Category Archives: Logging Railroad Surveys

Tales of exploring logging railroads of central Pennsylvania.

Up Above Rocky Run (map coming)

Location 1: Havice Valley, Mifflin county, about 40.79714,-77.46911

With a perfect day weather-wise, I decided to borrow a friend’s metal detector and investigate a couple suspicious spots along Havice Valley Road in Price Gap. One dated from about a year ago, another from just last week. Both were close by Havice Spring, shown on most topo maps. On the east side of Havice Valley Rd in Price Gap, there is a ledge that looks a lot like RoW, and which curves to the south and east around the corner of the mountain.

On the west side of HVR, there is another ledge, built of substantial rocks at the bottom near the stream, which climbs steadily up the mountain to the south and west of the gap.

Despite the promising appearances, the metal detector seemed to deny there was railroading involved. I found metallic junk, but no “good iron”. I regretfully have to place these two leads on the Unlikely list.

Location 2: Flat Hollow between Pitch Pine Ridge and White Mountain , Mifflin county, about 40.79458,-77.44542

Refusing to be discouraged, I continued east on HVR to the junction with Little Poe and Strong Mountain roads and took SMR to the south. This is a fairly rough road (a “drivable trail” in DCNR parlance) and requires good ground clearance, if not 4wd. It provides an impressive view of Price Kettle and taste of the north end of Kish Valley.

I reached the flat just short of Flat Hollow Rd and parked near the vernal ponds on either side of the road. Based on Kline’s info and our earlier survey, it seemed Duncan’s railroad should have reached this point. I first crashed around in Mtn Laurel near the junction with FHR and found nothing except Mtn Laurel. I then followed my original plan, heading ENE on the trail that crosses SMR at the ponds (40.79509,-77.44543).

My original goal was the point about 1/2 mile E where the trail diverges 90 degrees.  It seemed logical to look beyond the bend. However about 1/4 mile out I noticed fairly clear rocky areas to my right and decided to have a lookabout. I didn’t immediately notice any good grade, but I did see a very large pine tree. Following my theory about large pine trees, I examined its base and poked about with the metal detector to see if it was on the RoW. It wasn’t. A short distance away, however, the detector sounded a fairly loud alarm. I quickly dug up a broken four-bolt joint bar. Hum. I don’t think this is a natural formation!

I soon turned up a track bolt which allowed me to get the bearing of the RoW, which I surveyed a distance to the east before the brush became too thick.

So this raises an interesting question:

Why a second joint bar on what Kline says was a wood-railed gravity tramroad?

Returning to the big pine tree, I surveyed a distance to the west until I reached a pine thicket which exceeded my determination. I suspended the track and cut back over to open trail. Naturally I was right on a branch of it that I had previously explored; that always seems to happen!

On the way back to SMR I tried to check a spot or two on the RoW, but the swampiness and thickets atop the flat are pretty discouraging. I decided to try the west side of SMR.

West of Strong Mountain Road

I walked west on Flat Hollow Rd, trying to avoid Mtn Laurel. I first checked on the south side of the road due to something I’d seen on aerial views and found nothing.

I then tried the north side of the road where it seemed RoW should be. In a fairly rocky area, I found a very large pine tree. Examining its base with the detector, I found exactly nothing. Not far away, the detector alerted me to metal (are you having deja vu yet?) and I pulled out an encrusted spike. Squinting, I figured I sort of had the bearing of the RoW and began to record a track.

After a while the track entered a thicket and swampy area and became vague. I expected to find some timbers in the dampness, but no luck. Crossing the associated small stream, I couldn’t pick up the RoW again. Using the detector, I located a signal and pulled out an interesting fragment of a chain link. Knocking off the thick corrosion, its fibrous nature is very obvious… the link was clearly hammered from wrought iron by some long deceased blacksmith. I decided that was enough excitement for one day and began a long slog back to the truck through very thick Mtn Laurel.


I decided to exit via Flat Hollow Rd, which was a good choice. Approaching McNitt Gap, the valley narrows considerably, limiting where the RoW could be. I stopped for a quick check (about 40.78785,-77.46058) and saw probable RoW plunging to the stream just alongside the road. The detector showed something substantial there, but my limited energy didn’t allow me to determine exactly what it was. Suffice to say it seems very likely that Duncan came all the way to McNitt Gap, if not actually into the gap, which agrees with Kline’s map from Book #2 page 217.

The Impossible Rocky Run (maps)

Location: Mifflin county near Poe Mills on Penn’s Creek (approximately: 40.82255,-77.40535)

Ben Kline’s books say that John Duncan logged both Swift Run and Rocky Run in the very early days of steam powered logging railroads, perhaps 1889 to 1899, well before he began his extensive operations at White Deer, PA. While traces of right of way do seem evident along Swift Run Road (aka Paddy Mountain Rd, aka Havice Valley Road),  Rocky Run has always seemed impossibly steep and, er, rocky for a logging railroad.

Last week a group of us were out exploring in the general area and got to puzzling over Rocky Run on our way back out of the woods. Was it really ever accessed, or was Kline wrong? First, we examined the south side of SRR to the west of Rocky Run. Was there any way a route might have switchbacked off of Swift Run and wrapped around the end of Pitchpine Ridge to get higher up Rocky Run? The short answer: No.

We then decided to take another look at Rocky Run itself. We stopped at Point Lookout Camp and piled out. We gazed upon the small stream heading steeply uphill. We gazed at the big and jumbled rocks. We gazed at the slope. We muttered discouraged words and got back in the car!

Heading N/NE back towards Poe Mills, we studied the surrounding terrain, pondering how else Duncan’s men might have bypassed the lower portion of Rocky Run. We shortly realized that there are other gaps leading off Swift Run in the general direction of White Mountain and Rocky Run. One dead ends into White Mountain Kettle and thus seems a poor bet; a kettle is usually pretty snugly contained. The next gap to the south contains White Mountain Ridge Trail, which sounds much too developed. Probably a donut shop up there.  But the gap to the SSW… hmmm.

We therefore parked along the road and attempted to cross Swift Run, made difficult by the fact that it’s fairly swift, not to mention wet and cold and wide. Spotting a small collection of hardware on display along the stream inspired us however, and we found a crossing and began exploring up the gap.

A collection from previous hunters

Only a few steps beyond the camp, I spotted some curious terrain that looked like it just could be grade. I decided it was worth proceeding, as the others fanned out in various directions. A short distance upstream I glanced up at a lengthy and well weathered timber running along my path and let out a whoop–two spikes were sticking out of it!

Solid evidence

I gathered several others and we explored upstream. It seemed pretty likely there was track some distance, but due to the late hour and failing light, we decided to return another time.

The Second Visit, Leading to Other Surprises

On January 2 the weather was blustery but reasonable, so I called upon a team member to see if he was up to knocking out a survey of the new route.  “Bring the metal detector!”, I urged.

Arriving at the unnamed stream, we started sweeping with the metal detector and quickly started pulling iron from the ground. Our first find was an interesting piece that looks like a hook off the end of a chain, perhaps part of a log car or even a horse’s trace chain. Typical early spikes (long and thin) were everywhere. We proceeded upgrade, confirming the route by finding traces of iron all over the place, including several places in the long timber mentioned above.

Chain link
Timber 1 (detail shown above)

Eventually we reached a rather forbidding wall of earth where we had stopped on the earlier trip. It seemed impossible that they could have crossed it. Doing an “oh what the heck…” we climbed beyond it, only to find iron again immediately beyond. Turns out an earth slide in the intervening 120 years thoroughly buried the route, but it continues quite nicely! This is shown as ‘Earth Slide’ on the map.

A typical stretch

Finally a rock pile did bring us to an abrupt halt. Above it was a strip of iron several feet long, with a chamfered end and regular screw holes; possibly a runner off a logging sled? It didn’t seem heavy enough or hammered enough to be strap iron for rail.

We continued a short distance uphill, theorizing that this region was perhaps used to skid logs to cars waiting just below. A nice signal from the detector set us to digging only to find… a horseshoe, complete with nails. Hmmm… Perhaps this region was used to skid logs to cars waiting just below!

About a #4 with heel calks

Concluding that anything beyond really falls to, we headed back downhill, starting a GPS track at the upper reaches of what could have been track. The total survey was a hair under 1/2 mile, descending from 1515 feet at the horseshoe to about 1060 at the camp, giving an average 17% grade! Seriously.

But it Gets Better!

Returning to the car, we fortified ourselves with homemade apple pie and headed for Point Lookout Camp. One of those moments of:  I know it’s impossible, I just want to see if it’s possible. With the GPS loaded with a track visible on aerial views, we started up a trail behind the camp. We know they didn’t go exactly this way, we gasped as we ascended the steep slope. After a bit it leveled off and we skirted the west face of a bulge of White Mountain.

Eventually it seemed we were coming into a leg of a hollow branching off Rocky Run. With some bare rock to the south, it seemed like a good place to do a transit of the hollow. Shortly after crossing a dry streambed, I glanced up and gave a start. What is this? My companion quickly came up and joined me in exploring a rock feature that was definitely constructed intentionally. We soon determined it couldn’t really be right of way. But it sure could be a large rock slide, in fact a funnel where several slides joined, thus I proclaimed it: Funnel.

Crashing about in the brush, we tried to determine where the logs went next after they were Funneled. It didn’t take long to realize a substantial trench extended north west. Perhaps they skidded the logs along here using horse power. The trench extended. And extended. After about 250 yards, we entered an area where rocks tumbled steeply down away from us to Rocky Run. The trench stayed to a gentle slope along the hillside. A good buzz from the detector set us digging only to turn up… a horseshoe! One could almost believe they skidded logs along here using horse power.

About a #2

Finally the trench took a steeper dive down the hillside, and the metal detective hollered that we seemed to have a loading point. Perhaps if we looked below it we would find…  iron? Of course, piles of it! But here we are, on the upper reaches of Rocky Run, where it is plainly impossible to be, yet we have iron. *sigh*

No, really!

We made the decision to head upstream for a fixed time due to fading light, then survey downstream with the GPS, attempting to record the route out of The Impossible Rocky Run. Turning upstream, we looked in disbelief at where we were going. Is this possible?

No, seriously...

Scouting ahead with the metal detector showed iron. We continued upstream, marveling at the rugged terrain and the tumbling stream that they somehow surmounted. The iron continued, and eventually we started finding scattered timbers containing traces of spikes.

Timber 2

After a bit it seemed we were through the worst of the gorge and it was obvious the sun was at the horizon. We decided we better head downstream, so we activated the GPS and retraced our steps. [Later study shows we were approximately 1200 feet downstream of Bear Gap Trail when we stopped]

With the detector to affirm our recollections, we returned to our starting point and continued beyond. Shortly after, the ground began to plummet and it seemed unimaginable to continue!

Looking back upstream

Yet the route is there, clinging to the south the east walls of the gorge. At one spot, we spotted a crude but unmistakable fill constructed of large rocks.

Rocky Run fill

Right along here we encountered a fragment of splice bar, which suggests they had T rail here.

Splice bar

There is so little shelf along here that we figured they must have been substantially “cribbing up” one rail above the hillside. Sure enough, we eventually spotted flat rocks stacked together which must have supported the outside rail. It would take a braver engineer than me to run much along this stretch of track!

Rock pile

Eventually we came into the northerly stretch of the stream and it became apparent that we were headed directly for Point Lookout Camp. What had seemed an impossible grade from below was just another day at the office for Mr Duncan’s gents. From this angle it was possible to see a ledge through the Mountain Laurel leading right out to the empty concrete pond in from of the camp. Examining beyond, we could even find the route on the other side of the present day road. Where the road obviously cuts through a bank just adjacent to Pt Lookout Camp, the grade hugs the hillside closer to Swift Run. Following it along the road, it is rather obvious (now) where the switch for this line diverged from the main near the road bridge over Swift Run. Doh!

This track also ended up about 1/2 mile, descending from 1468 to 1255. That gives an 8% average grade, surprisingly “modest” compared to the other hollow.

Conclusions… and Questions

Looking back at the Kline books, it seems obvious and logical that much of Duncan’s operations out here were wildcat, i.e. gravity runs of log cars down the hills. How far up these grades they went with the empty cars pulled by the locomotive (an early Climax class A) is debatable; I have a hunch they went to the mouth of these particular gaps and not much beyond, leaving the poor draft horses to lug the empties up these grades into the woods and skid logs to them.

Although most of the spikes we found were long and narrow, we did find a T-rail style splice bar and some short and stubby spikes that suggest iron T rail. Also, the timbers we found with spikes in them are curious:  the spikes occur in groups of two. That’s a style we’ve typically seen where we think they had iron rail spiked atop longitudinal logs. A wildcat road from 1889 would seemingly be using entirely wood (4×4 or 6×6) rails, or maybe wood with strap iron on top, but we can’t see how the hardware we found fits with that.

We did learn one big lesson today:  Don’t doubt the determination of these people, even in the earliest days of operation. And second:  For best results, carry a metal detector!

Here are maps showing what we found:

Overview including Bear Gap Trail
Closer view of tracks only

Little Shingletown branch followed to end (map)

Location: Little Shingletown Rd, Huntingdon county (about 40.7356, -77.8146)

With a few hours to kill, we decided to brave the blustery weather and try to wrap up our survey along Little Shingletown Rd from 2008/04/06.

With the help of the GPS, we returned to our previous stopping point and resumed surveying. The route was pretty clear although sometimes disrupted by a water crossing. We found good tie depressions in many areas. Although the ground got steeper and steeper, the builders did not give up for an impressively long time. It actually seems they surmounted one of the steepest areas, although approaching the saddle at the top of the valley it probably gets way steeper.

Near the end, the RoW encounters what appears to be a skid road at right angles. Shortly thereafter, the RoW seems to wind down and devolve into a couple of diverging log slides. One goes off to the east on relatively level ground, and one climbs steeply up the face of the ridge to the north. That seems to have been a loading point and the end of line.

We added 0.49 miles to our previous survey, and are happy to cross this branch off our list.

Here is a final track of all the Little Shingletown branch we managed to find:

Little Shingletown branch near Hubler Gap


Harvest Time in Livonia (map)

Location: Livonia, Centre county (about 40.9712, -77.2987)

With leaves falling from the trees and snakes and bugs becoming less of a problem, it seemed like a good idea to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon near Livonia. I headed out Rt 192 and stopped at MacNeal Orchards to get some direction on where to find more right of way.

Based on their input, I headed south on Stover Gap Rd a short distance until a shale bank was visible on the west side. Parking there, I headed behind (west of) the shale bank, picking up some logging roads, and angled towards Elk Creek. Before long I was at the base of the hill approaching the stream. It seemed like there was sort of a grade, but it wasn’t very distinct. Continuing west along the base of the hill, I crossed a stream and suddenly I was on pretty distinct grade. I started a GPS track and headed west. Very soon I encountered ledges leading up the hillside to the south, but I decided to continue on the bottom track for a while and explore the ledges on the way back. The grade continued pretty clearly for about 3/4 of mile, then it got a bit vague. I left the GPS and explored ahead, but was a bit concerned I might not find it again. Plus I wanted time to head up those exciting ledges! I halted the track and headed back for my starting point. Based on discussions with the MacNeals, it seems this route continues at least as far west as Wohlford Run and the associated gap, so there is plenty of this level route left to survey on a future visit.

Back at my starting point, I examined my options. A very short stub starts up the hillside and stops after perhaps 150 feet. This appears to be either a false start of a route up the hill, or perhaps a loading ramp location. This is marked on the maps as waypoint “Switchcrap”.

I started climbing the next ledge up the hillside. It rose quickly, making me question how much I’d like to pilot a 20 ton locomotive down this hill after a rainy summer and fall like we’ve had here this year. At the top of the steep climb, it swung to the south with a nice rock fill… no question what this was built for. It then climbed into a bit of a hollow with clear tie depressions in places. Eventually the RoW intersected a dirt road which I am told is gated where it comes off Stover Gap Rd. I poked around a bit and felt the RoW probably continued nearby, but it wasn’t immediately obvious where. I suspended the GPS track and headed back with about 1/4 mile surveyed.

Back at Grand Central Station, I started a new GPS track on the uppermost ledge. This one was disconnected from the others, which seemed odd as it seems the most likely route down from ‘The Haystack’ (see previous post). One possibility is that this was the original route Laurelton Lumber Co. took down to Elk Creek and the Walker Tract, but that it was later abandoned (as work progressed west) in favor of the ledge described above, which might be a bit less steep. Regardless, this ledge also continued up steeply, curved to the south, entered a fair cut through a shale bank, and was rudely interrupted by a sort of road/clearing on the edge of a clear cut area. On the other side of the clearing it appeared the route probably continued, but the thick layer of spice bush made proceeding unattractive. Nevertheless, the direction seemed correct to cross the deer exclusion zone and hook up with previously surveyed grade descending from ‘The Haystack’.

Looking back at the GPS tracks now, I like my theory of the upper ledge being an early route which was replaced by a gentler slope. If you figure both routes climb the same elevation, my proposed later route takes 2-3 times as much length to do it, hence the grade would be substantially less. While the original route might have gotten them started, as they expanded cutting to the west in the Walker Tract it might have been too much of an operational hazard and too difficult to climb with loads.

Note that the areas involved here were part of the ‘Walker Tract’ which Ben Kline’s book describe as “southeast of Livonia”. These were supposedly the last areas cut by Laurelton Lumber and were purchased “in the late 1890s”. The Laurelton sawmill was probably almost 20 miles from here by rail, and crews were probably quite glad when the Walker Tract was exhausted.

Approximate distance added: 1.25 miles

Surveys south of Livonia

Laurelton and Bishop Lumber (Snow Falling on Hemlocks)

On a cold, blustery Saturday with snowflakes trickling through the hemlocks, we decided to return to the Laurelton Lumber operations around Winkleblech and Buffalo mountains at the east end of Centre county.

We started by taking Rt 45 to Sheesley Run Rd., east of Woodward. I wanted to refresh my memory of Sheesley Run Rd, as some aerial views showed possible branches into hollows to the east of the road. A quick review from the truck showed that to be unlikely.

The next point of interest was Buffalo Creek. A study of Kline’s sketch map compared to modern map data suggest that a route must have extended along Buffalo Creek down into “The Gooseneck” and Buffalo Gap. USGS aerial views show something that looks like RoW in the lower reaches of Buffalo Gap, approaching Aichey Rd.

We therefore proceeded up Sheesley Run Rd, across Stony Run Rd onto Buffalo Flat Rd, and over Buffalo Mountain. Stopping at Buffalo Creek, we parked near the adjacent hunting camp and picked up trail to the east. Quickly, Vince declared we were on railroad grade, although I wasn’t entirely convinced. Before long we ran into a thicket where the trail diverged to the right. I pushed ahead through the brush (grumbling!), but soon became convinced that Vince was correct. Under the dense evergreens, snow was lying in clearly defined parallel depressions as the track began to descend towards the stream on a distinct ledge.

Soon, the RoW reaches the stream and an interesting area which well may have been a camp. A lot of rocks were moved around here to some purpose. The small dam on the stream is unlikely to have survived 100+ years, but may mirror an early creation here. At this point, we verified the RoW crosses the stream, and then discontinued our survey. It appears the route would continue at least 3 miles along Buffalo Creek, so a shuttle at the Aichey Rd end seems desirable.

Returning to Buffalo Flat Rd, we looked on the other side of the road, but it appears likely that the road is the RoW over Buffalo mountain. Its route agrees pretty well with Kline’s sketch map, and we can’t detect anyplace along it where right of way diverges. On the map below, we have shown the road as the route until the point where the trail diverges.

Re-crossing Buffalo mountain, we took Stony Run Rd to the northwest to Pine Creek. There, we had previously surveyed a small fragment of RoW, which we theorized was either part of Laurelton Lumber’s operation or Bishop Lumber’s earlier tramroad. Its origin seems unclear: the alignment seems to suggest a connection with Laurelton Lumber, who we know was along Stony Run farther to the south; the construction seems to suggest a tramroad such as Bishop Lumber would have constructed, but in that case its alignment seems wrong…

We decided the most practical approach was to simply reverse our earlier survey and see where we ended up. Parking at the camp just southeast of Pine Creek, we easily picked up the RoW at the end of their driveway. We proceeded to follow it to the northeast. We rather expected we might encounter a junction with Bishop’s “main line” more parallel to Pine Creek Rd, but we never detected anything solid. Rather we crashed through intermittent heavy Mountain Laurel until we had gone approximately a mile, traversing some nice road roadbed with good tie depressions as well as some swampy areas where the route became fairly vague. We then returned to the truck via the adjacent road.

Vince crashed about in the woods near the junction of Stony Run and Pine Creek Roads, and then nominated one final investigation: a drive up the un-gated road to the southwest along Pine Creek, which he thought was a likely route for Bishop’s tramroad. We proceeded about 2/3 of a mile until reaching a bridge that appears structurally deficient. We then proceeded on foot to approximately the end of the road as shown on the map. At that point, the track sort of continues, but doesn’t look much like RoW, even for a tramroad. Scouting around, we detected a more probable route departing slightly to the north of the obvious track. It rapidly enters a swampy area near the stream and is fairly indistinct, but the underlying amount of rock and width seems consistent with a tramroad.

So we still haven’t resolved exactly what’s going on in this area, but it seems most likely that Bishop’s tramroad route hasn’t survived the ages very well, and that Laurelton Lumber later built down Stony Run and over top of the Bishop RoW to head northeast up Pine Creek. How far they might have continued might be discovered by completing a survey along Pine Creek; it’s possible that at some point the RoW deteriorates from “railroad grade” to “tramroad grade”, lending credence to our theory.

We concluded the day with a visit to Elk Creek Cafe in Millheim, where they offer Winkleblink [sic?] Ale, suitable for thirsty logging enthusiasts.

Black Friday in Green’s Valley, 2010

With a long holiday weekend, we decided to do some long overdue surveying in Green’s Valley (aka Cox’s Valley), northeast of the Laurel Creek reservoir. This was railroad built by Reichley Brothers to connect their operations with tramroad Gotshall had constructed southwest from Poe Paddy, through Panther Hollow and past Dinkey Springs. It must have been built shortly after 1900, after they acquired the Monroe Kulp mill at Milroy and associated railroads and chose to abandon the original Reichley tramroad from Poe Paddy along Poe Creek. We originally surveyed some RoW in these areas in late 2007, but had never filled in the gaps.

We started by leaving a vehicle at the blocked bridge on Stillhouse Hollow Rd, off of Sand Mountain Rd, near Seven Mountains Scout Camp. We then drove to Siglerville-Millheim Pike and entered the “drivable trail” portion of the Mid State Trail in the Big Flat area. We knew that RoW was visible at the extreme southwest end of the drivable portion, so we began surveying there.

Virtually all of the RoW in this region is now the Mid State Trail/Green’s Valley Trail. Normally, we wouldn’t be thrilled to have heavily used trail on top of a historic RoW. In this case, it’s a good thing, as it would be quite difficult to trace a lot of this route if hikers hadn’t kept it open and visible! There are exceptions, however. Every now and then you come to a stretch which is nicely built up and quite plainly railroad. These sections are visible as a thin, light line on USGS aerial photos (visit

At one point, a large quantity of large rocks were pushed aside during railroad construction. Previous visitors have collected clinkers and placed them in a pile atop the rocks, as clear evidence of what once went on here.

We completed our survey at the intersection with Stillhouse Hollow Rd, with 3.01 miles recorded. Incidentally, the bridge here has finally been redecked, and it’s possible you can now drive to here from the Milroy end, assuming the gate on that end is open. Note that Stillhouse Hollow Rd is still blocked with large rocks on the Sand Mountain Rd end.

The only portion of this route we still have to fill in some day is from the switch to the southwest of here down into Laurel Creek reservoir. This area is extremely overgrown, so we will probably leave it until much later.

Livonia Update (map)

I’ve been out to the Livonia area poking around the Laurelton Lumber Co. reaches several times this year, but had not gotten a chance to survey my findings. On the second day of Vince’s visit, we headed out Rt 192 to grab these pieces and perhaps find something new.

Needle in the Haystack

Our first stop was the feature known locally as “The Haystack” which is the first hairpin turn on Stover Gap Rd southeast of Livonia. Heading slightly back towards Livonia from this parking spot, we picked up a clear rock right of way high on the bank to the west. We surveyed a well constructed (but unfortunately brief) segment to the NW, where it intersects one of those blasted deer areas. I am told by the MacNeal family (of MacNeal Orchards at Livonia) that railroad continues from here to a point very close to the actual town of Livonia, and includes switchbacks in a steep area near Elk Creek, but haven’t had a chance to survey beyond the deer area. Note: On the map, it looks like the GPS track might have been cut short… perhaps a weak satellite signal?

Up the Hill

We next drove up to the first real switchback in the road (where the Mid State Trail departs the road). The locals probably have a name for that too, but if so I forgot it. We had previously surveyed to the east of here, and RoW is visible coming out to the road towards the Haystack, but we’d run out of time to complete the survey. We headed east on the MST (obvious rock RoW) for perhaps 100 yards, then headed overland NNE to reach the approximate end of our previous survey where the railroad route had reached a grassy fire road. We easily picked up the route again, and just as easily lost it after a short distance as it sort of resides in a streambed. Continuing downstream, we picked it up again where it emerged from the stream, and followed it a considerable distance to where it emerges onto Stover Gap Rd nearly down to the Haystack. It was a considerable construction project along here… quite the pile of rocks! At one point it gets pretty wide; it’s possibly there was a siding or something there. The final distance to the Haystack was obliterated by road construction.

Along the walk back to the Haystack, Vince explored a “ramp track” which departs the road and steeply pitches down to the stream in the hollow below. Apparently they wanted a few trees from down in that hole!

Pieces in the gap

Back to the Haystack

Returning to the haystack, I showed Vince a lot of stuff going on just up the hollow from the hairpin turn. It seems like the track was coming down hill and made a switchback there (rather than the road’s hairpin turn). The “ramp” down to the stream must have departed in this vicinity. And there were apparently several log slides that came down the mountain and intersected tracks at this point. It seems obviously that there were several log loading ramps at this point. With the stream, it was probably a watering point too. Must have been a busy place!

Andy MacNeal of Livonia believes that the photo in Kline’s book 2, p. 227 “two miles east of Livonia” is taken at the Haystack. I can sort of buy it, but I’d like to see a larger print to be convinced. Andy also says that a water crossing is detectable at the bottom of Vince’s “ramp track”, and that the track can actually be followed perhaps 300 yards downstream in the hollow. He says there is a significant cinder pile down there, with a large sycamore tree growing out of it. Someday I’ll go inspect that. Someday!

Final Stop: Line Trail Sawmill Site?

Our final stop before Vince had to leave was on Rt 192 just west of RB Winter park. DCNR employeer Paul Zerby had told me there were signs of a sawmill on Rapid Run at Line Trail (at the county line). We walked back Line Trail past a camp and it looks like he is right. There is obviously a dam breast there, and numerous curiously-parallel timbers in the stream below the breached dam.

Vince eyeballed it and proclaimed it to pre-date the logging railroad era (apparently he can carbon-date objects by looking at them!). Despite my skepticism, he may be correct. A search on the web suggests there were sawmills on Rapid Run in this general area wayyyy back… possibly pre Civil War. Curiously, there is also Douty Mill Trail nearby, so there might be other similar ruins on Rapid Run.

Finally, while poking around on the web I found a historic map hosted by Penn State which shows “Reynolds & Stover saw mill” at approximately this location, with “Stover & Reynolds hotel” at Livonia. I suppose this was the Livonia Hotel predecessor. Apparently Mr. Stover preferred the role of hotelier to sawyer…? There appears to be another sawmill on Tunis Rd nearby, but I can’t read the associated name.

1870s map of area


Combining our data for this region from 2008 with this new data, we get the following map. The arrow indicates a steep area along the creek which must be the location of Mr. MacNeal’s switchbacks.

Overall Livonia Region


At some points, I should update our overall totals here…


I inadvertently gave the named McNitt instead of MacNeal in the original version of this posting. Sorry about that!

The Great Circle Route (map)

Along Lingle Stream

On November 14th, Vince made his first visit in quite some time. Our goal was to survey my theorized Great Circle Route, and perhaps log mileage on some other projects, despite pretty damp weather the night before.

We started by dropping Vince’s truck on Stillhouse Hollow Rd and driving to Faust Valley Trail and Sand Mtn Rd. I showed Vince the suspicious areas in the driveway of the camp there. Visibility was better with brush and weeds down, and he gave it a thumbs up. We followed it up over the hump towards the headwaters of Lingle Stream, with fair confidence, until it comes out onto the road/trail near a large clearing. We then headed out the road and onto the overgrown trail portion beyond the point where Ground Oak Tr diverges. The first stretch is intermittently very swampy, but we had no luck finding bridge timbers or similar items. However the route seemed generally plausible, despite some large boulders. After a bit the the trail petered out and the rainsoaked brush became even thicker. But under it a RoW seemed quite obvious. We followed it intermittently for a considerable distance, becoming thoroughly soaked in the process, until eventually a clear woods road begins again.

From there on, we surveyed the road as the assumed route, as there really isn’t much room between the road and stream in that area. Eventually I pointed out the stream crossing where the broken rail had been found. From that point on, we assumed the RoW was on the south side of the stream and tried to follow it. Unfortunately, some of the evidence I thought I saw in the summer (with lower water levels) was not visible, and the route is vague for quite a distance. Eventually, in the vicinity of the well kept camp (see previous post), it does seem fairly clear that the RoW was on a ledge near the stream. A significant stream crossing has to be inferred at one point, and then, bingo! we are at the cut mentioned in the previous post which started all this nonsense, and at Vince’s truck. An easy water-level route, some clear signs of RoW, I call it a success!

We stopped in at the camp to say hello, and I showed Vince the piece of logging railroad rail. That got a thumbs up as well.

Lingle Stream map

The Big Poe Connection

Next we placed a shuttle truck at Siglerville-Millheim Pike and Big Poe Creek. While changing very wet shoes there, I noticed a concrete post and a rock marker next to the truck and commented, “wonder what those mark?”… [foreshadow]

We returned to Faust Valley Trail and Sand Mtn Rd, and surveyed in the vicinity of the camp on the north side of the road (Sand Mtn camp, maybe?). RoW is clear for some distance there, before it plunges into a brutal stand of white pine. We skirted the thicket by heading onto the road to the nearby group camping area. Taking the trail north of the campsite, we again picked up the RoW and began following it NE, with clear tie depressions for validation. After a modest distance we lost it in a logged-over area. This is the same fern-cursed area off Old Sand Mtn Rd that we explored ages ago with no luck. We ultimately got onto OSM Rd and followed it past the camp, noting the many limbs down from this year’s early snowfall which occurred while leaves were still on trees. A bit past the camp, Vince hailed “got it!” and lo and behold we had beautifully clear rock right of way paralleling the road. We surveyed it for a fair distance, only intermittently disrupted by deer fences and their access roads. Grrr, there oughta be a law!

For a good stretch, the route is on the north side of Big Poe Creek. Eventually it switches to the south side. And, curiously, the clear rock roadbed just sorta… dies. This stretch was obviously nothing but tramroad. Numerous times we thought we’d lost it, only to finally stumble upon evidence of parallel logs, or occasionally clear bridge timbers in wet areas. Thankfully it follows a pretty straight line in this portion, but it takes a fairly good scout to follow. Eventually we came out into an area near S-M Pike that we’d explored before (and felt had some suspicious but very vague spots) and found ourselves very near the shuttle truck.

This last stretch (and the Lingle Stream portion for that matter) certainly support the idea that this route was very problematic for Reichley in later years. While some areas were either better built or upgraded, large portions would have been very primitive stuff in the later days of logging railroads. The construction in Green’s Valley (parallel and theoretically newer route) seems far more robust.

Upper portion - SM Pike to Fault Trail

The Missing Bit

Our final task for the day was to finish the bit along Big Poe Creek, upstream from the CCC camp, which we ran out of daylight to do. We parked at the CCC camp site along BPC, crossed the stream, and picked up the track again. Skirting a couple of camps with loud partying crowds, we tracked the route out to S-M Pike… and directly into the aforementioned concrete and stone markers. Ha! Smartass surveyors.

The results combined with our previous survey are shown below.

Overall Big Poe Creek Mainline

Now that is a piece of railroad!

Big Poe Creek line - lake to scout camp

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–

Poe Valley Mainline Gets a Survey (map)

Back in January, I mentioned I had checked out a report from site visitor John Shingler of Poe Valley regarding railroad right of way near the CCC camp location in Poe Valley. Since Vince was departing State College to the east after his visit this weekend, we decided to log some mileage in PV.

We started at the CCC camp location, which is on Poe Valley Road maybe a mile east of Siglerville-Milheim Pike. We parked on the south of the road and followed the faint road through a stand of pines to the southeast. After crossing the stream on the large rocks, we continued a short distance on the road, intersecting road roadbed. After some head scratching, we decided to go southwest first.

We enjoyed a pretty clear survey, mostly on distinct road roadbed through open pine woods. In a few places, recent logging activity or four wheelers have damaged the right of way, but most of it is in good shape. We terminated our trip to the southwest when reaching a driveway accessing a private camp. The right of way obviously continues beyond that point.

Returning to our starting point, we resumed surveying to the northeast. Regretfully, after a bit of clear going, the Mtn Laurel began to thicken and we found it necessary to curse it profusely in order to make forward progress. The right of way is mostly clear rock rockbed, though seriously hidden by undergrowth in some places. A few areas are built up pretty well to cross minor streams.

At one point, we came upon a rather mysterious structure, obviously recently constructed, consisting of telephone poles and boards stuck together in rather bizarre fashion. My theory is that it is an osprey stand, as ospreys are rather bizarre, and they might like its proximity to “good feeshin” at Poe Valley lake.

Eventually we came to signs suggesting we were very close to Poe Valley park. Just as we were about to halt our survey, I noticed a clear switch going off to the NNE, towards the stream. I tried to follow it for a while, but its track quickly fades out… Was this a branch to the other side of the creek, to a sawmill, or just a random siding? We don’t find a lot of sidings, so it was sort of neat to catch this one in an accessible location.

Here’s the map…

Poe Valley west of lake

We finished our exploration by checking out some rather strange railroad artifacts (which appear to be 36″ gauge) in proximity to Poe Valley park [No, we do not feel this is the lost locomotive of the Seven Mountains–sorry!] and then examining the (dry) lakebed of the park’s lake, in case there should be visible rock roadbed running down its center. There isn’t.

We’ve previously explored this valley further to the NE, but not immediately downstream of the dam. We have a report of a historic marker and visible right of way at the campsite there–we will have to check that out next time we get out hereWe will also try finish this survey out to Siglerville-Milheim Pike.

We haven’t had a stats update in a while, so here it is:

  • Exposed total: 35.37 miles
  • Under road: 18.60 miles
  • Grand total: 53.97 miles