The East Broad Top Railroad was built to transport semi-bituminous coal from Broad Top Mountain in southern Huntingdon County to a junction with the Pennsylvania Railroad in Mount Union. What people may not know is that coal was not the only major source of revenue for the EBT. Coal from the Broad Top was used by three enormous refractories, or brickyards, that for much of the first half of the twentieth century were the largest producers of silica brick in the world. These brickyards depended on a reliable supply of two essential resources: coal and a highly pure form of quartzite, known locally as "ganister rock". Ganister was used to make specialized bricks for use in high temperature blast furnaces and coke ovens.
The brickyards were located in Mount Union for a reason. Quartzite for refractory bricks has to be at least 98% silica. Rock of this purity is only found in a few places in the U.S. There are small deposits in Alabama and Wisconsin. Huge deposits are found in Huntingdon and Blair Counties, especially in the territory served by the EBT. Pennsylvania accounted for three-quarters of all silica brick produced in the U.S., and a large part of that was produced in Mount Union using fuel and raw materials carried on the EBT.
Ganister rock forms a layer 400-500 feet thick on Jacks, Blacklog, Shade, and Tuscarora Mountains along the main line and branches of the EBT. Because ganister is so hard, over millions of years the rocks around it weathered away revealing exposed areas of quartzite that eventually collapsed, leaving large stretches of broken rock known as flow rock. These flow beds were as much as 35 feet thick and covered the mountain side. Some of these deposits extended for miles. The railroad was an essential part of the supply chain that quarried these ganister deposits and transported them to the Mount Union refractories.
The NARCO Spur and Tipple
Some of the largest deposits of ganister were found on Jack's Mountain. Harbison-Walker -- the largest of the three refractories -- developed quarries on both sides of the Juniata River served by a network of inclines, tracks and conveyors. The other two brickyards -- General Refractories (GREFCO) and North American Refractories (NARCO) -- used the railroad to transport ganister from other areas around Mount Union. In 1911 the predecessor of NARCO developed a quarry on the side of Jack's Mountain about four miles north of Three Springs at Old Woman's Gap.
The original tipple -- shown here -- was a timber structure located directly over the track. Note that the hopper cars are small wooden hoppers rated between 9 and 12 tons.
In 1942 the wooden tipple was replaced by a steel structure. The EBT laid a spur up the mountain to the new tipple. The NARCO spur was a steep 2 1/2 mile grade. Crews shoved empty hoppers up the branch with the locomotive on the downhill end to protect against runaway cars. At the tipple there was a double ended siding. Cars were spotted above the uphill switch and moved under the tipple by gravity as needed. Here is a photo of the tipple in operation. Note the boards next to the car being loaded to prevent rock from bouncing out of the car.
Here is a photo of the tipple from the rear showing the conveyor that extended back to the quarry and rock crusher. The structures on the top of the tipple may be supports for the conveyor machinery.
This spur continued to generate traffic right up to the last EBT freight in April 1956. As soon as the railroad shut down, NARCO removed the tracks and converted the tipple to serve trucks. The quarry continued to provide ganister into the 1960s. Recently I came across a series of color photos documenting the tipple's demolition. A front loader was connected to the tipple and pulled it over.
As the tipple begins to collapse a cloud of ganister dust emerges from the structure.
The rusty hulk of the tipple lies on its side waiting for the cutting torch. A witness to its demise stands next to it. Note the concrete footer in front of the man. This photo provided a wealth of information about the details of the tipple's construction. It was extremely useful in determining the dimensions of the prototype in order to construct the model, which I will detail in my next post.