EBT: Steam Along the Aughwick

 

1. Tuscarora Morning 6. Climbing McMullins Summit
2. A Walk Through the Yards 7. Across the Deep Fill
3. At the Roundhouse 8. Colgate Grove
4. Coaling Up 9. Afternoon Run
5. Readying the Consist

 

Seven: Across the Deep Fill

 

Trees enclosed the right of way at the far end of the cut, blocking the view to either side of the train.  For a moment we traveled through a green tunnel of leaves, an island of cool in the hot August day. Then the trees fell away to disclose a new vista. Sloping down from the high shoulder of McMullins ridge, the land spread out into a wide alluvial basin. Cultivated bottomlands planted in summer corn lay evenly across the valley floor. A narrow country lane traversed the scene from right to left, heading down towards the river. The Aughwick itself wound through the fields, making loops and bends as it picked its way northward toward its confluence with the Juniata. Where the country lane met the river, it carried itself over to the far bank by what looked to be an intriguing and venerable old pin-connected truss bridge. Behind it all loomed the tree-clad slopes of Jacks Mountain, brooding in the west and framing the entire scene.

 

When the EBT's surveyors were plotting the railroad's course between Orbisonia and Mt. Union back in the 1870s, this broad valley had been their greatest obstacle. Hemmed in by McMullins Summit to the south and   Douglas Summit to the north, the surveyors couldn't locate a ground-level line across the dip that did not incur unacceptably steep grades on the ridges to either side. Their solution: throw a long and flimsy wooden trestle across the entire span of the valley.  By raising the railroad up 20' or so at its lowest point, the trestle slashed grades on the flanking hills to an acceptable 1.5%. However, it also created a maintenance headache. Eager to be rid of the fragile bridgework, the company dumped trainloads of iron slag from the Rockhill furnaces between the trestle rails. Carload by carload, the spill rose beneath the timbers until the elevated road rested on solid ground throughout its entire length. Reballasting over the decades has raised the line's profile a bit, but somewhere beneath the modern roadbed the timbers and stringers of the original trestle still slumber inside the long fill.

 


All this was ancient history to #14; she was content to have a solid road beneath her feet and a downgrade at her back.  We coasted gently over the long fill, looking down on the tassels of the corn and the ears bulging on the stalks.  At the nadir of the grade we rattled across the country lane on another of the railroad's simple girder bridges, and then shifted to the upgrade for the climb to Douglas Summit. Once again the Mikado had to work a bit to lift us over the ridge, and the staccato bark of the locomotive's exhaust reverberated across the valley.

 

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Backing through
the wye track at
Colgate Grove.

Though less high than McMullins, Douglas Summit presents a steeper face to the EBT's northbound trains. At the far side of the valley, the right-of-way swept off into a tight, left-hand S-curve to vault the ridge. The Mikado's polished side rods dancing in the sun made a merry sight as we rounded the curves. The reverse curve brought us to another cut, this one closely clad with trees. As at McMullins, the dense foliage on either hand created the illusion of traveling through a cool, green tunnel.

 

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Gliding to a stop
on the south leg
of the wye.
Then, suddenly, the brake rigging clanked into action as the engineer made a service reduction on the train. Slowing to a walking pace, we clattered through the points of a facing switch, one of two turnouts which formed the base of a wye track. When our last car—the elegant Orbisonia—had cleared the second turnout, the conductor threw the switch and guided us backwards into the wye.  After a long reverse move #14's pilot truck cleared the apex switch, and then it was forward again into the third leg of the wye. A final hiss of braking air brought us to a stand, and the engineer's single whistle-call signaled a complete stop. We had arrived at Colgate Grove, the end of the EBT's 5 miles of active line.

 


 

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All materials, images, text and presentation copyright 1999 Erik Gray Ledbetter.  See Terms of Use.