Heritage meeting

Pete Clarke, far left, activist with the Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT), outlined plans for the grand opening of the FEBT Museum Complex at Robertsdale in 2021 at a meeting of the Broad Top Area Heritage Partnership Wednesday.

Hoping to reopen for tourist service in 2021, the East Broad Top Railroad Foundation is continuing rehabilitation and restoration work at Rockhill while the Friends of the EBT (FEBT) are gearing up for a grand opening of its museum complex at Robertsdale next year.

Representatives of the foundation and the FEBT outlined ongoing work at the two railroad sites during a meeting of the Broad Top Area Heritage Partnership held in the Reality Church of God, Robertsdale, Tuesday afternoon. In charge of the informative session was partnership chairman Alan Smith.

Lawrence Biemiller, communications manager for the EBT Foundation, updated partnership members about work in progress at the home of the EBT at Rockhill, pledging to work with other partners in cooperative efforts intended to promote the historic narrow gauge railroad in the coming years.

Adhering to COVID-19 limitations and the arrival of winter, foundation staff and numerous FEBT volunteers continue restoration and stabilization work at Rockhill including preparation of the aged railroad machine shop complex, building stabilization work, track upgrading and rehabilitation of two EBT steam locomotives numbers 16 and 14.

Subject to any unforeseen circumstances, foundation leaders hope to see the steam railroad back in-service next summer.

Although “no immediate plans” are on the table for the EBT’s return to Robertsdale, the foundation is hard at work getting the railroad ready for a return to service in 2021 after being closed since 2011. Biemiller repeated past statements that the foundation “doesn’t want to make promises it can’t keep,” although the foundation, working with other partners, pledges to “tell the complete EBT story” in the coming years.

Several steps are being pursued by the foundation to help compliment EBT visitors with a fuller experience including tours and demonstrations in the machine shop complex at Rockhill and other structures that are currently being rehabilitated. “The EBT is unique in that it has something else that most other steam railroad operations don’t have many of its original buildings that are now being used in the EBT restoration project,” observed Biemiller.

In addition to historic preservation, the foundation is looking at the railroad’s ability to boost the local economy while educating newer generations about the importance of the EBT’s transportation and industrial heritage, noted Biemiller, adding that the EBT wants to work closely with other local attractions in drawing more people to Huntingdon County.

As work continues with the refurbishment of EBT steam locomotives numbers 16 and 14, other rolling stock and related railroad structures, work crews are halfway finished with right of way/trackage restoration from Rockhill to Colgate Grove, near Shirleysburg. Also, on the planning board for the holidays are several public activities subject to COVID-restrictions, Biemiller announced.

The EBT Foundation official, who is also active in the FEBT, had considerable praise for the various skilled workers at Rockhill, many of whom are volunteers associated with the FEBT.

Pete and Jane Clarke, new overseers of the FEBT Museum Complex at Robertsdale, mirrored the EBT Foundation’s efforts to preserve and restore the EBT as well as ongoing work at Robertsdale where several original EBT coal hoppers now rest after being absent from the mining region since 1956.

“The FEBT looks forward to working with the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Museum in telling the complete story of the railroad including Robertsdale and Wood,” noted Pete Clarke. “A visit to Robertsdale will complement the EBT visitors’ experience while telling the story of coal mining and railroading on the Broad Top.”

The nonprofit, all-volunteer FEBT will be celebrating a grand opening of its Robertsdale complex in 2021 that includes a revitalized museum and research library being created in the former Robertsdale Post Office while the original EBT Depot will be returned to its original appearance when the railroad was hauling coal from Robertsdale and Wood, explained Clarke.

In addition to the EBT coal hoppers placed on restored trackage this past fall along side the EBT’s Robertsdale Depot, walking tours of the mining area, rotating exhibits, a new gift and snack shop and potential speeder rides on restored trackage are on the drawing board, it was explained.

Clarke sees 2021 as a major year in the history of the EBT which will serve as a stepping-stone to bigger and better activities in the years ahead. “There is once again a massive interest in the EBT restoration,” he said, noting that the FEBT’s membership has grown in leaps and bounds since February.

Clarke also sees value in cooperative efforts among the EBT partners and the need to attract more people to the area as well as local volunteers to assist with the ongoing restoration work.

Various promotional activities, special events and other cooperative ventures are the key to bringing people to the EBT in the years ahead, it was stressed. “We want to make the ‘EBT experience’ and a visit to Robertsdale worth the drive,” said Clarke.

Ron can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.


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