Closing the Great Circle Route?


Back in the summer I spent some time seriously pondering what we know about what I call “The Great Circle Route”, the idea that picnic trains were run over a loop track from Milroy [Book 1, p. 135]. I’ve said before that I’m pretty skeptical of Kline’s map [Book 1, p. 132] showing a route past the forestry nursery on Rt 322, which would probably have to go up Decker Valley. I’ve never found a scrap of physical evidence to support the idea.

We’ve got survey of a route along Big Poe Creek, which logically should continue SW of Siglerville-Millheim Pike towards Synagogue Gap. I therefore scrutinized various maps, pondering the idea that the BPC route could have “crossed the hump” around Synagogue Gap Rd to get into Decker Valley and make a connection past the forestry camp. As we had concluded previously, it looked plausible but not trivial. I think at that point I decided to make a brief field examination. I recall a rather humid trip down Synagogue Gap Rd from Sand Mtn Rd to Decker Valley Rd. It’s steep, rocky, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of RoW. And (for about the third time) I looked at the start of Decker Path off Sand Mtn Rd, which looks so promising on the map. Only problem is, it doesn’t look so good in person. I wish we knew where the RoW along Big Poe Creek gets to as it nears Synagogue Gap, but our previous attempt to find it was fruitless…

A Theory Emerges

Frustrated, I returned again to perusing maps. Looking at a Maptech historic topo [Centre Hall 1929, cthl29se.jpg] raised an interesting possibility. What’s this dashed line continuing from Old Sand Mtn Rd [north of and parallel to present Sand Mtn Rd–see Bald Eagle State Forest map] along Lingle Stream…? It looks like a very easy route. Could that have connected BPC to previous RoW found on Stillhouse Hollow Rd? Field Trip!!

A new Circle Route theory emerges

This time I started on Stillhouse Hollow Rd. I crossed the stream from the crude parking area downstream from the scout camp lake and almost instantly made an interesting discovery… is this a CUT? Sure looks like it, and it suggests a branch off the clear route to the scout camp lake, one that would parallel Stillhouse Hollow Rd towards Lingle Valley Stream!

Crashing upstream through the brush didn’t yield much in the way of clear signs, but what the heck is that cut if not a cut? Approaching the neatly kept camp along SHR, I heard the sound of a tractor from the direction of Lingle Stream. Wary of No Trespassing signs, I decided to wait a while and see if the tractor came into view. After a bit, a pair of guys with a load of firewood appeared and beckoned me onto the property. I explained my interest in Lingle Stream to the father and son, who didn’t seem at all surprised and said they’d wondered if there hadn’t been railroad up through there. “Isn’t that piece of rail we found along the stream still out behind the shed?”

After retrieving my jaw from the ground, we dug around in the leaves and found a piece of genuine logging railroad rail, probably 30 pound size, slightly bent and broken on one end, drilled on the other end. They found it up Lingle Stream from their camp, near what they thought might be a (railroad) stream crossing. They also said that–although present maps don’t usually show it–there actually is road or trail the whole way along Lingle Stream to Sand Mtn Rd. And it’s fairly level and straight its whole way… With their permission, I headed up Lingle Stream for a look.

Regretfully, there aren’t a lot of clear signs along Lingle Stream. I kept getting that vague feeling that there might have been something there once, and I think I found their possible stream crossing. But flooding of the stream has obviously done a lot of damage to the area, and if the son is correct, the railroad might have been on a narrow ledge along the stream at first, and hence badly damaged. As I got further up the stream, I saw what they meant about the road. It’s a very plausible RoW, level and straight, but has been driven enough that any definitely sign is unlikely to be found. Also, I kept telling myself, this was crappy tram road, probably not well ballasted. It was bad enough that Reichley wanted to abandon it, but so how much sign is likely to survive? Eventually I gave up and decided to explore at the far end of Lingle Stream where it reaches Sand Mtn Rd.

More Tedious Background (aka We are almost there)

Heading NE on Sand Mtn Rd, I reached Faust Valley Tr and parked at its gate. I walked up over the hump towards Lingle Stream’s headwaters. Just on the far side of the hump, I noticed some plausible signs on my right… Nothing major, but definitely suspicious. A bit father on the trail becomes a fairly legitimate road, and despite crashing around in areas near the stream’s headwaters, I couldn’t find anything clear. Eventually the road peters out into an overgrown trail near a spring, and I turned back. Arriving back at the truck, I took a look at the driveway of the camp there (Faust Valley camp? not sure). I recalled that Vince had looked there one time in the distant past and ruled it nothing. But looking at it with newfound optimism it seemed at least as good as the portion over the hump from me. There’s a ledge there, and it ain’t natural. I began to think I was onto something! I wanted to look on the other side of Sand Mtn Rd, but the camp there was overrun with PSU football weekend types, so I decided to go elsewhere.

Going just a short distance NE on Sand Mtn Rd, I found a road to the north into a group camping area and parked there. I walked down to the vicinity of the actual camp site and found a trail into the woods to the north. Going just a short distance, maybe 150 feet, I found a slight roadway looking thing at the correct orientation. Following it a very short way to the NE I found gloriously clear tie depressions. Holy crap, I think I’ve closed the Great Circle Route! Wait ’til headquarters hears of this.

–to be continued in the actual survey post–