By M.T. Burkhart
ORBISONIA, Pa. – The legendary East Broad Top has come roaring back to life and those who purchased advanced tickets will have the chance to see the progress first hand over the next few days.
As part of the 60th anniversary of the narrow gauge railroad first opening for tourist service, timed ticket holders on Aug. 13-15 will be able to take a short diesel-powered ride, visit the neighboring trolley museum and tour the roundhouse and machine shop. But with the number of people limited due to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, those without tickets will not be allowed on railroad property – and all tickets are sold out.
The first tourist trains ran on Aug. 13, 1960, in conjunction with that year’s Orbisonia-Rockhill Furnace homecoming and Orbisonia’s bicentennial festivities, according to the railroad. Since the announcement in February that the East Broad Top had been purchased by a non-profit foundation, a lot of work has been done – track has been rebuilt and ballasted, buildings stabilized and painted and steam locomotives inspected.
Pennsylvania’s coronavirus cases have been on the slow decline recently and Huntingdon County has seen a total of only 299 confirmed cases as of earlier this week, according to state data. Ticket holders to this weekend’s festivities will have their temperature checked by the local EMT squad and receive a face mask that must be worn. The railroad also asks potential visitors who do not feel well to stay home – this is just the first of many opportunities to see the reincarnated EBT.
“The EBT Foundation hopes to offer limited roundhouse and machine-shop tours this coming fall, while we continue overhauling two steam locomotives and rebuilding our track, both in the yard and on the main line to Colgate Grove,” the railroad said. “We hope to begin offering regular train service in 2021.”
In addition to the railroad activities, Orbisonia-Rockhill has numerous activities planned, including concerts, parades, a car show and food vendors. On Thursday at 1 p.m. the railroad will livestream its opening ceremonies on social media.
The 33-mile East Broad Top was built in the 1870s to bring coal out of the central Pennsylvania mines, but also carried general freight, mail and passengers. Demand for coal kept the railroad running until 1955, but it fell on hard times and filed for abandonment. In 1956, the assets of the East Brad Top Railroad & Coal Co. were purchased by Nick Kovalchick, a local salvage dealer. In 1960, the twin boroughs of Orbisonia and Rockhill Furnace approached Kovalchick about putting a locomotive on display for the towns’ bicentennial. Successful trips were run and continued for 52 years before the property returned to slumber in 2011.