ROCKHILL FURNACE, Pa. – Expanded tours of the East Broad Top Railroad shops, roundhouse, and archives will be offered for the first time in 2024, the non-profit EBT Foundation, Inc., has announced.
The narrow-gauge central Pennsylvania steam preservation railroad, a National Historic Landmark, will open new opportunities besides its existing one-hour tour of its circa-1910 shop complex here [see “Top 10 stories of 2023, No 5: East Broad Top …,” Dec. 7, 2023]. The three additions for visitors are a 3-hour intensive tour of the shops, a 2-hour tour of the roundhouse, and a 1-hour tour of the company archives, which are housed in three vaults contained in the two-story office and passenger station here.
A partner of the railroad, the 2,085-member Friends of the East Broad Top, has worked for decades, even during the railroad’s 2011-2020 shutdown, to stabilize, repair, restore, and paint the cluster of buildings where the company built, serviced, and repaired everything that moved on EBT.
A signature feature of the shops is its belt-driven system of machine tools, powered by spinning overhead lineshafts that were originally propelled by a stationary steam engine. Drill presses, lathes, a wheel press, and other machine tools were powered this way. Thanks to work by volunteers – and the personal, hands-on attention of EBT General Manager Brad Esposito – the function of the lineshaft can now be demonstrated with compressed air.
EBT Foundation Board Member Linn Moedinger, retired president and CMO of the Strasburg Rail Road, has observed that all of the Rockhill shop complex looks like it did in 1950 and a lot of it looks like it did in 1910.
The regular 1-hour tours already available run Fridays through Sundays from May 3 to Oct. 27 and Wednesdays through Sundays Memorial Day through Labor Day. Cost is $18 adult or $12 child ages 2-12.
Added for the first time are:
- Extended Tour: Three-hour tour through most buildings in the complex. The group includes some or all of the machine shop, locomotive shop, blacksmith shop, car shop, paint shop, lumber shed, freight office, master mechanic’s building/crew room, foundry, and the eight-stall roundhouse. This will be offered on May 18, June 15, July 20, Aug. 17, and Sept. 21. Cost is $50.
- Master Mechanic’s Tour: Two hours in the roundhouse, which houses the railroad’s Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado steam engines and M-1 gas-electric car. This will be offered on June 29, July 27, and Aug. 31. Cost is $40.
- Archivist’s Tour: One hour with the joint Foundation-FEBT Archives & Special Collections staff to learn about the process of cataloguing and preserving some 5,000 linear feet of records, photos, and artifacts, and making them digitally available. This tour will be offered on May 19, July 21, and Sept. 22. Cost is $25.
The former coal-hauling railroad became a tourist line with seasonal steam passenger service in 1960. From then until 2011, shop tours were offered on an occasional basis, usually during the Winter Spectacular railfan event and later during the FEBT Fall Reunion. The Foundation was formed in 2020 to buy and preserve the majority of the 33-mile-long line, with its six steam engines, passenger and freight rolling stock, and buildings. The Foundation added formal, regularly scheduled tours, mostly consisting of the 1-hour general-overview visit to the shop, with occasional public tours of the archives.
One of the goals is to provide an immersive experience where, for one example, a visitor will be able to see a steel hopper car that was built in the shops being rebuilt and restored in those same facilities, explained Brad Esposito, EBT general manager. He characterized the Rockhill complex as a junior version of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Juniata Shops in Altoona, Pa., which once employed 15,000 workers to build, repair, and maintain that company’s fleet of thousands of locomotives and hundreds of thousands of passenger and freight cars.
One of the few other working shops with comparable public access is at the Nevada Northern Railroad in East Ely, Nevada, another steam tourist line, but its machine-tool technology is 20 to 40 years more modern than that at EBT, and is not belt-driven.
Making the Rockhill shops more accessible is just one aspect of the overall restoration being pushed by the Foundation and the Friends. One of the road’s six steam locomotives, No. 16, was restored to service last year, and EBT’s long-term goal is to return more of that fleet to operating condition. Track restoration is started on the road’s 20-mile-long southern main line — dormant since 1956 — to the semi-bituminous coalfield on Broad Top Mountain.
At the south end of the line at Robertsdale, Pa., the Friends offer walking tours of the ruins of the several mines once served by EBT from the museum the group maintains there. Also available are a short handcar or railbike ride over a portion of the line that has been restored and reopened for light equipment.