Looking at the bigger picture, longtime East Broad Top Railroad enthusiast Matthew Hayduk had this to say about the survival of the historic narrow-gauge line: “Operation is the basis to preservation.”
Closed since 2013, the outlook for the ancient coal hauling railroad-turned tourist operation remains unclear. For sale, the Kovalchick family of Indiana, Pennsylvania, would like to see the steam train property sold intact but has indicated that if there is no buyer on the horizon the railroad could be sold piecemeal, something most rail fans do not support.
With the passing of the years since the EBT ceased tourist operations, several volunteer groups have directly or indirectly taken steps to help preserve the EBT while encouraging its return to service, chief among them: The Friends of the EBT.
And as the FEBT continues its efforts at Rockhill, the home of the railroad and at Robertsdale, the southern terminus of the 33-mile-long railroad right of way, progress continues at Mount Union where the nonprofit East Broad Top Preservation Association (EBTPA) and the newly-formed Railroad Equipment Restoration Association (RERA) are focusing on the once-bustling EBT railroad yards.
Today, RERA officials announced that a two-year lease with the EBTPA has been signed for use of a section of the dual gauge track in the Mount Union railroad yards where a section of track will be cleared and restored for a future “speeder ride” operations. The lease agreement, which became effective April 1, automatically renews each year providing long-term stability for RERA, noted Hayduk, project manager.
It was also announced that RERA is in the process of acquiring an 8-ton, narrow gauge diesel mechanical locomotive that will be used by the organization for future railroad equipment restoration activities at Mount Union. Now owned by a Maryland rail fan, the two-axle is expected to be moved from a Maryland farm field to Mount Union this summer, reported Hayduk.
“The lease agreement with the EBTPA was essential before we could consider acquiring the locomotive,” explained Hayduk of Eden, North Carolina, whose family still resides in the Mount Union/Rockhill area. “The 36-inch narrow gauge unit is in good condition and will serve our purpose at Mount Union.”
Formed in 2008, the nonprofit 501©3 RERA has been involved in a variety of small railroad restoration projects mostly in South Carolina and North Carolina including the initiation of “speeder operations.”
Last year, the all-volunteer association entered into an agreement with Larry Salone, president of the EBTPA, to clear right of way on the northern side of the EBT Aughwick Bridge in Shirley Township as a prerequisite to potential right of way clearing to Mount Union. That project was put on hold for the time being as REBA focuses its attention on the Mount Union end of the EBT right of way which was purchased several years ago by Salone.
“We’re still committed to doing work at Aughwick, but we need to focus on the Mount Union end for now,” continued Hayduk. “On a long-term basis, connecting the Aughwick Bridge with Mount Union serves as two book ends for the conceivable restoration of the original EBT line.”
With the new agreement members of the RERA will soon be starting right of way clearing of over 600 yards of duel gauge rails in the Mount Union yards in a southern direction toward the Route 522-Mount Union Bypass.
The crew will be removing trees, brush and other debris covering the right of way in preparation for installing new cross ties, etc. Work on the first phase of the project should be completed in late summer as the organization also focuses on generating money to support the costly project, explained the project manager.
“The diesel engine will be necessary to pursue future work at Mount Union and beyond, that is why we need to get the right of way restoration completed,” noted Hayduk.
Looking to the future, the project manager envisions “speeder rides” and potential one-car excursions (using the diesel locomotive) from Mount Union to Aughwick Bridge once right of way of the EBT line is completed. Considered a long-term, phase-by-phase project, the success of the endeavor will also hinge on generating money to pay for the work.
Hayduk said once the diesel engine is brought to Mount Union the organization will approach Salone about future right of way clearing and potential “Speeder rides,” adding that so far, there has been nothing but positive feedback for the proposal.
An average of five to six volunteers, many from the central Pennsylvania area, are expected to participate in the restoration work at Mount Union as efforts to attract more helpers continues, said Hayduk, who encouraged the public to checkout the progress of the project by logging onto Facebook and searching Railroad Equipment Restoration Association.
Hayduk described the organization as geared more toward volunteers and less on a membership bases, noting that RERA currently is overseen by a three-member board of directors with a managing director.
Officials of REBA credited Salone and the EBTPA for their cooperation in preparing an ongoing agreement which permits REBA to store, maintain and operate railroad equipment.
“We are excited for continuing work with Mr. Salone and the EBTPA,” remarked another RERA director, Robert Dickey, while director J. D. Anderson observed, “This new lease shows the strength of the relationship we built last year between RERA and the EBTPA.”
Stating his belief that resumed operation of the EBT is crucial to the survival of the railroad, Hayduk hopes that someday the National Historic Landmark resumes service. He also praised the ongoing efforts of the FEBT which continues restoration work at Rockhill and Robertsdale while recognizing the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Historical Society for developing the Miners Museum in Robertsdale.
“I grew up an EBT fan and want to see ‘Ole Easty’ back in operation, it’s an important aspect of our history and heritage; that’s why it’s so important that we all do our part and work together to help make that dream a reality,” concluded Hayduk.
Ron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.