The East Broad Top shop complex located in Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania is a national treasure due to it’s encapsulation of not only the original structures and facilities used to run a railroad, but also for keeping intact the machinery, locomotives and rolling stock that supported the transportation system. Unfortunately, the railroad has not operated for almost 5 years and admission to the shop complex facilities has been limited in recent years. So when Matthew Malkiewicz contacted me a few weeks back and asked if I wanted to be included in a small group that would have access to the roundhouse for an hour or so for photography, I immediately said yes!
On the morning of the event, I wanted to get to the complex at sunrise to walk the grounds undisturbed and watch the light reveal its photographic opportunities. Driving through the snow covered hills of central Pennsylvania in the beautiful predawn light was inspiring and my anticipation grew the closer I got to Rockhill Furnace. I arrived at the complex parking lot just before sunrise and was immediately greeted by Matthew who had the same idea that I did in taking the environment in before the group showed up. After we exchanged 5 minutes of small talk, we mutually agreed to use the light to our advantage and get to our creative work.
I walked over to the roundhouse and absorbed the scene around me. The site was entirely still, covered in blue toned snow and ice from absorbing the sky color above and not a sound to be heard. The snow on the ground had obviously thawed and refroze a few times to create patches of solid ice as well as an ice crust over the snow. The snow gave evidence that no humans had explored the grounds in a while, which seemed so strange to me at first. The lack of recent human activity and serene stillness gave me the feeling that I was on sacred ground, and I felt apprehensive about disturbing the scene and silence in any way, even if it was through my footsteps.
To me, the EBT shop complex are hallowed grounds, a special and rare place where one can step back in time and see the artifacts of railroading and industry from the steam era. In the stillness of the early morning, the frozen and dormant site seemed like it was waiting to be awakened and brought back to life. With that thought, I made my first steps into the ice encrusted snow and broke the silence, knowing that the only thing I would take from here were photographs and memories.
Busy looking and making images, I didn’t notice the others guests gathering in the parking lot and before I knew it, the time had come to open the roundhouse for our event.
A roundhouse has a special place in railroad lore, and this one did not disappoint. The six 2-8-2 “Mikado” locomotives were neatly lined up in each stall with their boiler fronts facing the warmth that the windows let in. Silent for now, they reinforced the general atmosphere of a time frozen still. While the locomotives have been cold for a long time, they still have an animated presence and seem to be in hibernation awaiting the long winter to be over. Not wanting to disturb them, I treaded lightly as I made their portraits.
Before I knew it, our hour inside the roundhouse was up, but the management then surprised us with an offer to open up the machine and car shop buildings. I had a peak inside these facilities years ago during an official tour, but this was the first time that I could roam, really look at details and soak up the atmosphere inside these facilities. Even though some of the equipment has been brought back to life and is presently used for maintenance of the shops, much of the interior looked and felt like a time warp to 60 years ago when the complex was in it’s heyday.
Again, I was aware that I was stepping through history and careful not to disturb anything as I roamed.
While it’s nice to think that EBT has been frozen in time and completely unchanged since the railroad shut down in 1956, the truth is that a lot of effort is undertaken each year by The Friends of the EBT and the Kovalchick family to maintain the site in its present condition. It really is astonishing that 60 years after the road’s abandonment that the shop complex and railroad has survived decay, funding issues, potential arson or vandalism, and the elements to this day.
Hopefully, this long dormant winter will end for the East Broad Top and we can once again witness and experience steam railroading as it used to be. At least as a tourist railroad.