Category Archives: Logging Railroad Surveys

Tales of exploring logging railroads of central Pennsylvania.

A Rockey Route (map)

With the cooperation of resident Mr Ralph Rockey, we were able to survey a small portion of what we believe to be the Linden Hall Lumber Company route from Galbraith Gap (behind Tussey Mountain ski area) to their mill at Linden Hall. This land has been sold and any traces will likely soon be destroyed under another residential “development” (from Hell).

Mr Rockey had two recollections from his father: (1) that the dinkey locomotives once “almost set the barn on fire”, and (2) that there was a cattle crossing arrangement where the railroad crossed a fence row. Assuming the barn is the present barn (which seems plausible), the route probably crossed Rt 45 and followed the present Rockey Rd, entering the farm’s driveway and curving around behind the barn to ascend the hill. At the top it would have had to make a fairly sharp turn to the left to match with our survey.

The area of his father’s “cattle crossing” recalled by Mr Rockey is indeed quite near where we found the SE end of what we believe to be the right of way.

At the NW end of our survey, the survey merges to a curiously-diagonal fence row which extends to theĀ  former PRR railroad grade at a spot I had determined a likely location for the mill, based on scrutiny of Penn Pilot aerial photos from the late 1930s.

It’s frustrating that so much is left unknown about this route, and there is likely so little time before any clues are completely decimated! Such is the path of “progress”.

0.15 miles

Linden Hall Lumber Co route

Update: As of December 2010, construction has begun to create another chunk of Suburban Hell on this farm. Any traces of the railroad right of way which did remain will be obliterated.

Seven Mountains, One Railroad (maps)

[contributed by Vince]

Today’s objective was to see if we could make any progress in the Faust Flat area west of US 322. Back in July, we had tracked eastward from the headwaters of Potter Run but lost the roadbed on the western edge of Faust Flat where the terrain becomes flat, grassy, and a semi-swampy. Our renewed interest in this area was partly driven by the discovery of the line that comes through Stillhouse Hollow and over towards US 322 via the Boy Scout camp, which seemed likely to cross 322 and join up ith the line that comes into Faust Flat.

We decided to access the area from the 7 Mountains Campground off 322. The owner of the campground allowed us to park at the end of Underwood Rd and hike back the trail into Faust Flat. After hiking back the trail about 3/4 mile, we cut to the right and went north through Faust Flat to the area where we had previously lost the roadbed. Turning around and heading back northeast near the base of Sand Mountain, we resumed our search for roadbed. This effort was initially unsuccessful but, just past Smith Gap, good rocky roadbed appeared out of nowhere headed towards a crossing with 322. We were able to follow this for about 0.36 miles until we reached where the railroad crosses the old Route 322. At this point, the roadbed disappears into someone’s yard immediately before it would have passed under the 4 lanes of present-day US 322. The interesting remains of an old house and general store are located at the crossing with the old 322. At one point, the log trains must have crossed this early highway. We wondered what the crossing might have looked like and whether the trains would have passed by the general store and old house or if they were built after the trains stopped running.

It’s somewhat difficult to explain the apparent total lack of any visible roadbed for almost a 1/2 mile stretch across Faust Flat. We have to assume it’s a combination of the flat terrain and the fact that this privately owned land has obviously been pretty heavily logged in more recent times. There’s nothing like log skidders and bulldozers to wipe out the fragile remains of logging railroads. If the early railroad builders wanted to build up rock ballast, they would have had bring them in from elsewhere as Faust Flat contains little in the way of rocks either for clearing out of the way or building up roadbeds. Perhaps the chief method of construction through this area was timbers laid out directly on the ground, which would now be gone.

Before wrapping things up for the day, we did a bit of checking around on the opposite side of US 322 in an attempt to discern how the railroad might have connected to the roadbed below the Boy Scout pond. The first little stream course that crosses Sand Mountain Rd on the east side of 322 seems a likely candidate but this is all private land with several homes on the north side of Sand Mt. Road so we didn’t investigate very thoroughly. Most likely, the roadbed is under or nearby both of the ponds located in this area.

It’s also important to note that, by establishing a link between the lines on either side of 322 at the 7 Mountains Campground, it becomes almost certain that the northern tier of the Riechly’s loop was shown on the wrong side of Sand Mountain on Kline’s map and that there was never any railroad that went through the forestry nursery as indicated on his map. (We have done some probes in this area and found nothing.) It also rather drastically changes Kline’s depiction of the “grand loop” by putting Poe Mills at sort of a dead end for a train coming from Milroy since it appears that any lines extending up Big Poe Creek from today’s Poe Valley State Park would not have connected with anything west of 322 as Kline suggests. In fact, we have yet to locate any actual roadbed or tramroad upstream of Poe Valley State Park [it is a difficult area to survey due to an overabundance of busy camps -ed.].

Survey in the vicinity of Seven Mts Camp
Vicinity of Seven Mts Camp

Relationship between previously-surveyed Sand Mtn area (left), present Seven Mtns Camp area (second from left) and Stillhouse Hollow area (center).

Relationship of various pieces

Project Status

  • daily contributions: 0.36 miles
  • total: 30.85 miles
  • daily contributions (under road): 0 miles
  • total (under road): 18.63 miles
  • grand total: 49.48 miles

Panther Hollow (map)

October arrived with high (85+) temperatures and humidity, but we still decided to spend the day investigating to the NE of our recent survey in Green’s Valley, which would put us up around Panther Hollow. With luck we might make the connection over Long Mountain and the Mifflin/Centre county line to Little Poe Creek where we surveyed some weeks ago.

Arriving at Siglerville-Millheim Pike and Panther Run Rd, we were pleased to note the gate on PRR open, with a nice note indicating it would be open “for hunting” through January. We decided rapidly that we are unquestionably “hunting”! We therefore left a vehicle at S-M Pike and took another out Panther Run Rd to the junction with Little Poe Rd. Along the rather scenic road, we debated whether the Panther Hollow was best described as “sylvan” or “verdant”. It’s a nice place. We also stopped to visit with a wood turtle who seemed to be hot (for a turtle) in pursuit of something resembling a wingless dragonfly.

Arriving at the junction, we did what we do pretty well: crashed about through brush. It seemed likely that we should either find the “main line” running SW-NE along Panther Run, or a fragment of the branch coming over the mountain from Little Poe. Well, it seemed likely! But we didn’t find much. Vince went off towards the summit of Long Mountain and did find a spot on the east side of LPR which (in much wetter weather) might be the “Dinkey Springs” as described by Kline. Regretfully, no dinkeys were present on this day. He found nothing (other than the road) which seemed likely to be the line over the mountain.

After a while spent criss-crossing the rather dry stream, I noticed some faint parallel depressions to the NE of the LPR/PRR junction. I followed them a bit SW until they ran smack into a very large evergreen. Hmmm. We’ve noticed an interesting tendency for very large evergreen trees to be right smack in the middle of logging railroad grade; figure that out. On the other side of the tree, the sort of track ran more or less directly into the LPR/PRR junction. But it was really faint, and not at all proper rock-ballasted right of way.

Crossing the junction, I again noticed a very faint track. Finally, I concluded I had to inform Vince of it, though I knew he was going to skeptical. Too darn faint. Too odd. Like two parallel tracks, not one… And could that be the track branching off onto Little Poe Road…?

Vince arrived and pondered with some skepticism. Wellll…. Vince pointed out that this was Gotshall construction, later passed to Reichley, and that Gotshall seemed to build pretty marginal trackage. We decided we had nothing better and figured we should follow it SW as best we could. It seemed to continue, so we gained some optimism about its faint path. Then–in a Eureka moment–we found the first wooden stringer. Holy cow! We actually have it! Hot damn!

Continuing SW, we found a fair assortment of wooden stringers surviving, sometimes one alone, occasionally two in parallel. Considering these untreated timbers have been lying on the ground here for well over 100 years, it is simply amazing that they survive. One or two still show clean square corners where the top was flattened to accommodate rail.

We kept thinking we must come to the junction with the line over Long Mountain, and that the track would evolve into “real” RoW. Finally, Vince made a wise recollection of Kline’s comment that the (Gotshall-built and Reichley-operated) “…tramroad to Poe Mills was in deplorable condition…”. If, in fact, it remained a tramroad, never upgraded to Reichley’s typical rock-ballast, we could go on like this for some time…

The track continued in its rather bizarre way: more like two parallel trenches in the surface rocks than the single mound of rock to which we are accustomed. Periodically we would encounter stringers, other times there would be none. Sometimes we thought we had lost the track, only to regain it after a bit. Eventually, the land leveled out and path became significantly harder to follow. Sometimes, wandering would turn up a stringer, or a strip of moss likely to have been a stringer, and we could continue. Finally, we began playing tag with various incarnations of the Mid State Trail, and we resorted to walking the trail. At points, it seemed possible we were seeing remnants of stringers along the trail, but we were not thoroughly convinced. One must ponder, however, what inspired the MST designers to follow this route: it could well have been the faint remains of stringers, now regrettably obliterated by many hikers’ feet.

Finally we reached S-M Pike and drove the shuttle vehicle back to LPR-PRR junction.

A bit more exploration

Since we still had plenty of light, we decided to take Vince’s “Toyoter” up and over Long Mountain to meet our previous survey. On the way down this steep and rough road, we kept keen eyes out for possible routes besides the road. The road’s grade just seems excessive at times, even for very crude tramroad.

We reached the MST and our previous survey without finding any potential grades. We then proceeded to crash around a bit in various places without much success. At one curious spot, there is a distinct track where someone had driven up the hillside. Along the track, we found a pink ribbon tied at a point which maybe possibly sorta could be a faint railroad grade paralleling the road. Um, what’s up with this?

We returned up LPR, recording it as probable railroad-under-road, checking a few side spots with no success. We collected the second vehicle and headed south on LPR towards Havice Valley Rd, hoping to find the gate there open as well. A late-day hiker we encountered reported the gate was open, so we made haste towards that exit and cold Yuengling to be had in Lewistown.

The resulting map…

Tram roads and probable route over Long Mtn

The northeast end of Mifflin county is very scenic, what with rolling green fields, dramatic wooded mountains, Amish buggies and kids, and plenty of horses and cows. If you’ve never visited, it’s a great place for a Sunday drive. Please remember to travel at modest speed and be considerate of the area’s other Sunday drivers, whose total horsepower is often a very small integer.

Project Status

  • daily contributions: 1.34 miles
  • total: 28.49 miles
  • daily contributions (under road): 1.20 miles
  • total (under road): 17.38 miles
  • grand total: 45.87 miles

Mifflin County Madness (map)

We decided to spend the day officially expanding our surveys into Mifflin county and Bald Eagle State Forest.

We started out by visiting Stillhouse Hollow Rd, which departs old route 322 just west of Milroy and accesses Greens Valley. Unfortunately, this very rough road is blocked at the second switchback by a gate proclaiming that there is an unpassable bridge ahead. It was still worth the visit, however, as the hollow off of old 322 was quite obviously a very substantial log slide. It seems highly likely that this was constructed to feed the Reichley railroad going past the mouth of the hollow into the Milroy sawmill.

Next we took new 322 up to Sand Mountain Rd (deja vu all over again?) and went to the other end of Stillhouse Hollow Rd. Passing a very nice little camp/residence, we followed this rough road back to reach Lingle Stream. Alert! Suspicious ledge! We were very pleased to discover a branch apparently undocumented by Kline. We surveyed it to the west, along a branch of Lingle Stream, as far as the dam at the Seven Mountains’ Boy Scout Camp lake. It criss-crosses a scout nature trail, but is reasonably intact. It’s interesting to ponder whether it continues on the other side. Could this be the real connection to Crowfield Rd railroad, and the hell with Kline’s supposed horseshoe route (which we never found) over Sand/Treaster mountain? Hmmm.

Returning to the truck, we headed southeast on Stillhouse Hollow Rd, as it appears plain that the RoW is under the road. Reaching a gated bridge at the junction with a private driveway, we explored and found RoW continuing southeast along Lingle Stream. We continued to survey through some really nasty thickets, until it became obvious that we were into Greens Valley. Somehow–scarcely imaginable in these thickets!–we missed the junction with the line coming up from Laurel Creek reservoir and Milroy.

excerpt: Pitch Pine and Prop Timber, p. 132

[From: Pitch Pine and Prop Timber, p. 132, Benjamin F. G. Kline Jr.]

We continued surveying along Greens Valley stream. It’s a quite scenic and extremely narrow valley, with heavy rhodadendron. Eventually, with much cursing, we reached the aforementioned defective bridge on Stillhouse Hollow Rd, which appears to primarily need new wood planking. Ok, DCNR, whatever!

The RoW must continue (along with the omnipresent Mid State Trail) on the other side of the bridge, but we decided to suspend here and head back along SHR, so we might sample other points along this route. Apparently “Horse Path” is 2km up Greens Valley Stream from here, and perhaps this would be an appropriate place to experiment in the future with my proposed “equi-motive survey” techniques.

Returning to the truck, we headed up and over Sand Mountain Rd. While being run off the road by an a$$hole in a big pickup towing a huge RV at ridiculous speed for this road, I noticed something curious and let out a “whoa!”. Walking back, we found what appears to be wide rock-ballasted RoW atop Sand Mountain. Vince pointed out that there were no obvious tie cribs. The location does not appear to jibe with Kline’s maps. Waypoint.

We turned onto Siglerville-Millheim Pike and stopped to briefly explore the area where the MST crosses the road. Though it seems highly likely the railroad crossed in this area, it’s fairly level and we found no clear signs. We therefore headed SW on a 4WD road which is also the MST. Eventually it does a jog to the NW. Exploring on foot, I quickly found a small stone fill giving clear evidence that the next portion of road (after the first jog) was atop RoW.

Continuing to the second jog in the road, the road ends, while the trail continues. Walking a ways down the trail, it becomes obvious that this is again RoW. We decided to record the stretch of road between the two jogs as RoW under road. We will come back later to connect this with our surveys earlier in the day, and extend it NE along Panther Run and hopefully to the supposed connection over the mountain at Little Poe Creek.

New territory! How cool is this…?

Stillhouse Hollow and Greens Valley survey

Project Status

  • daily contributions: 1.12 miles
  • total: 27.15 miles
  • daily contributions (under road): 1.06 miles
  • total (under road): 16.18 miles
  • grand total: 43.33 miles

Escape to ‘Baw Diggle’ (maps)

When we started our “Rothrock Railroad Re-survey”, it seemed silly to worry about the name suggesting our efforts were only in Rothrock State Forest. But today we entered new territory: by crossing US route 322 we entered Bald Eagle State Forest (known in the vernacular as ‘Baw Diggle’).

We decided to make a quick excursion to the area of Bald Eagle State Forest around Poe Valley State Park. We began by taking US 322 to Sand Mountain Road, and heading NE past the Boy Scout camp. Reaching the junction with Synagogue Gap Road (story?), we decided to explore a trail which continues NE along the headwaters of Big Poe Creek, as it seemed like a potential spot for railroad grade. The road goes about a mile to access some new deer control areas, then is blocked by a gate. We parked at a nearby camp and trekked over to the headwaters area of BPC. Checking both sides of the stream showed no obvious signs of RoW.

Returning to Sand Mtn Rd, we continued through Wildcat Gap (story?) where we switched to Poe Valley Rd. Although it seems very likely that railroad ran along Big Poe Creek here, the area is uber-developed with moderately nasty vacation camps which hinder thorough exploration. It’s also very likely the road is built atop any former grade. We therefore continued to Poe Valley State Park proper.

At the east end of the park, we parked at the gated junction of Poe Valley Rd and Little Poe Rd. Kline’s map suggests railroad ran along Little Poe Creek and branched over Long Mountain to Panther Run (Mifflin county). We hiked up LPR, not observing any particular signs of railroad, but with Vince observing that the route was reasonable for logging railroad. It’s a nice hike, if nothing else.

[From: Pitch Pine and Prop Timber, p. 132, Benjamin F. G. Kline Jr.]

Finally, after a road crossing of the creek, we observed what appears faint RoW on the right-hand side. Very soon we came upon the blue-blazed Little Poe Trail joining on the right. We began following the trail, which does seem to generally follow RoW. This sure isn’t your momma’s RoW, however! Gotshall (or was this Mowery & Wagner?) was apparently skimping on construction–probably by using stringers everywhere–and the path is much fainter than the nicely-ballasted routes we are used to from Kulp and Reichley.

We followed the route until it seems to end and the large stumps disappeared. Vince spotted a really nice spotted salamander which put up with our examination for a surprisingly long time before slipping beneath the leaves. We then returned to the junction of the trail and LPR. The route of LPR up the ridge into Mifflin county seems suspiciously steep, so we suspected the the actual route may have departed the present road. We briefly explored, but suspended due to waning light. Perhaps we will approach this route from the Mifflin side…

Little Poe Creek survey

Returning to the truck, we examined the area around the junction of PVR and LPR for signs of railroad, finding nothing. Heading down (NE) towards Poe Paddy, however, we quickly noticed a curious ledge on the south side of the road. Examination among the pine trees showed almost certain RoW. Nice! We waypointed it for further survey. It seems to reappear regularly, so we may be able to log legitimate mileage here eventually.

We decided to depart Poe Paddy via the infamous Poe Paddy Rd switchbacks (4 wheel drive ONLY). Just a short distance from the park’s historical marker, I noticed a very obviously rock-ballasted RoW merge from the right. While it’s not clear where it was going, we waypointed it for future exploration.

The trip up over PPR was uneventful. It does offer a great view of a Lewisburg & Tyrone (Pennsylvania railroad) bridge (I guess this is the location shown as “Penn View”) and is worth a visit if your suspension will tolerate the trip.

Project Status

  • daily contributions: 0.44 miles
  • total: 26.03 miles
  • daily contributions (under road): 1.31 miles
  • total (under road): 15.12 miles
  • grand total: 41.15 miles

Further Thickhead Mountain Escapades

[Today’s report is from Vince because Paul was “otherwise engaged” most of the afternoon.]

Suspicious track paralleling TMR

I began the day armed with a printed copy of a Penn Pilot image showing a suspicious line paralleling Thickhead Mtn. Road, basically at the northeast end of the mountain between the two sharp curves in the road. I parked at the gate just above where Bechtol Rd splits off and began hiking up TMR. At the location where the known railroad comes out onto the road, I noticed that the ledge for the tail track is visible for a short distance on the opposite side of the road and slightly below it. Did we notice this on previous trips to this spot? Can’t recall.

Continuing up TMR, I chose a spot about halfway between the two curves and went crashing up the side of the mountain through heavy mountain laurel. If there was anything to the lines noticed on the Penn Pilot image, it should have been readily apparent shortly after leaving the road. Nothing. Not even a patch of talus. Continuing to the top of the mountain, I aimed for the bare concrete slab visible from the air on the southeast corner of the mountain top. There’s nothing here now, but heavy cables lying in the brush seem to indicate there was once a tower of some sort here. Following the access road out, I soon regained TMR.

I chose to hike TMR down towards our previously-named “Grand Jct” atop Thickhead Mtn. When I got about where I thought I had on previous visits, I turned around and headed back for the northeast face of the mountain to close the gap on TMR. About that time, I got a call from Paul that he was headed out to join me and we arranged to meet along Boal Gap road, which would allow me to hike all the way out the top of the ridge at the northeast extremity of Thickhead Mtn. and then get Paul to return me to my truck. By doing this, surely I would have to intersect where the railroad must have curved around the end of the mountain, right?

Well, after a long hike down through relatively open forest (i.e. hard to miss railroad grades) and after doing my best to skirt around private lands, I had very little to show for it. The only promising lead came right at the end where the private camp road comes out onto Boal Gap Road about a 1/2 mile above the junction with Krise Valley Road. Here, there’s an earthy ledge that seems to go for a ways on the south side of the stream. It’s level enough and the curves are gentle enough but there are no rocks or tie cribs immediately visible and it’s quite narrow. Nonetheless, it’s not at all unlike some known grades we’ve seen on very earthy hill sides in pine forests. The first bit of this appears to be on a patch of public land, so further investigation seems warranted.

Paul’s addition: After arriving at Boal Gap Rd, I explored a bit along the stream. The slight route we previously observed continues parallel to the stream. Nowhere is it entirely clear that it is or is not former railroad. In fact, it greatly resembles the “earthy ledge” Vince mentions above. I found an (obviously popular) horse trail in this area which angles steeply up the hillside and which might have originated as a log slide. It intersects a couple of paths a ways up the hill, but they seem likely to have been constructed as fire breaks or logging roads. Basically: nada.

Project Status

  • daily contributions: 0 miles
  • survey total: 25.59 miles

Who is John Wert? (map!)

We determined that this very humid day was the day to complete a survey of the previous lead found along the John Wert Path (formerly the Sinking Creek Trail). We left a car at Bear Meadows, and went to Thickhead Mtn Rd end of the path to begin surveying.

The path departs the road on a driveway to two camps. On its left, RoW is buried under copious rhodadendron. At one or two spots it breaks out to expose rock ballasting. [note: the map does not show this stretch in the correct location, probably due to GPS inaccuracy]

We stopped at the first camp to talk to a resident. He informs us the camp was completed before 1952, and that workers were housed there during construction of the nearby pipeline. We suspect the bulldozing of the driveway dates from that time… does that mean the original access to the camp was via the railroad RoW? Hmmm.

Around the first camp, we found the RoW appears to have dropped down closer to Sinking Creek. Its path is a little vague until passing the second camp, at which point it’s plainly visible alongside the cleared JWP. At the pipeline clearing, it’s pretty easy to extrapolate the path across the interruption. From there on we found it a pretty easy survey, as most of the RoW is very well ballasted with rock. If you go, expect lots of rocks and rhodadendron!

Eventually, the RoW began to trend a bit to the left, away from the stream, and become somewhat vague. At its approximate end, Vince identified a fairly clear logslide (or at least skid road) coming downhill from the left. It appears there was probably a loading area where it met the railroad. Sure enough, Vince found a very large pile of clinkers right about where one would expect a locomotive to sit while loading logs.

Sinking Creek / John Wert Path

We explored a bit around the area to see if we’d missed anything, but it appears this really was a terminus. We continued along the John Wert Path to Bear Meadows, which is a rather nice hike with rather fine large hemlocks and other trees. We still don’t know who John Wert is, but we appreciate the 1.11 miles.

Project Status

  • daily contributions: 1.11 miles
  • survey total: 25.59 miles