Following a 40-year hibernation, the popular East Broad Top Railroad Winter Spectacular is back on track.
Despite the cold weather and COVID-19 restrictions, numerous steam railroad fans gathered at Rockhill Saturday to ride the EBT’s legendary gas-electric M1 car and the narrow-gauge line’s familiar little red caboose No. 28 on hourly treks to McMullin’s Summit.
Running on the hour, starting at 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., steam rail fans enjoyed a 2.4-mile train ride to McMullin’s Summit and return over restored EBT right of way completed in 2020 by the EBT’s new owner, the nonprofit East Broad Top Railroad Foundation Inc. Closely adhering to COVID-19 restrictions, visitors also had the opportunity to browse through souvenir items in the EBT gift shop.
“The foundation was pleased to revive a very popular event among EBT fans,” remarked Jonathan Smith, new director of sales and marketing for the historic railroad. “The winter spectacular is just one of several events planned for 2021 as we move forward with the reopening of steam excursions later this year.”
The one-day Winter Spectacular drew railroad fans, young and old, to Rockhill not only to ride authentic EBT rolling stock, but to photograph the train consists against the backdrop of a southern Huntingdon County winter wonderland.
With an eye on the future, foundation employees and Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT) have embarked on a multi-phase restoration project that includes the return to service of EBT steam locomotives No. 16 (built in 1916) and No. 14 (built in 1912) this summer along with rehabilitation of the railroad trackage north to Colgate Grove, just south of Shirleysburg.
Although not written in stone, long range plans call for the reopening of the EBT to the former coal mining hamlets of Robertsdale and Wood, as other restoration activities continue at Robertsdale by the Friends of the EBT (FEBT) and the Broad Top Area Coal Miners Historical Society.
Concluding this year’s Winter Spectacular were several “photo shoots” overseen by railroad photographer and artist Peter Lerro that also included a night session.
Also taking part in Saturday’s event was the nonprofit Rockhill Trolley Museum (RTY) which provided rides on several of its electric-powered trolleys between Rockhill and the “narrows” on the railroad’s old Shade Gap right of way.
“The trolley museum is pleased to be a part of the Winter Spectacular,” remarked Valerie Robbins-Rice, public relations manager for the RTY. “We look forward to working closely with the EBT Foundation as we lay out our own plans for the future of the trolley museum.”
The trendy Winter Spectacular began in 1966, six years after the EBT opened for tourist service that lasted until 1981. That year, the event was canceled due to the negative impact of winter weather on the steam locomotives and other pieces of rolling stock.
The EBT ceased tourist service the end of 2011 followed by the Feb. 14, 2020, announcement that the EBT had been acquired by the new foundation, including 27 miles of right of way between Aughwick Bridge and the Robertsdale/Wood area.
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