Narrow gauge combo car takes up residence at East Broad Top

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Stephen Lane is shown posing with his Tuscarora Valley combination baggage-coach car at Rockhill Furnace, Pa. The car is being stored there until it can find a more permanent home.
Lawrence Biemiller, Friends of the East Broad Top
ROCKHILL FURNACE, Pa. — While operations at the historic narrow-gauge East Broad Top Railroad in central Pennsylvania has been all but shut down since the suspension of public excursions in 2011, preservation efforts continue at the railroad through the efforts of the volunteer Friends of the East Broad Top. And now, through the courtesy of the railroad, the line is helping to preserve a relic of another Pennsylvania narrow-gauge line that formerly ran only a couple of valleys and miles away.

The body of a former Tuscarora Valley Railroad passenger-and-baggage combine was moved on Nov. 20 to temporary storage at the East Broad Top Railroad at Rockhill Furnace. This coach is the last remaining piece of rolling stock from the three-foot-gauge Tuscarora Valley Railroad, which ran from Port Royal to Blairs Mills in Juniata and Huntingdon counties in Pennsylvania, a distance of 27 miles, from 1891 to 1934. The southern terminus of Blairs Mill was only three miles short of an intended connection with the EBT's Shade Gap branch at Richvale, Pa.

The car, originally a full coach built in the 1880s by Billmeyer & Small of York, Pa., was purchased secondhand by the Tuscarora in 1895 and numbered 101. In 1916, as passenger and freight service was declining, the railroad decided to convert it to a combination coach. It served faithfully until the end of operations in 1934, when it was sold to a local who lived along the line, who removed the carbody from its trucks and installed it as a woodshed. It served as a shed on the farm in the village of Perulack, several miles north of Blairs Mills, until the 1990s when the current landowner, Bernie Rowels, donated the carbody to the Friends of the East Broad Top. The Friends were unsuccessful in moving the car off the land, and shortly after the Darrow family of nearby Honey Grove acquired the car from the organization. Darrow began light restoration work but passed away mid-project, and his son sold the coach at auction in September 2017. Stephen Lane, a 21-year-old senior at Juniata College and a part-time steam engineer at the Everett Railroad and Steam Into History operations, acquired the car body, and made arrangements to have the body trucked to the East Broad Top in Rockhill Furnace for temporary storage and possible restoration. The Darrow family graciously donated the shipment, loading, and unloading of the body. Since the East Broad Top is still being offered for sale, long-term storage arrangements could not be arranged.

"We hope to keep the car in the Rockhill area, and slowly restore it. Right now it is stored under the generosity of [the East Broad Top's owner] and restoration plans will have to be approved by him while at the EBT site," said Lane. "My group of interested friends and I are collecting materials and donations towards the coach restoration."

Among the donations are an offer of the use of a local sawmill to cut timber to size for restoration needs. Long-term goals include reproduction trucks, rebuilding the end sills and platforms, installing windows, and finding or replicating seats and other interior fittings.

The Friends of the East Broad Top also continue to work on restoration of several other pieces of similar EBT rolling stock, including combine No. 18 and baggage car No. 29, both repatriated to the EBT from Colorado in 2002, and combine No. 16 at the New Jersey Museum of Transportation's Pine Creek Railroad in Farmingdale, N.J. Two station structures of the Tuscarora survive, at the villages of Waterloo and East Waterford in Juniata County.

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