ROCKHILL FURNACE, Pa. – “The newest passenger car in the United States.”
That’s how Brad Esposito, general manager of the East Broad Top Railroad, described the rolling stock that arrived Tuesday, July 19 at the narrow gauge tourist line and National Historic Landmark. It is the railroad’s first new passenger car in more than a century.
After the shiny, dark green car made a weeklong cross-continental journey with a low-boy truck from Hamilton Manufacturing in Bellingham, Washington, cranes carefully put it on new trucks that run on modern Timken roller bearings.
Although the car is made of modern materials, it resembles EBT’s circa 1890 rolling stock used in the first half of the 20th century. Hamilton has built dozens of similar narrow gauge carriages for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in Alaska.
The 53-meter car – the first of four – will bring much-needed indoor capacity to EBT. Since its revival in 2020, EBT has relied on a collection of open-air cars, converted in the 1960s from boxcars and flat cars, and two wooden cabins. Moderately used are two other pieces, a 1907 Billmeyer & Small office car, No. 20, and a 1926 Brill gas-electric car, designated M-1.
In addition, EBT’s selection includes three 19th-century wooden bodies, but they are worn and in various stages of restoration.
The new cars will allow EBT to reduce wear and tear on the historic fleet when it returns to service, said Wick Moorman, president of the nonprofit EBT Foundation, Inc., and retired chief of Norfolk Southern and Amtrak. In a statement, he said: “They will allow us to recreate the experience of a journey on the EBT in years gone by, while preserving the original equipment for special occasions that will extend their lives.”
The new car is one meter longer than all existing EBT coaches and three centimeters higher, and can accommodate 52 passengers. It will soon be joined by two additional coaches and a 40-seat combine equipped with twin electric lifts, one on each side, and capacity for four wheelchairs.
With a steel chassis and superstructure, the car features PVC-like composite sides that give the impression of tongue-and-groove wood siding. Inside, natural wood panelling, with wooden frames, complete the vintage look. The car is equipped with electric lighting, an audio system, a modern toilet and a Baker heater and plinth ducts for use in cold weather. The trucks are manufactured by Hamilton, but the wheelsets are supplied by Olympic Railway Supply in nearby Tipton, Pa.
The Hamilton carriages are modeled after, but do not exactly mimic, EBT carriages No. 14 and 15, which the line purchased second-hand from the Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn Railroad in 1916. The other existing EBT carriage is No. 8, also purchased the same year from BRB&L.
Esposito says the railroads relied on the expertise of DuPont de Nemours, Inc. (now DowDuPont) to closely match the paint color to that of EBT’s existing passenger rolling stock. The brand selected is Imron, a durable industrial grade used in many railroad restoration projects. Lettering — likely in a golden-yellow shade — will be hand applied over the next few weeks, Esposito says. Orange letters at Nos. 8, 14 and 15 are believed to have been strictly a tourist-era application, he adds.
While the converted open wagons continued to operate steadily, the railroad company has been eagerly awaiting the new fleet, said Jonathan Smith, the foundation’s director of sales and marketing. “This is the product people expect when they come for a train journey,” he says. “We’re moving the bar a little bit.”
The first car – number 21 – is expected to go into service next week after testing and burglary. Esposito consulted with veteran EBT historian and author Lee Rainey to determine an appropriate series for the new cars. The carriages will be numbers 21-23 and the combination 17.
After the car was lowered onto its trucks, foundation personnel added the finishing touches, installing brake mounts, brake hoses, truss rods and new Sharon-style three-quarter knuckle couplings.
While this was going on, Joe Kovalchick, former railroad owner and current board member of the foundation, stopped by to magnify the scene. Asked about his reaction to seeing a new car on a 150-year-old railroad, he said, “I’m stunned by the whole damn thing, the whole rebirth. There’s no going back now. This has been a godsend to let this whole thing unravel the way it happened.”
EBT is on a resurgence after being shut down from 2011 to 2020, when the foundation was formed to buy from the Kovalchick family 27 miles of the 33-mile former coal hauler. Also part of the deal were six Baldwin 2-8-2 Mikado steam locomotives, freight and passenger cars, historic stores, an eight-stall roundhouse, a station, and a general office. It was Kovalchick’s father, Nick, a scrap dealer from Indiana, Pennsylvania, who bought the line and saved it from scrapping in 1956 after the end of its common-carrier days.
The father reopened the railroad in 1960 as a seasonal tourist drag line 4-1/2 miles from the original 53-mile main line, starting with engines Nos. 12 (1911) and 15 (1914). Over the following years, EBT also restored Nos. 14 (1912) and 17 (1918) to working order. The foundation has stated its intention to eventually restore all six engines, starting with No. 16 (1916), which is nearing completion. [See “Work on East Broad Top 2-8-2 …,” Trains News Wire, May 31, 2022]
Further on the horizon is the restoration and reopening of parts of the main line that have remained untouched since its closure in 1956 [see “East Broad Top begins restoring main line south,” News Wire, June 3, 2022].
The foundation revived its limited public service for diesel transportation in 2021 and is open this season with an extensive program five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday.
Later this year, EBT will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the start of construction in 1872. For more information about the Oost Brede Top Foundation and the voluntary Friends of the Brede Top Oost, see www.eastbroadtop.com and www.febt.org.