Basic Glossary

Here are a few definitions for those who may not be familiar with our terminology or abbreviations… or perhaps the vernacular of Central Pennsylvania.

  • “Ferns from Hell” — An area of ground completely covered by ferns. Unlike similar areas of mountain laurel or huckleberry, ferns completely obscure the ground, making it immensely difficult to follow grade, keep from tripping, and avoid sprained ankles.
  • Mountain Laurel — The official state nuisance of Pennsylvania. While mountain laurel may be pretty from a distance, and use an interesting pollen-dispersal mechanism in its blooms, trying to wade through miles of it is likely to make you long for a cold Yuengling on the deck of the (now-defunct) General Potter Inn.
  • Gauge (or gage) — Distance between the rails of a railroad. Logging railroads were typically narrow gauge (see below).
  • Grade — (1) A railroad route. (2) The steepness with which a railroad is climbing or descending.
  • Narrow gauge — Railroad built with rail spacing of less than the American standard gauge of 56 1/2 inches. Common narrow gauges in Pennsylvania forests were 36 inches and 42 inches (often called Pennsylvania Lumberman’s or just “bastard” gauge).
  • RoW — Right of Way, the path followed by a railroad. Most modern railroad right of way is a narrow strip of land legally in the possession of a railroad. Since our railroads mostly went through land owned by the lumber companies themselves, they may not have legally been right of ways, but it seems like a good term for the often vague routes we are sometimes following.
  • “Far Tar” — A tall structure, usually constructed of steel latticework, which allows observers to watch for forest fires. Although Pennsylvania was supposedly one of the first states to build these items, they are now largely unused. Many have been dismantled.
  • “Baw Diggle” — Our nation’s official bird, a large raptor with a white head. In Central Pennsylvania, vast regions of former logging lands lie within “Baw Diggle” State Forest and the “Baw Diggle” valley.

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