The East Broad Top Rides Again

(Photo Credit by WJAC News Station of Johnstown)

(Photo Credit by WJAC News Station of Johnstown)

On April 6th, 1956, the East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Company ran its last train as operations ceased the very next day. In the following month, the railroad was sold to the Kovalchick Salvage Co. of Indiana in Pennsylvania but was never destroyed besides a few branch lines. In August of 1960, the railroad was reopened as a permanent tourist attraction and ran under the stewardship of the Kovalchick Family. On April 1, 2012, trouble hit when the railroad ran into financial troubles. The railroad was subsequently shut down and put up for sale.

Many people had no idea of when the railroad would ever come back to life. The Friends of the East Broad Top was formed in 1983 to keep the railroad from falling into massive decay. They were allowed to continue their restoration work at Orbisonia, where the railroad is located, which started in 2002 after the shutdown in 2012. Besides a few tours and a photo opportunity in November of 2019, nothing much has happened.

(Photo Credit Belongs to Lawrence Biemiller)

However, on February 13th, 2020, the East Broad Top Facebook page showed pictures and video of Engine #12 (also known as Millie) being taken off the roundhouse where the engines were stored looked very smartened up for an event that would be about the future of the railroad for the next day; Friday, February 14. The day had arrived for Mille, the private car Orbisonia, and Caboose #28.

The announcement was made at 11:00 a.m. that day; the railroad had been sold to a preservation foundation, known as the EBT Foundation, led by figures in the railway industry and railway preservation circle. 

According to the East Broad Top Website, The East Broad Top is a narrow-gauge railroad that was built between 1872 and 1874. Its purpose was to bring coal up from the mountainous regions of South-Central Pennsylvania to be used in iron making in Rockhill Furnace and Fire Brick Manufacturing. This is where they exchanged goods and passengers with the Pennsylvania Railroad. After iron making ceased in 1908, it still hauled coal, ganister rock, and other goods and passengers to the Pennsy Connection up North.

According to The Sentinel, The railroad’s roundhouse at Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania is home to six narrow-gauge steam locomotives built for the EBT by Philadelphia’s Baldwin Locomotive Works between 1911 and 1920.

Wick Moorman addresses the crowd gathered on Feb. 14. Joseph Kovalchick, whose family has been longtime owner of the line, is seated in the black overcoat.
(Photo Credit by Rich Roberts)

They shared the building with the unique M-1 gas-electric, constructed at the railroad in 1927 with parts from Philadelphia’s J.G. Brill Company, a leading streetcar manufacturer, and Westinghouse Electric. Other EBT equipment includes several passenger cars believed to date to the 1890s and numerous steel freight cars built in the EBT shops. The East Broad Top was the only American narrow gauge to convert to an all-steel freight car fleet.

In the Great Depression and after World War II, the railroad began to decline in coal traffic as oil began to get cheaper for powering homes and businesses. On April 6th, 1956 the railroad ran its last freight train with Locomotive #17 being the head-end power. On May 1st, 1956, the railroad was sold to the Kovalchick Salvage Co. of Indiana, Pennsylvania. For some, this may have been the end. But for the railroad, it was the beginning of a new life; found on Trains Magazine. 

“When my father bought the company, it was never his intention to scrap the railroad,” Joseph Kovalchick said. “At the time he was the only one to stand for the EBT, and his role in the history books is assured; this was found on The Sentinel News. 

Henry Posner III, left, discusses a matter with Bennett Levin. (Photo Credit by Rich Roberts)

According to Sentinel News, the reason why Nick Kovalchick kept the railroad intact was he always wanted toy trains as a child, he didn’t have any when he was growing up. He longed for toy trains and seeing the railroad was up for sale, he saw an opportunity to have one at last. In August of 1960, he reopened it as a permanent tourist attraction and it ran for 52 seasons until Spring of 2012 when financial trouble and it was put up for sale. The EBT Foundation was formed to buy the railroad in the name of preservation with the sale being completed on Saturday, February 8th, 2020.

The Foundation has advisors and consultants to aid them in their mission. Such as Linn Moedinger, former president of the Strasburg Railroad, and Rod Case, a partner at the consulting firm Oliver Wyman who leads their railway practice. 

According to Pennlive news, The EBT Foundation expects operations to begin in 2021 and even have a new website.