Category Archives: Logging Railroad Surveys

Tales of exploring logging railroads of central Pennsylvania.

Cooper’s Gap Goes Under the Microscope (map)

Vince came down to visit for the weekend. Based on a tip from site visitor and trout fisherman “Chris” from around Bellefonte, PA, we headed for Cooper’s Gap off of Stone Creek. I had scouted it out some weeks ago on a cold, blustery, snowy day, so I knew just where to start our expedition. We just didn’t know how far it might extend… Looking at topos, it seemed possible that vast areas might be accessible on the other side of Cooper’s Gap! I prepared my mind for a loooong day.

Notes for the Feeble Minded

We parked at the new faux-stone bridge on Cooper’s Gap Rd just off Stone Creek Rd. Crossing the bridge, we picked up the RoW, which is roughly parallel to the road and would almost intersect the bridge span if intact. The first bit along the road is somewhat sketchy, and road construction has disrupted a section near the shale pit. As we neared the new (2009) gas pipeline RoW, the roadbed becomes much clearer in a swampyish area. Crossing the pipeline, we found my orange markers tied in a white pine tree and picked up the RoW again just behind them. We followed the track through a stand of small white pines (we like to start things off piney fresh) to a switch at a large downed tree. We elected to head up the branch to the left (curving NE), since I had previously explored some of the other branch. The branch under exploration quickly curved back towards the gas pipeline, crossing just a bit downhill from the stream that crosses the pipeline swath at the base of its really steep section. On the other side of the pipeline, we picked up a fairly clear track heading into the “yard” of a hunting camp. Bypassing a stand of large pines next to the camp, we picked up nice rocky RoW headed upgrade towards the horseshoe in Cooper’s Gap Rd.

Eventually we came to a water crossing with some bridge remnants, which moved us to the opposite shore of the stream. We stayed there and found that the RoW begins to essentially be the Chestnut Spring trail until it intersects CG Rd at the horseshoe. I commented how I couldn’t believe we hadn’t spotted that RoW after several trips around the horseshoe.

We crossed the road and found the RoW mostly invisible near the camp, but shortly afterwards we picked it up again veering to the right alongside a trail. We followed it upstream a ways until it seemed to extend into the base of a steep sort of slide/stream thing. Hmm. Poking about showed that the hollow became way too steep for the railroad to have continued. We elected to cross over the ravine to the north face, figuring we had possibly missed a split. Sure enough, a short distance north I spotted clear RoW along the stream. Vince departed back towards the camp, reporting via radio that he had a small bridge remnant in the bushes and that he was tracking back up to me. I removed rocks from my boots and pulled up my socks. I also pondered Chestnut Spring Trail. It’s possible there was a loadout or siding or something in the area. There just seem to be excessively orderly rocks about.

We continued ENE up along the small stream, enjoying clear rock RoW only intermittently blocked by dastardly undergrowth. At several places we marvelled at the steepness of the grade. The dinkies were undoubtedly huffing in here. Once past them, it appeared a large area was going to be easily accessible. Could it be that there was RoW out towards Conklin Rd and Lingle Valley…? My imagination began to work overtime. Then our rapid progress began to peter out… the track was less clear. After examining the GPS device, Vince made a disturbing proclamation: county line. It seems likely that–despite having reached a vast new area of potential timber–the builder’s were stymied by a simple ownership barrier, and built no further.

Determination. Despite Noisy Birds.

Nevertheless, we continued to scout about a bit on the fairly level ground near the county line, hoping we might pick up something concrete. We didn’t. Eventually we reached a trail going to the south along the county line, which probably goes to CG Rd. We debated what to do. We were considering going a bit further ENE, but were a bit alarmed by a racket coming from that direction. It sounded like thousands (and I mean thousands!) of crows were roosting in that direction. I pointed out to Vince that Penn State recently dislodged large quantities of crows from campus; maybe they were living here now? I didn’t have much desire to be ‘aerially decorated’ by crows on such a fine spring day.

Eventually we steeled ourself and headed ENE. After a short ways, the croaking of the crows began to change in character. It also began to get closer to the ground. Were the crows not in trees??? A bit further and it became clear… the crows were on the ground. And they were very hoarse crows, even as crows go. Finally we realized these ‘crows’ were not only small and green, but they were swimming in a small pond with hundreds of their compatriots. Never have I heard such harsh sounding frogs! As we got closer, they ducked underwater one by one, eventually leaving silence. Well, silence except for the noise from another evident frog pond a short distance through the woods! Feeling a bit sheepish about being fooled, we decided to head back to the right leg of the grade. What’s that? Forgotten the right leg already? 😉

Back to the Right Leg

We followed Chestnut Spring Trail back down to CG Rd, then the road to the vicinity of the hunting camp. We cut through the camp, back across the pipeline, and down to Fallentimber Switch. I warned Vince that we were in for some rhododendron, and off we went.

We quickly came to the crossing of the trout stream which Chris apparently fishes, and Vince admired the nicely squared timbers as I had on my last visit. We then plunged on into increasingly dense rhododendron. Before long, we were remembering just how much we despise it. And we were still in the thin parts! Despite the blasted rhodo, we continued to make our way upstream, tracking clear rock RoW. Eventually, the ravine became so narrow and the stream banks so choked with vegetation that I elected to climb up the bank to the SW. There I found clear signs of a convergence of log slides, some of which seem to have been used rather heavily.

Vince elected to continue trying to go straight (roughly south) into one ravine, while I headed up a diverging ravine (roughly southwest). This could well be the most rugged place we have been in our logging railroad explorations… when I say ravine, I mean ravine! My ravine quickly became too steep for a railroad grade, though there appeared to be evidence of logs having been slid down the ravine. I elected to try to again climb out of the vegetation and up the hillside, cutting over to the ravine where Vince was. I couldn’t really hear him on the radio due to the stream crashing down the narrow crevice, but it seemed he thought I should come visit him. Finally I made it over to ‘his’ ravine, only to learn that there was no way any railroad went up it, even before all the trees blew down into it! If you want to practice your bushwack skills, I suggest you start here.

We elected to get out by climbing up into the area of the major log slides, and Vince noted a couple of them on the GPS. We angled downstream and descended back to stream. At Vince’s urging, we then headed for the next ravine to the east, though it too seemed awfully steep. At its base the rugged rocks and dense vegetation dissuaded us from attempting exploration. Vince pointed out that there was one more ravine even further east, but thankfully he succumbed to practical time considerations and we got the heck out of rhododendron for the day. Despite our frustration in the ravines, we had undoubtedly logged some nice mileage for the first survey of the year!

Note: If anyone finds a squirrel in this area listening to weather service reports on a Motorola walkie talkie… it’s probably Vince’s. The radio, that is, not the squirrel.

Here da map:

Cooper's Gap survey


I was just pondering the name “Cooper’s Gap”… I wonder if there was someone named Cooper involved, or if they were harvesting wood for barrel-making in this area. Interesting possibility!

Poe Valley Road is not on Roadbed

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, so I thought I’d better put something up so readers know the project isn’t completely dead (it isn’t!).

Last October, Vince and I heard from a fellow named John Shingler who lives out in Poe Valley. He said he had found what he thought were remnants of RoW near the CCC camp location on Poe Valley Road. He also said his neighbor had removed roadbed when building his house, approximately at the junction of Siglerville-Milheim Pike and Poe Valley Road.

John’s report inspired me to get off my ass one day (well, I was already out and about) and explore around the CCC camp. Lo and behold, I found some very clear roadbed which needs to be surveyed. Go to the CCC camp location on Poe Valley Rd (there is a sign). Start in the clearing on the south side of the road. Follow the grassy road exiting the clearing to the ESE. Follow it through some pine trees
as it curves to the south towards Poe Creek. Eventually the road will head directly for the creek. You can cross on big rocks adjacent to the road. Continue maybe 100-150 feet on the other side of the stream and… rock roadbed! Continues in both directions parallel to the creek.

This obviously disproves my theory that Poe Valley Road obliterated much of the Poe Valley roadbed. I don’t mind that kind of disappointment!

Hopefully at some point we can connect with John and nail down some RoW in the Poe Valley region, maybe making the connection with our surveys from west of Rt 322.

Little Shingletown (map)

With a little time to spare on a sunny and warm Sunday morning, Vince and I decided to continue a previous survey along Little Shingletown Rd near Hubler Gap. This would seem to be the extreme reaches of the Linden Hall Lumber Co., reaching back into Centre county just a short distance from Tussey Mountain ski area.

We started by taking Little Shingletown Rd a short distance NE from Hubler Gap. Parking at a pulloff on the left a ways before the road gate, we went north through a bit of open woods to find a minor fill along the stream previously identified by Vince. This is near to a wooden bench built along the stream, apparently intended for (very) rabid railfans to await the next log train. We started upstream along what I thought was the logical course, although traces were very slight. After a while, Vince (who was following with the GPS) got tired of my vague reports and crossed back to the south side of the stream, promptly finding what was clearly the actual RoW.

We followed this course upstream. At the first stream crossing, we found what appears to be a surviving bridge timber, although this one is square enough that it might actually be a sawmill product, rather than a hewn log. A short distance further upstream we encountered a stone fire pit, replete with three stone recliner chairs. Apparently the LHLC railroad crews pioneered the “Lazy Boy” concept during their lunch breaks! Or not.

The right of way continues through the middle of the party site and trends a bit up the north hillside from the stream, through a fairly vicious thicket of mountain laurel. Eventually it comes back down to a stream crossing which holds several remnants of timber. Unfortunately at that point I had to call time due to previous obligations, so we began a better survey back down the track we had just followed. It appears the track continues solidly. The only problem is that this portion of the paralleling road is well beyond a gate, making access a bit of a pain…

On the return trip, we continued along the path which Vince had discovered, realizing that my supposed track along the stream from our starting point was b-o-g-u-s, and that the real course was a much nicer, straighter track through fairly open woods, which appreciably departs from the stream course for a ways. It rejoins the fill along the stream just barely upstream from our original starting point.

0.91 miles added

Hubler Gap along Little Shingletown Rd
Hubler Gap along Little Shingletown Rd

Missing the Obviously Purple Lizard

With a relatively mild March Sunday, I decided to go poke around nearby regions of Rothrock State Forest in search of overlooked tidbits. Truth be told, I wanted to ponder possibilities for the “Beidleheimer Shay” which people keep insisting “someone they know has seen”. We doubt it exists, but…

My first stop was Greenlee Rd, just southeast of Whipple Dam park. I explored a bit of the very steep hillside off the road. If a locomotive went over this bank (i.e. the road was former RoW), recovery would have been exceptionally difficult. No trace of RoW on the hillside, but there is an interesting fragment of something on the northwest side of the road. It merges smoothly onto the road at one end and becomes a trail over the hump of the hill. Curious, to say the least.

I then decided to head up Greenlee Run. It’s always bothered me that we don’t have RoW mapped in that region. It just seems conspicuously absent. I stopped at Sand Knob Trail. A short trip up the trail showed nothing of interest along Greenlee Run there.

While perusing the Purple Lizard map (large, water resistant version, (c)1997), I noticed a funny dotted line in the area. Examining the key, I found it to be “abandoned railroad”. Ummm, why have we missed this? Well, normally I use the smaller (newer?) PL map with abandoned railroads shown as the traditional railroad symbol —|—|—|— and I honestly don’t think that version shows this piece. It’s gone missing, so I can’t verify that.

Anyway, I therefore headed up Bell Ridge Trail from Greenlee Rd and promptly found very substantially built RoW about halfway up the hillside. At a guess, I think one end of it comes out on Beidleheimer Rd as a track that Vince and I had examined before and noted as “curious”. I went the other way (NE) and followed it at least 0.6 miles. It gets quite close to Greenlee Run (closer than the map shows) and continues beyond Beidleheimer Trail (which the map does not show).

Walking back along Greenlee Rd, I noticed a curious track merging up onto the road. It looks like crude road, but it has some railroad characteristics as well. I also noticed at least two log slides coming down from the south side of Greenlee Mountain, one of which is probably Owl Gap Trail. It’s sort of curious that these slides end a ways from the RoW on the other side of the run. Could this mean that there was a branch along existing Greenlee Rd? Maybe.

I continued NE on Greenlee Rd and spot-checked for further RoW. For a while it doesn’t seem like there is anything. But just before the first sharp turns, there is a crude track curving off the road. Again it looks like crude road, but while exploring down it and cutting back across to Greenlee Rd, I think I may have encountered railroad grade. If so, these guys were determined to get every inch up this hollow that they could. I can’t believe they made it much farther!

It’s interesting to note that Croyle Run Trail goes from near here to the location of the Croyle Run sawmill on Beidleheimer Rd. It might be worth walking it sometime, keeping an eye out for grade, as we know there is at least a short leg headed this way from the sawmill site.

I headed out by way of Big Flat and Keith Spring. Just past the spring I stopped to look at what I think is the start of Wildcat Gap Trail. It seems unlikely that this could have been a railroad route, but it might have been a gravity-only route. Someone needs to walk down through there when the snow is gone.

I’m currently GPS-less, so no map of today’s trek, but perhaps we will record it next weekend.

Woodward in Winter, Part II (maps)

Continuing the previous day’s adventure…

At Vince’s suggestion, we started by heading south on Stony Run Rd from the Whetstone Gap 4-way intersection. A bit south, we noticed pretty obvious remains of a splash dam next to Winkleblech Camp. Nearby we detected a suspicious grade curving off the road to the SW. Within a few yards of the road we found nice tie depressions and off we went… For the first hundred yards, the RoW has been disturbed by the nearby stream. After that it evolves into very nice RoW, climbing a substantial grade up a hollow. These guys were determined to get somewhere, that’s for sure!

Eventually the grade intersects several roads at a local summit. Vince headed straight ahead out a forest road for a ways, reporting back that it seems like a likely continuation of the grade, but no firm evidence. I headed south on a similar road towards Winkleblech Mtn Rd, which could also have been grade.

We returned to Winkleblech Camp via the road the roughly parallels the grade (as shown below). At the end near the camp, it becomes very steep and there are some curious trenches paralleling the road. The trenches seems to aim for the area of the splash dam at the camp. There were probably several log slides in this area.

We next closely examined the dam. It sure looks like a splash dam. There are large, vintage timbers in the stream where it pierces the dam; would these not be surviving parts of the floodgates opened to cause “the splash”? On the north side of Stony Run Rd, it appears there is another log slide going up the hill.

Branch opposite Negro Hollow

Next we headed up Negro Hollow, since Kline implied RR in that direction. It’s a lovely hike along the stream (bears seem to like it), with some really pretty areas, but we could not conclusively find evidence of grade. Later consultation with maps suggests that the RR probably did not pass through the lower end of Negro Hollow (near Stony Run Rd), but entered farther NE.

It seems pretty likely that one of the roads around the Old Shingle Rd junction with Stony Run Rd is the grade which accessed Negro Hollow. Future investigation required!

Next we headed for Cinder Pile Spring. There we examined the surrounding areas. The pile of cinders directly in front of the spring seems to point to the grade being under the existing road.

Our final search was along Sheesly Run Rd. Once the hollow narrowed, we rapidly discovered some clear RoW alongside the road. Vince insisted (twist my arm) on following it upstream. As anticipated, it curved towards Cinder Pile Spring. Then at the last moment, it curved east! What the heck, folks? Probably we missed a switch to the west in all the Mtn Laurel; we’ll check it out again sometime. This is a pleasant little stretch of RoW, and we felt good to have added it to the survey.

From Cinder Pile Spring to Sheesly Run Rd

Reviewing maps at home, Vince turned up “Hook Tram Trail” and “Negro Hollow Trail” (which seems like the probably rail route into NH) on the Bald Eagle State Forest map. Fifty Hikes in Central Pennsylvania (see “Resources” at right) also discusses a hike on railroad grades in the Hook Natural Area.

Woodward in Winter (maps)

With a free January afternoon with temperatures near 40F, we decided to make a sojourn to the region around Woodward, PA, once logged by the Laurelton Lumber Co. and the short-lived Bishop Lumber Co. These roads are covered in chapter 2-5 of Ben Kline’s “Wild Catting” on the Mountain, book 2 in the series Logging Railroad Era of Lumbering in Pennsylvania. Technically, this is Bald Eagle State Forest, not part of our ‘Rothrock Railroad Re-survey’, but aren’t arbitrary limits made to be violated…?

We entered the region via Cemetary Rd off of Rt 45, just west of the village of Woodward. While a branch of the Bishop lines supposedly entered the Voneida [Von Neida] Run area, the road into that area is clearly marked Private Road. Thanks a bunch. So we headed NE along Pine Creek to the intersection at Whetstone Gap. This location seems to correspond nicely with the crossing of the Laurelton and Bishop lines shown on Kline’s map (p. 225).

Parking at the gravel pit by the intersection, we plowed into light undergrowth around several camps to the SE. Crossing swollen Pine Creek on a footbridge, I quickly found an interesting rocky ‘road’ paralleling Pine Creek on the south side and summoned Vince by radio. While much wider than we are accustomed to, it sure appeared to be rock roadbed, complete with faint tie cribs in places and distinct edges. We decided to follow it to the SW, where it intersects the road to the south along Stony Run. Total distance wasn’t much, but it obviously continued in the other direction as well. It appears the line probably followed the course of the road to the south, so that leaves a line parallel to Pine Creek to find, right? [foreshadowing]

Area of Whetstone Gap

We then went a ways south on the road and plunged into the woods to the SW, hoping to pick up the line continuing SW along Pine Creek. We found nothing interesting on the south side of the creek. Hmmm. Vince was daring and decided to find a natural way to cross the creek. I decided to return to the road bridge. I then headed SW along the north bank of the creek. Still nothing. Checking in with Vince via radio, we had a grand total of… nothing. We decided to head back onto the road.

Reaching the road, I decided to poke around “Camp Loco” (complete with steam locomotive on its sign). Heading north into Whetstone Gap along a small stream, I finally reached and climbed onto the road. Just as I did, I noticed a few interesting rocks. I gave Vince a call to come up and get me while I took a break. When he arrived, we examined my minor find. We determined it looked like a fairly good fragment just off of and parallel to the road into Whetstone Gap. Rather than map it, we decided to drive up the gap and get the lay of the land.

Going up the gap and curving to the NE, we noticed what might be RoW off to the right in a few places, but kept going. The road rapidly became quite steep. Steeper than seems reasonable for a railroad. Rats. At the top we decided to continue down the other side to the switchback in the road shown on the map. It seemed to correspond with the switchback shown on Kline’s railroad map, so why not check for a tail track?

At the switchback, I plunged off along a forest road, while Vince took the more logical course of trying the clearly marked (and ubiquitous) Mid State Trail. After a short distance, I crashed over to the MST to find Vince on some very nice rock RoW, thank you. We decided to map it, figuring the railroad’s switchback might be farther NE. Well it went, and went, and went a bit more. Eventually, we did notice a bit of RoW switching back alongside to our left. But Vince determined the line clearly continued, with more rock ballast, and some suspicious timbers in several wet areas. We continued ahead for a while and then decided to continue that direction on another day.

Returning to the previously-noted diverting track, we followed respectable RoW through moderate undergrowth until reaching a forest road we had crossed on the previous track. The RoW continued on the other side of the road, and we suspect this is the route through Stover Gap to Livonia and its enticingly-named “Railroad Creek”. But we decided to call it quits and check a few other places. We walked the forest road back up to the original track, and followed it back to the truck at the road’s switchback.

Stover Gap switchback area

Heading back up the mountain, Vince halted just past a camp driveway near Horse Path Spring/Trail and backed up, stating: “You know, we really ought to check behind that camp…” I left him to go about it and after a few minutes he returned, tracking a path past me with the GPS. Hmmm. Sure enough, he’d found RoW right behind the camp, which continued to another blasted forest road. Could this explain how they crossed the steep portion on the other side of the mountain? Some course completely off Kline’s map?? We continued a short way up the main road, discovering an open gate leading onto the road to Wohlford Gap. Was this the forest road Vince had just encountered? We headed down it to find out. Sure enough, after a short distance it became obvious it was. So this rail line appears to have headed down towards Wohlford Gap, a situation not shown on Kline’s map… It seems unlikely this would help them get over the mountain, however, so we saved that lead for another day as well. [Vince has since concluded that his RoW behind this camp might be bogus. We will examine it again – ed.]

We headed back over the mountain to the SW. I wanted to look for a “ledge sort of thing” [technical term] I had seen on the north side of the road on the way up. There it is! Damned if it doesn’t look like some sort of RoW. It’s too narrow for a road, relatively level, and seems to ‘go’. We saved it for another day, but it might explain how they coped with the steep parts on the ascent (descent?) of this side.

Nearing the curve to the left in the gap, we stopped and checked the suspicious area we noted on the way up. Yep, clear RoW for a short distance just off the road. Is it possible this continued along the stream past the headwaters, then switchbacked up onto the top of the mountain? It looks plausible on the map, and more realistic than ascending the way the road does. Again, saved for another day.

Upon studying Kline’s book and map preparatory to writing up the day’s adventures, I realized I had misinterpreted the map. The crossing at Whetstone Gap was that of Bishop and Laurelton–two distinct entities. That means the construction of the N/S line might differ from that of the E/W line… But then why did the first line we found seem to swing from the E to the S…? That would be a Bishop-Laurelton connection, not impossible, but improbable. Might Laurelton have re-used part of Bishop’s RoW? We will have to go back and scrutinize that line and see exactly where it goes, that’s for sure!

All in all an interesting day, with lots of RoW within easy reach of Rts. 45 and 192, perfect for short breaks in winter weather.

Pine Swamp and Little Shingletown

[contributed by Vince]

Today’s objective was to record a track for previously identified grade sections along Pine Swamp Road to the southwest of Hubler Gap. We had probed the area on two separate occasions in weeks prior and confirmed the existence of rock roadbed in this area as indicated in Kline’s map. Earlier in the year, we had regarded the possibility of finding any significant construction in this region with considerable skepticism due to the difficult terrain and distance from the sawmill in Linden Hall. As it turns out, this outer extremity of the Linden Hall Lumber Co.’s railroad was a rather ambitious line extending from the head of Hubler Gap up through a tight hollow (i.e. many stream crossings) and reaching at least as far up as the power line clearing near the saddle between Rudy Ridge and Tussey Mountain.

Starting from that point and working down the hollow, I was able to record a 0.91 mile track with only a few minor gaps where the exact route has been obscured by time.  I concluded the day’s survey at a point between the first and second camps situated above the junction of Pine Swamp Road and Little Shingletown Road.  At this point, the roadbed appears to swing out onto the present-day Pine Swamp Rd and probably proceeds under the road to a point within Hubler Gap where it comes out from under the roadbed and joins up with the previously surveyed segment in this gap.

One of the highlights of this section are the numerous stream crossings, some of which still have timbers remaining from the crude bridges. One of these contains two very well-preserved parallel timbers with nicely flattened tops to which rail may once have been directly affixed.

It should also be noted that the presence of roadbed to the northeast of Hubler Gap along the Shingletown Branch was confirmed in the earlier probes of this area mentioned above. As of this date, no tracks have been recorded but a pair of parallel bridge timbers and a section of rocky fill have been identified.

Trainspotting, Interstate Style

Had occasion today to travel I-80 east of State College, through the region formerly occupied by the White Deer and Loganton Railroad. Since I am now perpetually scanning hillsides for signs of rocky right-of-ways, it wasn’t too hard to notice a nicely-preserved stretch of what’s probably the WD&L, just a few dozen feet off the passing lane of I-80! The scrap is on a steep hillside contained within the median, just before milepost 202 when eastbound. This location is in the ‘Sugar Run Narrows’ between the White Deer and New Columbia (US 15) exits. This will be a nice starting point when we eventually begin surveying the WD&L.

I’ll try to get a picture of this to post.