Although the historic East Broad Top Railroad will not operate this year as a tourist train, the narrow-gauge railroad is scheduled to resume steam service in 2021, reported Lawrence Biemiller, longtime EBT enthusiast and board member and communications manager for the new EBT Foundation.
Restoration work on two of the EBT’s steam locomotives at Rockhill continues as planning for a gala 60th anniversary celebration at the EBT progresses. The event, set for Aug. 13-15, will mark the EBT’s original opening as a tourist operation dating back to Aug. 13, 1960, in conjunction with observance of Orbisonia’s bicentennial.
Approached by community leaders to operate the EBT during the 1960 event, the late railroad operating vice president Roy Wilburn indicated that if the response to the reopening was good, the EBT would consider future excursions. Closed since April 1956, the former coal-hauling line made its last official trip to Robertsdale and Wood March 31, 1956.
In the years that followed, the EBT became a national treasure with a countless number of steam rail fans traveling to southern Huntingdon County to “ride behind steam” and tour the railroad shops, ride the trolleys of the Rockhill Trolley Museum and, in later years, become a part of the ongoing restoration work of the nonprofit Friends of the EBT.
As the EBT entered the 21st century, the railroad, which had been designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service in 1964, studied various restoration proposals but faced numerous challenges. Finally, the railroad closed its doors in 2012, its future in limbo.
To the satisfaction of EBT fans, plans for the railroad’s return to service was announced during a Feb. 14, 2020 press conference in front of the Orbisonia station at Rockhill. The Valentine’s Day announcement set in motion a phase-by-phase plan for the future of the railroad. Those plans call for the reopening of the railroad in 2021 from Rockhill to Colgate Grove near Shirleysburg, preparation of a master plan for the EBT’s future and the kickoff of the Aug. 13-15 60th anniversary celebration at Rockhill/Orbisonia.
As of this writing, several special activities are on tap at the EBT including an opening ceremony set for 1 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13, announced Biemiller.
The EBT celebration is being sponsored by the new EBT Foundation Inc. in cooperation with the next door Rockhill Trolley Museum and the Friends of the EBT.
Also scheduled are numerous activities for Aug. 13-15 by the Orbisonia-Rockhill Volunteer Fire Co. and the Orbisonia Lions Club.
Additional information about those activities will be forthcoming in The Daily News that will include a parade, vesper service, Strong Man Competitions, food and commercial vendors, a princess pageant, special entertainment and much more.
Event planners noted that in all instances, the three-day celebration will be conducted in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions including the EBT events.
According to Biemiller, EBT activities will be limited to 250 people for each event (on a rotating bases). In addition, temperatures will be taken, and other COVID-19 restrictions adhered to. Any changes in those restrictions will be announced as deemed necessary.
Among the many activities scheduled at the railroad include train rides to McMullen’s Summit using a diesel-powered locomotive and several open EBT cars (as of this writing, some trips have already been sold out; look for additional updates as the Aug. 13-15 observance approaches).
Also planned are trolley rides on the Rockhill Trolley cars, subject to COVID-19 restrictions (additional information will be forthcoming), tours of the EBT machine shops, two stalls of the round house, a treat from the Little Ice Creamer and the opportunity to check out numerous pieces of EBT rolling stock.
Still in the planning stages, the EBT 60th anniversary celebration will also include the appearance of members of the Kovalchick family, noted railroad artist Pete Lerro who will over see night photo sessions (already sold out), operation of the EBT parlor car which will include numerous VIPs and other “surprise” activities, reported Biemiller.
The gala Aug. 13-15 celebration will also be a golden opportunity to take videos and photos of the narrow-gauge railroad, rolling stock, its shops and other historic reminders of the historic EBT. Many pieces of EBT vehicles will be on display as well as ongoing restoration work being performed by the new foundation and the Friends of the EBT.
As of this writing, preparations for a large display of historical items by local historical organizations between Mount Union, southern Huntingdon County and the Broad Top are being planned, reported Nin Hiles Jr. of Orbisonia, local community leader and history enthusiast.
Historical groups up and down the EBT line have been invited to set up displays in the Orbiaonia Lions Club building. Additional information will be forthcoming, noted Hiles.
To learn more about the 60th anniversary celebration, log onto www.eastbroadtop.com or call 447-3011.
Coming Up: Biemiller outlines the preparation of a master plan which will guide future development efforts for the EBT including the remainder of the narrow-gauge route north and south. It was pointed out that the EBT possesses considerable potential as it maps out new and exciting times for the National Historic Landmark.