2024: Vince is off running railroads on another continent, and I am tired of battling ticks and underbrush to explore railroads. You’re far more likely to find me riding my (non-iron) horse in the woods of Pennsylvania, although we are always on the lookout for Lost Railroads!

LostRailroads.com started as the “3R Project” and has now (late 2010) been expanded and renamed to better reflect our investigations of historic railroads, especially logging railroads, in central Pennsylvania and other areas.

“3R” was the Rothrock Railroad Re-survey, an attempt to document historic logging railroads which once criss-crossed Pennsylvania. We are using a hand-held GPS receiver to track fairly accurate locations of visible roadbeds and overlaying the tracks on topographical maps. We have started our project in the Rothrock State Forest region of central Pennsylvania, near Penn State University. Eventually we hope to expand our survey to include other areas of Pennsylvania, and perhaps join forces with other people interested in doing the same wherever they may explore.

We have begun the project by concentrating on railroads of Kulp, Reichley, and Bebelheimer (or Beidleheimer, depending who you believe), in the central region of Rothrock State Forest. This network of lines emanated from a sawmill at Milroy and harvested timber from roughly 1895 to 1915. Due to geographic proximity, we are also including in our current search the operations of Whitmer-Steele’s Linden Hall Lumber Company, which operated from about 1895 to 1905 and had saw mills at Bear Meadows and Linden Hall, near State College. We have also looked at lines built out of Poe Mills by Adam Gotschall, which are in the Bald Eagle State Forest.

So what exactly is it we’re looking for? Well, these aren’t your typical abandoned railroad beds such as you might experience on a rails-to-trails corridor. These were very temporary affairs, intended only to last long enough to harvest the timber, after which the rails would be lifted and laid down elsewhere. Typical roadbeds left behind by the early woodsmen are characterized by hand-placed rocks, beginning with large ones at the base of the roadbed and working up to fist-sized rocks at the top. Perpendicular tie cribs at regular intervals are a sure sign you’ve located a railroad grade. These cribs are depressions in the rock roadbed where the cross ties were once nestled in but have long-since rotted away. Fills of several feet in height are not uncommon in rough terrain, especially when the loggers elected to switchback boldly up the side of a mountain, as was sometimes required.

In flat terrain, roadbeds may become very faint, especially when obscured by heavy vegetation. In other areas where stream beds offered the path of least resistance, the roadbeds may have been forever destroyed by floods. However, these areas can sometimes be quite interesting, as rotted remains of bridges may be found along with multiple alignments through the same area, indicating where the woodsmen rebuilt after their crude bridges were washed away. In still other cases, early state forest roads (often constructed by the CCC), have been built over the top of the old railroad grades. Anybody have ground-penetrating radar? [Vince has an obsession with “ground penetrating radar” – ed.] Observant explorers may find such artifacts as coal and clinkers left behind from the small steam locomotives stopping to take on water at stream crossings. The remains of a logging camp and the odd spike or scrap of iron rail also await the most persistent explorers.

A survey of historic logging (and other) railroads in central Pennsylvania and beyond.