Mount Union switch

The East Broad Top Railroad:
Mount Union Yards

My friend Travis and I made our first visit to Mount Union late on an October afternoon, after watching the engine crew at Orbisonia drop the season's last fire out of No. 15's firebox. I hadn't gotten directions, so we were pretty much going by instinct -- looking for the EBT's telltale dual-gauge track and figuring we were sure to find what we were looking for. A railroad yard is a hard thing to hide, after all.

Or so we thought. Turns out that a 40-plus-year growth of trees and vines can hide even long strings of hopper cars. We found the route of the EBT's interchange with the Pennsy easily enough -- a retaining wall that's still there appears in plenty of old photos. But from the interchange track we drove all the way to the far side of the Juniata River and back without finding narrow-gauge track. Finally -- on our second trip down a road that ran alongside heavy undergrowth -- we spotted dark shapes in the trees. These turned out to be standard-gauge World War II boxcars on which we could barely distinguish the name of the Army railroad administration. I pulled over and parked the Jeep, and as soon as I opened the door I realized I had parked beside what was left of a dual-gauge grade crossing.

In the gathering gloom we climbed between the boxcars and found long rows of rusting EBT coal hoppers that had not moved since 1956. Trees grew up among them -- between the rails, between cars, in some cases even between the rungs of the ladders on the car ends. Not only was the yard spooky in the last light of the evening -- deserted, forgotten, gloomy -- but we knew we were trespassing, and we had no idea who else might be trespassing, or why. The better part of valor, it seemed, would be to come back the next morning.

So we did. The coal-washing plant and the famous timber-transfer crane have been demolished, but the general outlines of the yard were easy enough to make out. The enginehouse sits behind a hedge at the back of a drive-through bank; by peering through a crack in the boards that cover the enginehouse windows, we could just make out the sloping tender of No. 3, the road's surviving standard-gauge switcher. We marveled at dual-gauge switches and at what might easily be a hundred hoppers -- and wondered why the trees and undergrowth had been so neatly cleared from several tracks, including one that leads to the empty stall in the enginehouse. Later, in Orbisonia, we were told there is talk of switching cars over the EBT for a trackside Mount Union industry.

Incidentally, as we made our way south out of Mount Union we saw a brand-spanking new dual-gauge grade crossing that had just been installed where the EBT mainline meets the new Route 522 bypass. It was enough to spark hope for the almost-unimaginable -- that a yard that has not seen a working steam engine in our lifetimes might yet hear the echo of No. 3's whistle off the distant hillsides of the Juniata valley.

(January, 1999)

Trees have grown up everywhere. One grew through this lonely
truck, but has since been cleared, mysteriously, along with several tracks.

String of hoppers

Overturned cars

Switch at MU

The enginehouse, at the north end of the yard, shelters No. 3
in the right-hand stall, but the track to the left has been cleared...