SALTILLO, Pa. – The Friends of the East Broad Top, an auxiliary group whose membership has exploded since the rebirth of the narrow gauge East Broad Top Railroad starting in 2020, announced over the weekend that it is moving forward to help the railroad’s owner, the EBT Foundation, reopen its main line south 20 miles into the mountainous coal-mining area that provided the railroad’s reason for existence.
During FEBT’s annual reunion, President Andy Van Scyoc and longtime restoration chief Lee Rainey announced the group would begin to raise funds immediately to rebuild a demolished passenger and freight station and an arson-destroyed water tank in Saltillo. The town lies 7.8 miles south of Rockhill Furnace on a part of the 33-mile EBT main line that hasn’t seen regular train service since 1956.
EBT’s strategic planners recently approached the Friends with this proposition: “The Foundation would be overjoyed if the Saltillo depot and tank reappeared in the next 2 or 3 years.”
FEBT plans to raise $25,000 to fund preliminary work led by architect John Bowie of Philadelphia, a longtime FEBT member and author of the Historic American Engineering Record study of the Saltillo depot before it was taken down. Bowie has agreed to donate his time. HAER documents historic structures related to engineering and history in such detail that it is possible to exactly recreate a new building matching the original. It was established by the National Park Service, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Library of Congress. The water tank, an enclosed square type that was a trademark of EBT, will hold 50,000 gallons.
Rainey, also known as co-author of the definitive history book on EBT, noted that such rail-preservation projects are within reach, citing examples of the restoration of a Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad depot at Como, Colo., and the construction of a new roundhouse by the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railroad in Maine.
For the Foundation’s view, EBTF General Manager Brad Esposito said that the railroad is ready to start work on the southern segment of the main line. He noted that the 275-foot-long 1904 steel trestle over Aughwick Creek at Pogue — largest bridge on the EBT — is in good shape, though it will need abutment work and, to strengthen it against floods and ice, reinforcement of the piers. The railroad’s two tunnels at Sideling Hill and Ray’s Hill, he said, are “not great, but not terrible,” and EBT has a tunnel contractor lined up for the day when work can begin.
For decades, extending back into the 1990s, the Friends have raised funds and supplied thousands of hours of volunteer labor to restore the historic shops buildings at Rockhill Furnace. Many of those structures were sinking into the ground; leaning at precarious angles; suffering roof, rafter, foundation, and window damage; and otherwise failing following EBT’s shutdown as a common carrier in 1956. A final element of work there is the planned restoration of a three-chute coal tipple that will incorporate hidden water-supply tanks to feed a new fire-suppression system in the shops, which are entirely of wooden frame construction, and the eight-stall brick roundhouse. FEBT’s share will be $30,000, to be matched by the Foundation.
With the recent renovation of a carpenter shop and storehouses, the lion‘s share of FEBT work at Rockhill is done, freeing the group to embark on new ventures. Rainey said the $25,000 goal for initial work at Saltillo is part of a new target of $100,000 for 2022.
Another element of the campaign will allow FEBT to continue providing a matching grant with the Foundation to support the work of archivist Julie Rockwell in documenting the voluminous railroad and mining records that were held in the Rockhill Furnace station and elsewhere on the property [see “East Broad Top hires archives,” Trains News Wire, June 21, 2021]. After a preliminary 10-week round of work, she has determined that the railroad has 3,500 to 4,500 linear feet of archival material. Initially, FEBT provided $10,000 as its part of the match, but plans to increase that to $35,000 for 2022.
Rainey reviewed FEBT’s remarkable 2021 fund-raising campaign, which topped out at 201 percent of the goal. While the target was $78,000, the amount actually raised from 586 donations totaled $156,819,31. Just since February 2020, when the non-profit EBT Foundation acquired the National Historic Landmark line and announced plans to restore it, FEBT’s membership has more than doubled, rising from 750 to 1,579.
The Foundation ultimately hopes to restore the entire 27-mile stretch of main line that it owns, extending to Robertsdale and Wood, Pa., where FEBT volunteers currently lead tours through the widespread ruins of EBT’s coal-mining affiliate to interpret the story of that industry. FEBT owns the EBT’s Robertsdale station and has opened a museum in an adjacent building. At the station, the Friends also recently began offering rides on an original EBT handcar over a few hundred feet of main line near the remains of No. 1 mine.
More East Broad Top News: East Broad Top fully reopens tourist-era line in time for Friends Reunion