Monday, October 16, 2017

The 2017 EBT Reunion

It had been two years since my last trip to the East Broad Top Railroad Fall Reunion.  I arrived on the Friday of the Columbus Day weekend, after a nine hour drive from Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Once again, as in 2015, I stayed at "Pogue Station", a century old farmhouse just south of the well known Pogue Trestle.   The farmhouse has been connected with the same family for over a hundred years.  The current owner, Brian Hoffman, has worked to restore the structure as it might have appeared in the days when the EBT was in commercial service.

The house was purchased by Judson Rutter in 1906, and passed through his widow, Martha, to Brian's family early in the 20th century.  The house still sits on the EBT right-of-way, at the end of one of the longest sidings on the railroad, just south of Pogue Trestle.

When Rutter bought the house, it was already on the EBT timetable as "Pogue Station".  Rutter added a post office and a general store to the structure.  According to Brian Hoffman's father, Dave, who grew up in the house, miners would board the "miners' train" early in the morning for the trip south to the Broad Top coal mines, and would return in the evening.  The elder Mr. Hoffman recounted tales of miners arriving at Pogue on the downhill stretch to Orbisonia, throwing their metal lunch pails off the train and jumping after them, as the train slowed but did not stop at the little station.   In later years, it was listed in EBT time tables as a flag stop, but continued as a station into the 1950s when the railroad closed down.

The EBT Fall Reunion included a full schedule of presentations, tours, and clinics.  On Friday night, Lee Rainey, president of the Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT) gave an informative talk on the evolution of the 2-8-2 mikado in narrow gauge railroading, with special emphasis on the classic EBT engines still stored in the roundhouse.  The Company Store had a wide range of books, models, clothing and modeling supplies relating to the EBT.  The annual modeling and photography contest had plenty of entries, including a new category: models of structures and cars that have been the focus of FEBT restoration efforts. 

On Saturday, Lee Rainey and members of the restoration committee led a walking tour of the latest restoration projects, beginning with the freight station next to the Trolley Museum on the EBT wye.  I was personally surprised to learn about the freight house and its adjoining buildings, having never noticed them on previous visits. 

This portion of the tour was led by Jim Bacon, who explain how the freight station walls were so deteriorated that the entire building was in danger of immanent collapse.  At the request of the EBT's owner, the restoration team sprang into action.  Rails were pushed under the joists supporting the floor, and jacked up to restore the building to its original height.

In the process of jacking up the floor, FEBT crews discovered that there were virtually no support posts behind the walls.  The roof had been held up almost entirely by the boards making up the walls.  Another discovery:  When the building was opened up, a number of crates were found inside containing grave stones!  Jim Bacon suggested that they might have been replacement stones for damaged grave markers in local cemeteries.  When the railroad closed down in 1956, they were forgotten until restoration work began some 60 years later.  Now there's a story waiting to be told!

From the freight station the restoration tour proceeded to the recently refurbished blacksmith shop.  Like the freight station, the walls of the blacksmith shop had deteriorated to the point where the entire building was listing to one side like a ship about to capsize.  FEBT crews had stabilized the walls and installed new concrete footers for the rotting support beams.  The entire building has been restored as it appeared when it was still in use, including an enormous steam hammer powered by steam from the adjacent boiler house.  Several smaller forges have been restored as well, and the sand floor has been cleared of half a century of junk. 

From the blacksmith shop the tour crossed to the foundry.  Here an enormous furnace and jib crane were the first things that stood out.  Iron and steel were melted down and poured into sand molds to form castings for virtually anything the railroad needed.  Here, for example, is a picture of a firebox grate made from a sand casting.  The iron grate is in front.  Behind is a wooden form for the grate.  The form was pushed into the sand and baked to harden the sand.  Then it was removed and molten iron poured into the mold.

Here are some photos of the furnace, the jib beam and some of the ladles used to pour molten metal into the sand molds.

Another activity on Saturday was totally unexpected!  Each registrant received a ticked for a speeder ride.  But this was not the usual excursion south of Orbisonia a mile or so to the end of the yard.  Instead, the speeders headed north some five miles to Colgate Grove and the wye where tourists trains were turned in the tourist era.  Speeder rides were scheduled throughout the day, so everyone in attendance had the opportunity to ride.  A rag-tag collection of speeders and the EBT's well known Nash track gang car, the M-3, lined up for registrants to climb on for the open air excursion.

The track, which had not been maintained since steam trains were discontinued in 2014, was more than a little rough, and the little track cars had no springs!  In addition, weeds and bushes have begun to grow up between the rails, so riders had to be careful not to get "whacked" along the way.  But the sun was out, the temperature was in the 70s, and the view of the early autumn foliage was glorious! 

At Colgate Grove, the M-3 was turned on the wye, as it doesn't run well in reverse.  The track speeders, which run equally well (or equally rough) in either direction, sat at the end of track, while riders got to watch the turning maneuver.  After some minor mechanical problems, the entire procession headed back south to Orbisonia station.

While waiting for my turn on the speeders, I chatted with a group of FEBT volunteers, who have given countless hours of hard labor preserving the shops and cars in this living museum. 

In the course of the conversation, I noticed the speeders were parked directly in front of the air brake and electrical shop building, which I have scratch built and placed on my own HOn3 layout. 

This particular shop building was a bit of a mystery to me.  I had heard that the building housed the electrical shop, while a small lean-to on the opposite side held the air brake shop.  Currently, the shed houses the M-3 track car when not in use.

When I shared what I knew of the building, Larry Biemiller, one of the crew laughed and informed me that I was completely wrong!  The left end of the building (viewed from the tracks) was the air brake shop and the right end was the electrical shop.  The shed on the back had been used to house the M-3 for years.  Then Larry produced a set of keys and asked if I would like to see the inside!

It was amazing!  The interior of the building was filled with cobwebs and dust.  As in other shop buildings, nothing had been disturbed since the railroad shut down in 1956.   Larry pointed out the air brake test stand covered with a sheet of plastic, sitting on the work bench where a worker left it more than half a century ago.

The rest of the room was filled with hoses and parts for air brakes, and a large air tank and compressor to provide the pressurized air for the test bench.

We then proceeded next door to the electrical shop.  As I had suspected, most of the equipment and parts were Western Electric.  This had been a repair facility for the railroad's extensive telephone system.  Hanging on the wall was a list of telephone numbers from Mount Union to Robertsdale and Wood.  Next to each station was a series of dots and dashes indicating what the ring signal was for that particular number.

 The room was filled with shelves full of parts that would never be needed in this digital age.  The light bulbs hanging from the ceiling looked like something out of Edison's workshop.  The walls were decorated with calendars from the 40's and 50's, including a few pin-up calendars from long ago.

One thing has always puzzled me about the electrical and air brake shop.  There is a series of small windows just belong the roof line, which  one might assume were to admit more light to the shops.  But Larry pointed out that the ceilings were far too low for these windows.  That suggested there might be an attic above the shops.  Sure enough, in a side room off the electrical shop we found a staircase leading to an attic.

Not wanting to disturb the spiders and wasps who lived upstairs, I decided to let the mystery remain for the time being. 

The activities at Orbisonia and Rock Hill Furnace ended Saturday night with a turkey dinner at the nearby Rockhill Trolley Museum.  Awards were presented to contest winners and FEBT members who have given extraordinary service to the organization were honored.  One of the awards given out was the "Rivet Counter" award for modeling those structures or cars that have been restored through the efforts of the FEBT.  I was pleased to have three of my models singled out: The blacksmith shop, the sandhouse and tower, and the paint shop.

On Sunday we were free to visit some of the museums and exhibits dealing with the railroad and coal mining.  I spent considerable time at the Coal Miner's Museum in Robertsdale.  Here is a photo of the coal cars that carried the coal to the surface and dumped them into waiting hopper cars at the tipple.

The museum was filled with photos and memorabilia of life on the Broad Top in the days when coal was king.  One could easily spend a whole day there learning about community life in the towns that drew their life from mining: Broad Top City, Dudley, Robertsdale, Woodvale, and the rest.  After exploring some of the past at the museum, I drove to Woodvale, which was the end of the line for the EBT.  The only traces of what was once a busy mining operation were some derelict buildings and eqjuipment around mine number 9.

I knew that strip mining continued on the Broad Top even after the railroad shut down, and some mining is still going on today.  I found a gravel road following where the tracks used to run, and after a brief drive encountered what appeared to be a heavy truck scale, suggesting that some mining was still active.

Continuing on up the mountain, I rounded a curve and encountered my first strip mine.  It wasn't all that big, but clearly someone was still making a profit from Broad Top coal.

Sadly, this is all that remains of what was once a lively railroad and mining operation.  Another, slightly larger strip mine was another half mine down the road, but at that point I turned back and headed home.  I did make a brief stop at the first surface mine to pick up a chunk of genuine Broad Top smokeless coal, not to burn but to occupy a place in the room where my East Broad Top Railroad still chugs up the mountain and returns filled with hoppers of coal for the homes and factories of America.