Stillness In The Roundhouse #14193

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The Story

Here’s the lineup of old narrow gauge steam engines in their roundhouse berths at Rockhill Furnace, PA. The East Broad Top Railroad actually has six of these Baldwin steam engines; the last is behind that closed overhead door. The self-powered M-1 combine occupies the rightmost door. Made from eight stitched images, this panorama was created while standing on the weathered wooden deck of the creaky manual turntable. As you can see, the entire scene is a little rough around the edges.

Once a railroading mainstay in the days of steam engines, roundhouses once were plentiful. Every berth was full while other locomotives waited outside for their turn with the mechanics. Naturally, nearly all railroads had these specialized round buildings for servicing their motive power. There was always a turntable situated in the middle with service tracks that fanned away from them into the engine stalls. Today, most roundhouses are gone and only a few remain, just like the steam locomotives they once serviced.

And that was one of the major drawbacks of steam engines: they took a lot of upkeep. Being maintenance intensive, they needed far more servicing and specialized railroad maintenance than the new diesel-powered locomotives. As a result, the handwriting was clearly on the wall for steam locomotives. They were phased out beginning in the late forties and by the late fifties, nearly all were out of work.

Visiting the East Broad Top Roundhouse

The old narrow gauge Baldwin locomotives parked here sit cold having had no fires in their bellies for a few years now. Consequently, there is no smell of burning coal nor smoke rising from the smokejacks showing above the roofline. Train enthusiasts and railfans everywhere hope to see these 100-year-old locomotives run again pulling tourist trains in the summer months of good weather.

I was part of a small group of photographers with special permission to shoot these engines and shops at the East Broad Top. If a tour is offered at all, it’s rare to get inside to see the inner workings of railroad maintenance done the old way. The roll-up doors were raised to let some light into the darkness, but first I wanted to get the full view from outside with the stalls full. I was glad to get an unusual panorama of this old roundhouse with all the steam engines in it, even if was of their backside tenders with the red numbers. It’s rare indeed that any roundhouse remains at all, let alone with a small fleet of steam engines still inside.

More about the EBT RR

I’ve photographed this little railroad several times throughout the years and the EBT gallery in the Railroads section of the website holds the pictures. To get an idea of what the place was like when it lived and breathed, see At The Switch #3604. Also, Rust And Dust #14221 is a pretty good steam engine portrait taken inside the roundhouse the same day this panorama was made.

Further, for everything going on with the EBT today, check out the preservation group Friends Of The East Broad Top.

Location: Rockhill Furnace and Orbisonia, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Panorama picture and text © Andrew Dierks

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