Lewistown
                                   |    |
                                  \|/   |US Hwy 522 by-pass
             ~~~~~Juniata~~River~~~|~~  |                         
             +CONRAIL+++++++      /|\ ~\|/
                         ## +      |    |
                  ----------\+\-----|  /|\
                    ###|##### + ##     \|/
                    ###|###### +++(PRR)+++++++
          Mt. Union ###|####### + #    /|\ ~+ 
                    ###|####### :+#     |   ~ +
 _LEGEND_            ##|####### :+#     /     ~ +
	                #|------- ::++   /
=  3 lanes            #|#     2#::3 +  |
-  2 lanes            #|        :::  + |
+  RR Tracks           \  1#    :::EBT |
:  Dual Gauge           \      4:::5   /
#  Structure             \      :::   /
~  Water          Old 522 \     ::   /
                           ---- ::  /
                        US 522 |:

US 522 by-passes Mt. Union on the east via a 4-lane spur opened in 2000, and then parallels the EBT south to Orbisonia. The 522 by-pass merges with US 22 at a "T" intersection on the north bank of the Juniata on the northeastern outskirts of Mt. Union. The original US 522/22 intersection is now the junction of a PA state route (which I will call "old 522") with US 22 about 1/2 mile west of the new 522/22 junction. "Old 522" is the best route to take for access to EBT sites in Mt. Union. After crossing the bridge, it bears right, passes under the NS (ex-PRR/PC/CONRAIL) mainline through a stone arch, crosses the original PRR mainline (now Mt. Union Connecting Railroad) at grade, and enters the Mt. Union business district. As you emerge from the business district, to the south, you will see a drive-in bank, a McDonalds, and a super market on the left (east) (map ref. 1). Pull into one of the parking lots and get your bearings.

The EBT's Mt. Union yard slumbers in a dense thicket of second growth trees and underbrush. Most of the rolling stock (125 steel hoppers and many misc. freight cars) sits there rotting (slowly, they're steel). The Mt. Union Connecting Railroad, an industrial switching line, leases the yard from EBT owner Joe Kovalchick. This firm has rehabilitated the mainline and one siding track through the yard, reinstalled the connecting switch with the original PRR mainline, and reconnected the dual gauge switch connecting the EBT's enginehouse with the yard.

The EBT's two-stall, cinder block engine house sits behind the drive-in bank (map ref. 2). EBT std. gauge 0-6-0 switcher, No. 3, is stored inside. In 1992-93, with emergency stabilization funds from the federally sponsored America's Industrial Heritage Project, the enginehouse got a new roof and window protection. Mt. Union Connecting Railroad maintains the structure and plans to store a switching engine in the empty stall next to EBT No. 3 once they acquire one. Mt. Union Connecting has installed security floodlights on the enginehouse and posted "No Vehicles" signs in an attempt to ward off the depredations of hoodlums from the local yeomanry mounted on ATV's and dirt bikes. But they tacitly allow genuine railfans to explore the yard on foot. When he is actually on-site and not otherwise preoccupied, the MTC's president cheerfully answers questions.

A path leads behind (north end) the enginehouse, passes the concrete footings of the local coal delivery trestle, and angles toward the cross street shown on the map. That street basically marks the northern end of yard trackage, although dual gauge track continued two or three blocks north, up the middle of a street, to the EBT station, which was razed in the early 1960s. You can still see the scars from the third rail tie plates in the ties, and the nearby PRR freight station is now a Senior's activity center.

This spur is on the original PRR grade, which was relocated to the current alignment during the PRR's major grade crossing elimination project in 1906-07. Just past the switch leading into the north end of the EBT yard (map ref. 3), a string of WWII era composite box cars, painted olive green and stenciled with US Army Transportation Corps markings, sits just inside the tree line.

Behind the southeastern corner of the brick store to the south of the McDonalds is a large tipple (map ref. 4) for transferring coal from hoppers to trucks. The North American Refactories (NARCO) refractory brick plant (map ref. 5), one of three such plants that were major customers for Broad Top Coal, once sat on the opposite side of the yard, but it was razed to make way for the US 522 by-pass. These plants' switch to natural gas in the early '50s contributed to the mines (and the RR that served them) going out of business.

The concrete footings and settling cone of the Chance Process Coal Cleaning Plant, the extensive dual gauge yard trackage, and a fascinating array of rolling stock and other relics, are deep in the thicket. But the track rehabilitation program of the Mt. Union Connecting Railroad has exposed a long string of EBT hoppers to view and photography. All of the sites labeled on the map are viewable from public property. If you enter the yard (or any other part of the EBT ROW, remember: it's still a railroad (albeit a sleeping one) and it's still private property. Enter RR property at your own risk.

Part 3: The Aughwick Valley, Mt. Union to Shirleysburg

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The railroad distance from Mt. Union to Rockhill Furnace is approximately 11 miles. Map 2 shows the main roads, EBT track, and landmarks relative to each other for the first 5 miles to Shirleysburg. North is to the top.

Map 2 (Not to Scale)
             US 522      EBT
               |          +        ~
Aughwick Mills |          +        ~
       Rd -->  |-------------|    ~~
               |#   ##   #+ 6|  ~~
               |         \+/\|/ ~
               |        ~~+~~|~~
               |       ~ /+\/|\
               |      ~   +  -----|--
               |     ~    +       | Pumping
               |     ~    +       | Station Rd.
               |     ~    +       |   |
               |    ~ ~ ~ +~ ~    /   V
               |   ~     ________/
               |   ~    | +       #
                \  ~    | +  7 
                 \ ~    | +                 _LEGEND:_
                  \~   +|
                   \   +|                 -  2 lanes
                   ~\  +|                 +  RR Tracks
                   ~ \ +|                 #  Structure
                   ~  \+|                 ~  Water
                   ~   \|
                  ~    +\
                 ~     +|\
                ~     + | \
               ~      + ---|
              ~       +    |
             ~       \+/  #|#
            ~        /+\  #|# Shirleysburg
            ~         + ###|#
The speed limit on US 522 varies from 55 to 40 mph. While local drivers tend to ignore the law, you would do well to remember that State Police cruisers occasionally patrol this neck of the woods. As well, it is not uncommon to come upon an elderly driver who drives somewhat below the limit and there are several feeder roads through here. All this adds up to: drive carefully and keep your eyes on the road when you're moving.

The EBT tracks run close alongside US 522 as you leave Mt. Union and it's southern suburb, Allenport, but soon diverge to the east to follow the Aughwick Creek bed. Approximately 2-3 miles after leaving town, look on your left for the Aughwick Mills Rd, which gives access to the EBT's reinforced concrete 4-arch bridge. You can continue straight on US 522 and bypass this section, in which case you'll go straight into Shirleysburg and we'll see you in Part 4, or turn left (east) onto Aughwick Mills Rd. to follow the tracks. If you opt for the straight path, US 522 will take you on a sweeping, new elevated causeway that passes over the creek and EBT and plunges through a deep cut (some would call it a scar) into the north end of Shirleysburg.

If you turn onto Aughwick Mills Rd., after about 1/4 mile you will come to a 90 degree turn to the south. Just before the turn, the EBT crosses at grade. NOTE: ALL EBT GRADE CROSSINGS OUTSIDE OF THE CURRENT TOURIST OPERATION HAVE BEEN PAVED OVER. HOWEVER, IN THIS GUIDE, I WILL TREAT ALL CROSSINGS AS CROSSING ROADS IN THE PRESENT TENSE. The Aughwick Mills station (an open front board-and-batten flag stop, map ref. 6) stood in the southwest corner of this crossing, between the road and tracks. There is no trace of it today. Proceeding south about 100 yds., you cross Aughwick Creek on a modern concrete bridge and the EBT's 4-arch reinforced concrete bridge is directly adjacent on the west side.

Tradition has it that this is the first reinforced concrete arch bridge in the U.S. It is certainly one of the earliest and it's remarkable for a narrow gauge RR. The NPS study of alternatives for restoration of the EBT, published in the early 1990s, considered this bridge (and all others) to be repairable. There is a pullover spot just beyond the south end of the hwy bridge if you wish to stop for an inspection. Remember to respect private property; local residents will likely as not remind you, if you forget. The approaches to the bridge are heavily overgrown. Between May and October, I recommend not going in too far from the road . . . poison ivy, poison oak, and "Jake Noshoulders" (poisonous and non-poisonous) are at home here.

Leaving Aughwick Mills, southbound, turn right onto Pumping Station Rd. If you find yourself going over the ridge to the east, you've missed the turn. Head south, keeping the RR grade (a high embankment) in sight to your right (west). After about 1/2 mile, the road turns sharply to the right (east) for a short distance, crosses the tracks, and immediately turns 90 degrees left (south). Directly on the north side of the grade crossing are the masonry abutments of what appears to be a short (20 ft or so) washed out RR bridge. The washout occurred during Hurricane Agnes in 1974, but the EBT had removed the bridge and filled it in before the 1917 ICC valuation survey.

As you proceed south, passing through pastures on either side, with the tracks on your immediate left (east) you will see several derelict structures (map ref. 7) in the pasture beyond the tracks. These are the remains of the Tuscarora Oil Co. pipeline pumping station. An oil storage tank is on the wooded hillside to the southeast, surrounded by a berm. Over the years, it leaked and contaminated the water table, fixing it so that not much but grass can grow here. Yep, they really love big business in the Aughwick Valley. There was once a spur here to an enclosed coal trestle, serving the pumping station boilers. The spur was on the east side of the tracks and the switch opened to the south. Apparently the coal was moved from the storage bins to the boilers on 2-ft gauge pushcarts. In 1989, the current property owner's uncle (who lived there when the pumping station was active) showed me the footings of the coal facility and some of those 2-ft gauge rails still in place.

Leaving the Pumping Station behind, continue south. Just before the woods close in on either side of you, the track crosses at grade, diagonally from left to right (north east to southwest), putting the ROW between you and the creek. Passing under the US 522 causeway, you might notice that the track work looks new there. It is! A gas pipeline was recently built through there at the same time that the new highway bridge was built in the 1980s. They had to tear up the tracks, but because of the EBT's status as a National Historic Landmark the contractors had to put it back the way they found it. They almost got it right; there is little ballast, and generations of EBT section foremen are probably turning over in their graves.

Immediately after passing under US 522, turn left and re-join the main highway. Turn right (south) into Shirleysburg.

Part 4: The Aughwick Valley, Shirleysburg to Rockhill

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So far, we've traced the EBT from it's connection with the Pennsylvania RR at Mt. Union to the village of Shirleysburg. There's nothing of a railroad nature to see in Shirleysburg; the EBT's small depot on the western edge of town was torn down soon after common carrier operations ended and no trace remains. The site is now on private property.

Shirleysburg was not a significant point on the railroad and generated little traffic. However, there are a couple sites of general historical interest along US 522 (the main N-S street). On the west side of US 522, just at the northern edge of town, is a large brick residence. It sits on the site of Ft. Shirley, a mid-18th century trading post stockaded during the French and Indian War. A roadside historical marker provides a brief explanation. On the east side of the highway, near the center of town, sits an unpainted clapboard building that once housed a cigar factory. According to a study of Huntingdon County industrial sites commissioned by the America's Industrial Heritage Project, it used tobacco grown around Lancaster, PA and shipped its product to retailers throughout the county by wagon.

Now, we'll follow the active stretch of railroad to the EBT's operating headquarters, Orbisonia Station, in Rockhill Furnace. The EBT established its main operating hub between the twin villages of Orbisonia and Rockhill Furnace in 1873. Originally, the station was called Rockhill, since the railroad's property was within that village's limits. But the station was redesignated Orbisonia, at the direction of the U.S. Postal Service, to prevent confusion with another Rockhill, PA, since zip codes weren't invented yet.

Leaving Shirleysburg, the EBT track is out of sight in the valley to the west. But, at the top of a short hill south of town, you will see a road sign labeled Clay Spur Rd. This road was on the grade of a short spur that once served a small clay quarry on the ridge east of the highway. Mine cars loaded with clay were lowered down an incline to the end of the spur. The EBT added roof hatches to at least two steel boxcars to serve this spur. The operation lasted for several years, but it was only an incidental source of traffic on the EBT. The point of switch for the Clay Spur later became the site of the Colgate Grove picnic area, where the new owner of the EBT built a wye for turning tourist excursion trains after the first successful season in 1960. During recent widening and r elocation of sections of US 522 between Shirleysburg and Orbisonia, the original Clay Spur road was, itself, relocated and the traces of the grade adjacent to the highway obliterated. Ah, progress.

 Map 3 (Not to Scale)

                        EBT           522  
    Aughwick ~           +             | Clay Spur Rd
        Creek ~          + + +         |--------
             ~           +             |
              ~          +             |
               ~          +            |
                 ~         +  Runk Rd. |
                   ~   /---+-----------|
                />---</    +         8#|
               /   ~       +           /
                   ~       +          |
                  ~        +          /
                 ~          +        /
                             +      / 
                              +    /
  _LEGEND_               9#--)-(--| McMullins
                              +   |  Summit
 -  2 lanes                    +  |
 +  RR Tracks                  +  /
 :  Dual Gauge Tracks          + |
 ~  Water                     +  |
 #  Structure      Blacklog  \+/ |
 X  Signal            ~~~~~~~~+~-|    
                      Creek  /+\~ \
                              ++ ~#\#
                        |#  | ++ ~ #\# Orbisonia
                       #|###|A++ #~ #\###
                       #|#  B ++ #~ # #\##
                       #|    ++++  ~    \  US 522  to I-76
                       #|    +++:   ~    \---------)
                       #|#   ++++:   ~~Blacklog Creek
                        |    ++++ :    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                     PA 994
South of Shirleysburg, the EBT climbs out of the Aughwick Valley on a 1% grade toward McMullins Summit. About 1/2 mile south of Colgate Grove, the track follows a sweeping S-curve on a high fill to gain elevation. About 1/2 mile south of Clay Spur Rd, Runk Rd forms a "T" intersection with 522 and passes under the EBT about 200 yds to the west. The intersection is marked by a barn used by a maker of ornamental wood yard buildings (map ref. 8). The long fill, which is nearly 1/4 mile long, was once originally a timber trestle. It was filled in with slag from the iron furnace at Rockhill during the late 1870s. Corporate minutes refer to using the locomotive from a passenger train to push dump cars out to the trestle while the train waited at the Orbisonia depot. And we fuss about AMTRAK being held for TOFC trains!

The next point of interest is McMullins summit, the point at which the EBT enters the watershed of Blacklog Creek. Approaching the top of grade from the north, the track follows a cut parallel to the highway. At the top, a small steel girder bridge carries a private drive across the tracks to a residence (map ref. 9). This is a nice place to watch trains in season, because it is the only place on the line where locomotives on trains in either direction have to work and you get to hear the distinctive chuff of the EBT Mikes. The safety valve often pops just as the engineer cuts the throttle on the downgrade side. The owner of the house gets fussy about people on his bridge and property.

Continue south to Orbisonia. At the edge of town, the highway bears to the left, diverging from the EBT track. Another good spot to photograph trains is the through girder bridge over Blacklog Creek at the north end of town. It is accessible by turning west onto the first side street you come to.

The only traffic light in Huntingdon County south of Mt. Union is at the intersection of US 522 and PA 994 (map ref. X). Turn right (west) onto PA 994 and continue across the bridge into the Borough of Rockhill. The cream, brown, and green Orbisonia Depot (map ref. A) sits on the west side of the tracks on the north side of the road. There is ample space on the shoulder to park. During the operating season, public parking is available in the gravel area between the 8-stall roundhouse (map ref. B) and the yard. During the off season, the parking lot is closed, but on weekends there is sometimes activity in the shops of the Shade Gap Electric Railway, which leases space from the EBT.

The EBT's Orbisonia yard is a wonderful time capsule. There is little in the way of physical barriers to prevent unauthorized entry. But, the no trespassing signs mean what they say . . . and local people keep their eyes open for strangers, in response to acts of vandalism in the shops complex. The best time to see the yard complex, including the priceless machine shops, roundhouse, and other structures is when they're open to the public during the operating season. The Rockhill Trolley Museum runs a standard gauge operating museum from within the wye along the stub of the old Shade Gap Branch. In 2001, the RTM completed a major track laying project that reopened the grade to the 1956 end-of-track at the grade crossing with US 522 east of Orbisonia. The trolley ride is approx. 1 mile long. The dual gauge track on Map #3 is part of this operation.

When the EBT is operating, visitors are at liberty to wander through the entire area, respecting the roped off areas. During the annual Fall Spectaculars (Columbus Day weekend, Sat and Sun), the EBT, with help from volunteers from RTM and Friends of the East Broad Top, offers ticketed guided tours of the interiors of the roundhouse and shops complex. This includes the machine and boiler shops (with their intricate system of overhead belts and pulleys and heavy machinery), the foundry, the blacksmith shop, and the machine and boiler shops.

Part 5: Rockhill to Saltillo

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If you've been with this from the beginning, you have followed the 3-ft gauge East Broad Top RR from its interchange with the PRR at Mt. Union, PA to its operating HQ at Rockhill, PA. In Pt 1, (Introduction) and (Getting There's Half the Fun), I gave directions for getting to the EBT via the PRR (CONRAIL) mainline in the Juniata River Valley. If you're coming from the south, however, the most direct route to the EBT (especially if you're coming to RIDE A TRAIN) is to follow I76, the PA Turnpike, to the Ft. Littleton exit and follow US 522 north (about 20 mi) to Orbisonia. You'll enter town from the south, so turn _left_ at the traffic light onto PA994.

OK, let's get back to the tour. PA 994 turns to the south at the STOP sign, approx. 200 yards west of the Orbisonia depot. As you sit at the STOP sign, notice the small bungalo in the SE corner of the intersection (map ref. C); that was the residence of the late Mr. C. Roy Wilburn, last operating VP of the EBT. He came to the area as a mining engineer for the coal company in the 30s, ran the coal cleaning plant at Mt. Union for several years, and finally became Operating VP of the EBT -- a post he held until his retirement in 1989. Wilburn died in 1991. Across the street from Wilburn's home (to your immediate left) is a large structure that currently houses the local VFW post (map ref. D). It is known as the Markle House and was the residence of the EBT presidents and, later, a boarding house for visitors and single employees. Quite a difference in status between Pres. and Op. VP, wouldn't you say!?

South of Rockhill/Orbisonia, the EBT climbs out of the Blacklog watershed and turns west to begin the climb to the Broad Top coalfield. The ROW parallels PA 994 for most of the way to the village of Three Springs. About a mile south of Rockhill, the railroad runs through a cut beside the highway and passes under a single lane road bridge (map ref. E). This marks Jordan Summit, the divide between the Blacklog Valley water shed and the Aughwick Valley to the west.

The highway and railroad turn west together and descend into Aughwick Valley; the highway following the rolling contours and the EBT using a series of cuts and fills. Just east of the South Huntingdon County High School (map ref. F), the track crosses PA 994 at grade and runs through the school's front lawn as it approaches the EBT's 265-ft deck truss bridge over Aughwick Creek. A county road runs under the west end of the bridge from an oblique intersection immediately at that end of the highway bridge. This bridge has been called, variously Upper Aughwick, Beersville, and Pogue over the years. Pogue is the name given to the small collection of houses 1/4 mi. to the west; it was originally named Beersville.

Map 4 (Not to Scale)
                                    PA 994
   PA 829/                              |#|+~ \ Orbisonia
    655                        Rockhill#|#|+ ~ \##
 +  |                                  -|--+-X-#
\+/#/#                                 C|D + ~  #\  US 522
/+\/#                                  #|  +: ~   \-to I76-)   
L+/#                                   #|  +: ~ 
|X--#                                  #|# +:  ~~~~~~~~~~~~
/# |#                                   |  +::::: Blacklog Cr
K+ |                                    |  ++
 + |J                            PA 994 |  +
 + |PA 829                              |  +      _LEGEND_
+  /                                    | +    
+ |#                                    | +     -  2 Lanes
+#|#Three                     ~         | +     +  RR Tracks
+#|#Springs    |--------|   | ~         |--E    ~  Water
--X--     H   +|+)(+++++|++ | ~    #F   | + \   #  Structure
+##\#   ++)(++ | G      |  +>++++<++    / +  \  X  Signal
 +  \>-<-------|--------|---|>-<-------/ +    \ :  Dual Gauge Tracks
  ++>+<++                      ~      +++
    ~                         ~
Three Springs Creek intersects the west bank of Aughwick Creek just to the north of the Pogue bridge. Originally, the long fill to the south of the present bridge and the crossing itself was a long, high timber trestle and Three Springs Creek intersected it diagonally, emptying into Aughwick Creek on the north side of the track. In May 1889, the rains that precipitated the Johnstown Flood also caused devastating flooding in the EBT's territory. Three Springs Creek and Aughwick Creek left their banks and completely destroyed the approach trestle and bridge. During a comprehensive engineering upgrade to the entire line around the turn of the century, the EBT diverted the Three Springs Creek to its current bed and, around 1910, built the current steel bridges. The original creek bed still fills with water in wet seasons and is easily seen between the highway and the fill at such times.

The EBT crosses Three Springs Creek three times between Pogue and the town of Three Springs. I was not able to fit the creek in on the map. Another county road runs north from PA 994 about 1/4 mile west of the Pogue bridge. It crosses the tracks and Three Springs Creek at the east (north running) end of Pogue siding and turns west, with the creek between it and the railroad. About 1 mile west, the creek zig zags to the south (map ref. G). The railroad crosses on a steel through girder bridge (Price's Bridge) approximately 50 ft long. The county road re-crosses the RR after another mile and joins PA 994.

Back on PA 994, continue west. The railroad is generally out of sight in the valley to the right (north), but it follows the creek to the southwest near the town of Three Springs. About 1/2 mile east of the town, it crosses the creek over a large, skewed, through girder bridge (Kyler's Bridge) and runs adjacent to the highway. The bridge is visible in a field about 100 yds. to the north of PA 994. It's hard to find a place to park really close to the bridge.

After another 1/2 mile, the EBT crosses to the south side of the highway and, almost immediately, both cross the creek once more before entering Three Springs. There is an open area on the south side of PA 994 at the east end of the bridge where you can pull over if you want to inspect the Three Springs bridge. Incidentally, with an eye to the future, EBT management used standard gauge clearances when it installed new bridges. This prescient act enabled it to haul standard gauge cars (re-trucked with modified 3- ft gauge trucks at Mt. Union) over the entire line, thus saving the expense of break bulk ops at the Mt. Union interchange. During the construction of the PA Turnpike in the 30's, many loads of construction materials were moved to a trans-loading point at the end of the Shade Gap Branch in standard gauge cars, most notably cement in covered hoppers. Imagine the sight of an EBT mike dwarfed by two or three covered hoppers! But, I digress . . .

Unfortunately, there is nothing of the EBT left in Three Springs, except the tracks and a street sign. At one time, the Atlantic Refining Co. maintained storage tanks in Three Springs that were served by the EBT. The traffic was not very heavy, apparently, but car rosters are not necessarily an indication since the EBT regularly moved standard gauge cars over the mainline on narrow gauge trucks. The oil facility, as well as the depot, are gone. You can get to the site by turning left (south) on PA 994 at the flashing yellow traffic light and driving one block to the grade crossing. Turning left onto Railroad St, you'll see a dark patch with numerous cars and some small trees next to the tracks; that's where the depot stood. The oil storage tanks were in the SW corner of the grade crossing.

Back at the traffic light, follow PA 829 to Saltillo. Saltillo, according to local tradition, was named for a battle in the Mexican War (ca. 1846) in which a local volunteer company fought. But the local pronunciation is distinctly S. PA: Sahl TIL luh.

Saltillo was an important spot on the EBT, being approximately halfway from Orbisonia to the coal field. Saltillo sits at the foot of the long, steep (2.75%) climb to Robertsdale, the coal company town and center of EBT's coal field operations. A covered water tank was built on the bank of Three Springs Creek, and beyond that, was a wye. Local industry included a tannery and baseball bat factory, and Saltillo was a shipping point for RR ties and other rough lumber.

During WWII, a spur was built from the south (north running) end of the siding and climbed a 4% grade to the NARCO gannister rock quarry on the side of Jacks Mountain. Gannister rock a form of quartz, was the key ingredient in the silica fire bricks that were made by three different plants in Mt. Union (SEE Pt 2). From that time to the end of common carrier operations, Saltillo was a busy switching point that often warranted an extra train, called "the Stone Crew." The grade of the NARCO spur crosses PA 829 about halfway between Three Springs and Saltillo at the point where a power line passes over the highway (map ref. J). It is now a jeep trail. Vehicle access to the quarry used to be possible via the abandoned grade, but it is now virtually inaccessible except on foot.

To get to the EBT "facilities" in Saltillo, turn left (south) at the intersection onto PA 655 (I think there might be a flashing traffic light). The weathered red depot (map ref. K) is ahead of you, on the left (east) side of the road, after crossing the tracks. It has been neglected for so long that by 2000 it was in imminent danger of collapsing. That year, after many fruitless attempts by Friends of the East Broad Top, to broker a deal with the EBT's owner for its stabilization, an arrangement was reached to allow emergency stabilization to proceed. FEBT found a private donor who bankrolled the work, and the organization has completed documenting the structure. But the interior is still open to the weather, and there is no indication that Mr. Kovalchick will agree to the conditions necessary for the station to be restored or preserved with non-profit funds. So, your pictures while you can.

One of the EBT's distinctive enclosed water tanks stood at the end of a side street (map ref. L) that runs along the west side of the track. It was "accidentally" burned by local kids on Dec 29 1986. (Story in FEBT's Timber Transfer magazine, vol. 3, no. 5) The concrete foundation is still there, as is the through girder bridge over Three Springs Creek next to it. A basketball backboard marks the spot.

Part 6: Saltillo to Cooks

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Until now, we've been following the EBT through the gently rolling hills of the Aughwick Valley. But beyond Saltillo the easy grades end as the railroad tackles Sidling and Wrays Hills in succession. From Saltillo, the EBT climbs a 2.75% ruling grade through two tunnels and a mule shoe curve to reach the Trough Creek Valley. It then follows that stream upstream into Robertsdale, the main company town for the succession of coal companies that controlled the EBT.

Map 5 (Not to Scale)
USGS QUADS:  SALTILLO, SAXTON                  PA 829/655
                               Coles      | +++ |                                                              
                               +++        |+   +|
                              + | +       |+  ++X_ PA 829
                             +  | +       +     /Saltillo
                       ~    +   | +      +|    |
                      \ ~  ++   | +     + |   _|  
                       \ ~P +   | +   /+ \|__/ |-- PA 994
                       |  +     |N+  | +  PA994|  
  _LEGEND_              \ + + /-|-+\ | +     PA 655
                        |+~  |  | + \/ +
-  2 Lanes      PA994___|+~_+|     + M+
+  RR Tracks       Cooks|+ ~O
#  Structures           |+ ~
~  Water               /\+ ~ Trough
X  Signal             /  +\_~ Creek
                     |   +  ~
                     |   + ~
                     |  \+/~
                     | ~/+\ Q
                     | ~ +

The track runs out the north end of Saltillo and climbs around the ridge that lies to Saltillo's west. Heading south on the west side of that ridge, the track cuts across the narrow valley, crosses the road just south of the church in the village of Fairview, and begins the climb up Sidling Hill.

If you want to follow the track, leave Saltillo on PA 655/829 north and turn left (west) at the first road beyond the edge of town. Looking 100-200 yds to the south, you should see the grade above you as it follows the ridge to gain elevation. Proceed west on this side road about 1/2 mile to a "T" intersection. The track is immediately above you to the left (south) as it turns sharply to the south. Turn left (south) and follow this road to Fairview Rd. Soon you will pass the church on your left and, about 100 yds. further south, the track emerges from a cut to cross the road and continues to the southwest. Continue on this road to the intersection with PA 994.

If you want to take the most direct route to Robertsdale, leave Saltillo on PA 655 south and turn right (west) on PA 994. You will pass an elementary school in a field on the right and wind through a series of hollows. Just beyond (west of) the "T" junction with the road from Fairview, PA 994 climbs steeply onto the side of Sidling Hill. Just at the point where the road begins the straight, climb to the top, the EBT crosses at grade. The concrete lined north portal of Sidling Hill Tunnel (map ref. M) is accessible by walking the tracks a little less than 1/4 to the south. There is a wide spot suitable for parking near the entrance to a dirt road that parallels the track. A short, easy walk takes you to the portal. Wooden doors were installed on this portal and at Wrays Hill Tunnel about 1912 to help keep temperatures above freezing. In the early 50s, the EBT replaced the wooden doors with electrically operated metal roll-up doors. Today, the doors are almost completely rusted away; the doorframe at Sidling Hill has collapsed onto the tracks.

The road makes a hairpin turn at the top of Sidling Hill and drops down into a spot known as Kimmel. Right at the base of the west side of the hill, the EBT crosses again, and disappears into the undergrowth. Another open front shelter, the Kimmel flagstop, sat in the southeastern corner of the grade crossing. From the northwest corner, an overgrown access road leads to the site of the Kimmel section shed (map ref. N).

On the opposite side of the narrow valley, the main road jogs left, then right as it climbs up Wrays Hill. The semi-paved Coles Valley Rd. runs north from this area and reaches the mule shoe curve that crosses from Sidling Hill to Wrays Hill.

Continuing on PA 994, the grade of the Joller Branch will be on the hillside above you to the right (west). At the top, the road turns 90 degrees right. After turning, immediately to your right (south) you will see a rock cut through which the track passed on its way to the Miller Valley (later Joller) mine (map ref. O). There are places to park on either side of the road a short distance from this spot. NOTE: DO NOT BE CONFUSED BY THE MAP WITH THIS ARTICLE. TROUGH CREEK DOES NOT RUN THROUGH JOLLER; JOLLER IS ON THE MOUNTAIN ABOVE TROUGH CREEK VALLEY. There was a small community here into the late 1970s, when the owner evicted the few remaining residents to make way for strip mining operations. The entire area is now public land, controlled by the PA. Fish & Game Commission. The site of the mine tipple is accessible by walking in from the parking area or by walking the grade of the S-Curve fill across the road from the rock cut. The fill was originally a wood trestle, which curved in both planes, being in the middle of a vertical curve. Unfortunately for industrial archaeologists, the remains of the mine opening and tipple buildings were obliterated in the late 1990s during work to stop acid mine drainage.

Joller, by the way, is another of those post office confusion stories. The original owner of the mine was John O. Miller and the company town was known as Miller Valley. But, once again, there was another Post Office with the same name in PA, so Joller was chosen from the owner's first and middle initials and the last 4 letters of his surname.

From Joller, PA 994 drops down into Trough Creek Valley, crossing the EBT at the village of Cooks. This is a beautiful area during the Fall Foliage season. The road crosses the track at the north end of the Cooks passing siding. Following the 1889 flood, Trough Creek was diverted to the east side of the ROW and two troublesome bridges were replaced by pipe culverts in this area.

The south portal of Wrays Hill Tunnel and the dilapidated Rocky Ridge Depot (map ref. P) can be reached by walking the track for about 3/4 mile. It is one of the most beautiful nature walks you'll ever take, but you'll need to wade Trough Creek to actually get next to the tunnel. There is no longer a floor to the bridge there and it's very dangerous to try and walk across the often slippery flanges of the girders. Drive north from Cooks, with the track on your right (east). Soon after the road veers to the left, away from the ROW, find a spot to park and walk down to the track. There is a well worn path on and beside the track all the way to Rocky Ridge. This is a beautiful 15-20 minute walk: hemlock and mountain laurel abound, and Trough Creek through here is a swift, tumbling mountain stream. The appearance of a passing siding tells you when you're close, and you will soon notice a grade curving to the left. That is the south leg of the wye connecting the Rocky Ridge branch to the mainline. The station stood next to the tunnel portal until the mid-1990s, when it collapsed.

Martin's Old Mill Bridge is a standard EBT steel through girder bridge about 1/2 mile south of Cooks (map ref. Q). Because it is surrounded by posted land, the best way to get there is by driving all the way to Robertsdale and walking about 1 1/4 miles north along the mainline. More on that in Part 7.

Part 7: The EBT Coal Fields & Company Towns

Copyright 2002. Reproduction in original or modified form, except for personal use, without the express permission of the author is prohibited. Reproduction on web sites other than this web site or the author's, or on email distribution lists, is prohibited. For further information contact the author at

Map 6 (Not to Scale)

              to Cooks
                                 ~ +
                 |               ~ +
                 |               ~ +
                 |               ~\+/V
                 |               ~/+\~~  Trough
                 |             ##  +   ~  Creek
   Broad Top     |             ---|++  ~
      (-PA 913/919---------|#     |++++)( +   
     City                  |#####S|++T ~  |###
                           --------++---)(|-  Robertsdale
    _LEGEND_               ###### R++U |~ |###
                                   ++ W|~X|------)PA 913
   -  2 Lanes                      +++ |~ \###  
   +  RR Tracks                  Y +++ |~#|#
   #  Structures                   +++  ~#|#
   ~  Waters                      +++   ~#|#
                                Z +++   ~ \#
                                  +++  ~  |
                                  ++   ~  To
                                  +   ~ Woodvale
Robertsdale was the original destination of the EBT. This was very much a company town and still retains that atmosphere, although the homes are now privately owned; the oldest buildings (company store, supervisors, and some miners houses) date to 1874. The town's focal point is the so-called company square (map ref. R-U), consisting of the depot, company store, mine co. office building, and post office.

Coming into town from the west, the first major building you used to see was the random stone company store (map ref. S). It was considered by preservationists at the national, state, and local level as the _essential_ center piece to an interpretive site when/if tourist service is opened this far. Unfortunately, it suffered from neglect by its owner, Joe Kovalchick, to maintain it in a safe condition, and he demolished it after the township supervisors threatened to demolish for him. It is now a vacant lot.

Across the street is the passenger station (map ref. R), built in 1916 and currently leased by the Friends of the EBT for use as its temporary museum. The FEBT has almost completely restored the station to its common carrier era appearance. The station also housed the scale mechanism for weighing loaded hopper cars before their being dispatched to Mt. Union. The scale pit was outside the bay window. The museum is open Sat. 10:00 AM-5:00 PM and Sun. 1:00-5:00 PM, Jun. thru mid-Oct.

Across the tracks from the company store is a two story concrete block building that housed the coal company offices (map ref. T). It now houses the Robertsdale Post Office. A small freight warehouse, long gone now, sat several yards to the north inside the wye tracks, which are still in place. The legs of the wye meet at a stub switch laid on a unique wedge-shaped deck girder bridge over Trough Creek. You can see it by following the track as it curves around the north end of the company office building.

Across the tracks from the depot is two-story building that housed the post office during common carrier years. It is built of rusticated concrete block, an early 20th-century development to imitate cut stone. Now owned by FEBT, its exterior was restored in the late 1990s with a matching grant from the America's Industrial Heritage Project and a small grant from the Potomac Chapter, National Railroad Historical Society. The interior is semi-finished, and a volunteer crew is making slow progress on making it the permanent home of the FEBT museum and C. Roy Wilburn Memorial Library. The FEBT possesses a large collection of EBT memorabilia, photos, and reference material, but it lacks a central storage facility large enough and secure enough to house it and make it available to the general public. The 'Old Post Office' will serve as such a facility when it's finished.

Map ref. W is the site of the two-stall Robertsdale engine house. Today, only part of the footings and the ash pit (open and dangerous if you're not looking where you step) remain to mark the site. At the north end of the footings, there is what I believe to be a sheaf from a mine head lying in the underbrush.

The Broad Top Area Miners Historical Society has established a wonderful museum in the Reality Theater (map ref. X). It is open Fridays and Saturdays, year 'round, and is an essential stop for the complete EBT experience.

If you want to take a walk down to the Old Martins Mill bridge, drive from the EBT station toward the Reality Theater, but turn left onto the first street past the company office building. The street dead-ends at the township water treatment facility, and there is plenty of room to park. The mainline passes to the left (west) of the treatment facility and follows the bed of Trough Creek (often dry) down grade. It is a lovely walk, although the return walk is on a steady 2.5% up-grade, and there are a few dead-fall trees and briar patches to bypass. The distance from Robertsdale to Old Martins Mill is about 1 1/4 miles.

Advice on this walk: In November 2001, as a slightly overweight 46-yr-old male in fair cardiovascular condition, I walked down to the bridge in about 30 minutes, tarried about 30 minutes, and walked back up to Robertsdale in about 45 minutes. I was alone, but there are people around who know me and my vehicle. I often defy chance by walking alone in remote mountain areas because it is the way I decompress emotionally, but I do not recommend it for everyone, especially novices to the area. If you make this walk, you will definitely work up a sweat coming back up-grade, even on a cold, windy day, so wear layered clothes and carry a canteen of water. A wide-brimmed slouch hat will keep "stuff" from sticking in your hair or falling down your neck. You will do quite a bit of "high stepping," so unless you are athletic you need a sturdy walking stick. I carry a 2x2x4' measuring stick that doubles as my walking stick, and it also comes in handy for striking trees to make noise to warn kids out for an afternoon of aimless fun shooting cans that you are in their line of fire (personal experience speaking!) It goes without saying that you need sturdy high-topped shoes.

Returning to Robertsdale, two of the oldest mine tipple sites are accessible a short distance south of the station. Rockhill No. 1, originally the Houck Mine, dates to the earliest operations in the Broad Top coalfields (map ref. Y). The tipple was wooden and is long gone; the mine entrance is visible deep in the second growth timber, but has collapsed. The tipple's extent can be easily traced by the pile of waste (boney). Just inside the tree line to the southwest of the tipple are the remnants of a primitive repair shop, including a small stone forge hearth and an A-Frame for a hoist.

The ruins of Rockhill No. 5 (also known as "The Slope") date to 1889 (map ref. Z). Not only is the tipple site, on a high bank west of the tracks obvious, but the boiler mounts and many fixtures from the hoist house are still there. In a ravine further to the west is a partially collapsed ventilation blower house, complete with chain drive and paddle wheel. Since this was first written, a large tree has fallen across it. Following the trace to the south, you come to the entrance to the mine itself. There is a wonderful photo, taken in the 30's or 40's, of miners and supervisors sitting around this entrance during a safety award ceremony. The photo hangs in the Coal Miners Museum and is available for sale as a post card.

This brings to an end my unofficial guide to the EBT. There is much more to see than I have been able to include in this unofficial guide. I hope this encourages you to visit the area during the RR's tourist season and return for further explorations during the cooler months. The best time to explore the inactive portion, by the way, is after the leaves have fallen . . . visibility is much better.

Enjoy and I hope to see you on the railroad.


The best time to visit the EBT is during its annual Fall Spectacular, Sat-Sun of Columbus Day Weekend. The RR pulls out all the stops, running all operational locos, the Brill Gas-Electric (with original prime mover) M1, and special freight trains. And the FEBT hosts its annual reunion at that time and has special walking tours for reunion registrants and a Sunday A.M. gathering at the Robertsdale depot. That's also a good time to visit the miners museum, because a lot of retired miners are there and they love to tell their stories to visitors.

I hope this guide entices you to visit the area. The EBT, in itself, is reason enough. But, once you go there, you will realize that the railroad is rendered even more fascinating when viewed in the geographical and sociological context of S. Huntingdon Co. today, which is truely a microcosm of mid-20th Century norms and values (for better or worse).


I was introduced to the EBT during its inaugural tourist year in 1960 at age 4 and spent the rest of my life, until leaving the roost, pestering my parents to take me there every Sunday after church. My mother is a S. Huntingdon County native who spent her entire 1949-50 senior year in high school year living on the hill overlooking the Rockhill shops, AND SHE DIDN'T TAKE A SINGLE PICTURE!!!

I grew up less than an hour's drive away from the EBT and after I got a driver's license I began spending excessive lengths of time exploring it. I love the EBT almost to the point of unhealthy obsession, but, with therapy, the doctor says I should recover in 20 or 30 years.

When I first wrote these words, I was a career Army officer nearing the end of a tour of duty in Korea. I gathered the information presented in this unofficial guide during frequent explorations of the EBT while I was stationed in Washington, D.C. from 1991-1993 -- during which time I served as Secretary of the Friends of the EBT Board of Directors. I have since retired, and am now a Ph.D. candidate in History and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, PA. I am still affiliated with the Friends of the EBT as Asst. V.P., Museum Operations and Asst. V.P., Member Services.

DISCLAIMER: This guide is unofficial in every way. It has not been coordinated with the owner or management of the East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Co. or the Kovalchik Salvage Co. or Kovalchik Enterprises, or anything else relating to the Kovalchik family. It is intended solely for the education, enjoyment, and recreation of the reader.

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