The East Broad Top Railroad & Coal Company, which connected with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Mt. Union, Pennsylvania, was originally built to serve coal mines in the Broad Top coal fields and coke-fired blast furnaces in Rockhill, Pennsylvania. The blast furnaces operated from 1876 through 1907. After they closed, the EBT continued to haul high quality semi-bituminous coal to Mt. Union, where it fueled brick kilns or was shipped to off line customers by the PRR. The EBT built several branches to serve iron ore and coal mines, as well as to tap gannister rock for refractory brick making. You can read about these in more detail by following the links below.
Click on the images for larger views
This page contains links to illustrated histories and touring guides on branchlines and industries served by the EBT. It also has links to photographic essays on EBT locomotives and equipment.
A number of innovations, ranging from modern rolling stock and motive power to value-adding processes to the coal during interchange, ensured the EBT's survival until it was the last narrow gauge operating east of the Mississippi. The EBT was unique among narrow gauge railroads for its heavy construction, steel rolling stock, and modern steam locomotives. But the post-WW II shift from coal to oil and natural gas as domestic fuel eliminated many markets for Broad Top coal, and the EBT ceased operations in April 1956.
The 32-mile mainline, with bridges, track, tunnels, and structures avoided the scrapper. From 1960 through 2011, the Kovalchick family, of Indiana, Pennsylvania, operated a fouir mile stretch north of Orbisonia Station as a tourist operation. Most of the rest of the line is intact but heavily overgrown and rapidly deteriorating. Until recently, most of the rolling stock was left to slowly rust away in the undergrowth covering the sprawling dual gauge yard at Mt. Union and on the storage tracks at the vintage Turn-of-the-Century shops complex in Rockhill, next to the Orbisonia Station, which, itself, dates from 1906. But the priceless shops complex, with belt-driven machine tools, 8-stall brick roundhouse and steel turntable has been preserved and the nonprofit FEBT has been undertaking restoration projects there since the late 1990s.
In the early 2000's a non-profit EBT Preservation Association purchased the line north of the Lower Aughwick bridge through the Mt. Union Yard and the standard gauge connection to Norfolk Southern. But little work has been accomplished toward preservation, and the operation seems to be moribund as of this time (2024).
In 2020, the EBT south of Aughwick Mills all the way to the end of the line south of Woodvale was purchased by the nonprofit EBT Foundation, and much money and restoration work has been done in conjunction with the volunteers of FEBT. EBTF returned 2-8-2 "Mikado" No. 16 to service in February 2023, and tourist operations returned with gusto on the 4-mile tourist line on heavily restored and upgraded roadbed and track. As of 2024, work on the long-neglected mainline south of Rockhill has extended approximately 1 mile south of the yard, and grade clearing in preparation for track restoration is continuing to the Upper Aughwick bridge at Pogue. At the south end, the track has been rehabilitated to support speeder, handcar, and rail pedal car rides to within 1/4 mile of Woodvale.
The photographer of this image is unknown to me. This picture of EBT Mikado No. 17 passing Orbisonia Station northbound is scanned from a 5x7 black and white photo that I bought in an antique shop recently. The photograph is interesting for several reasons.
First, it almost certainly dates to 1940, during a period for which there are relatively few clear images of the EBT in action. Note that the first three cars in No. 17's train are standard gauge covered hoppers. The presence of these cars in a narrow gauge EBT train places the photograph in the year of the Pennsylvania Turnpike's construction through the southern tier of the EBT's territory.
The EBT's Shade Gap Branch terminated in the village of Neelyton at the western foot of Tuscarora Mountain within a few miles of the Turnpike's Tuscarora Tunnel. Neelyton was a convenient railhead for bulky construction materials in this remote area.
Nearly 17,000 tons of cement in standard gauge covered hopper cars (placed on narrow gauge trucks at the EBT's dual gauge interchange yard with the PRR at Mt. Union, PA) passed over the branch. The cars in this train are probably empties being returned to Mt. Union, after having been spotted in the Rockhill Yard, in the near distance. The Shade Gap branch diverged from the EBT, mainline just north of Orbisonia Station; its track passes from right to left in the foreground of this picture.
... about the EBT's steam engines and other equipment, about the EBT's sister iron & coal company, or explore the branch lines of the railroad through the links in the Table of Contents.
Electronic graphics technologies allow me to highlight certain details that might be of interest to historians, in general, and modelers, in particular. Note the billboard sign on the trackside roof. Photos commonly published and used by modelers show only the railroad's name and "GENERAL OFFICES." However, at the time this picture was made, the EBT's highway bus company, East Broad Top Transit Co., was still a going concern. Therefore, that company's name was inserted below "East Broad Top Railroad."
... even though No. 17's rather clean appearance isuggests it was recently shopped, This is an indication that Depression-era paint schemes on the EBT were bare-bones.
Finally, here is a close up of the engineer. This is the best resolution I could generate with the technology available to me. Does anyone recognize him?
The East Broad Top operated four branch lines under lease (and eventual ownership) as traffic feeders of varying importance. You can download illustrated historical essays, which include maps and photographs, by cloning on the links below: