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THE SWITCHBACK

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HATCHET CREEK

Beginnings:

The Hatchet Creek Railroad was originally a branch line, a part of an 1856 charter for the East Broad Top Railroad and Coal Company. However, during this time the American Civil War prevented the building of this line and the EBT as a whole. After the war, the EBT began construction in 1872, and by the time the EBT reached Robertsdale in November of 1874, they no longer found interest in the Hatchet Creek Branch. Upset and outraged by this the locally run tipples at Norman, PA, and Nesquehoning, PA began formulating a plan of their own. Several years later saw the formation of the East Union Coal and Navigation company in 1876 which purchased the land for the right of way from the EBT later that year.

Construction:

The EUC&N Began construction of a 30-inch line between the EBT transfer at Hatchet Creek to East Union in May of 1877 under the belief that the 30-inch engines would be more compatible with the mine gauges, completing this leg of the line in only 4 months. The line then first went east to reach Norman Coal Co. tipples 1 & 2, stopping at the company town of Clinton, PA in 1878. This section's only rough patch was the Norman tunnel where 40 men lost their lives during a blasting accident that resulted in a subsequent partial collapse of the new tunnel on August 2nd, 1877. Moving north from East Union the line grew farther still through the shantytown of Mahoning and Crystal Lake, the railroad completed its journey on July 7th, 1880 at the town of Nesquehoning where they reached the massive Crystel Lake Mineral Co.'s Daugus Mine.

First operations:

The EUC&N main headquarters were stationed in East Union, here there was a single road engine house for locomotive repair and a small yard for car storage, most of the railroad's work was done at the transfer yard in Hatchet Creek. The first locomotives to be used on the line were 4-4-0 "Americans" and 4-6-0 "Ten Wheelers" built by Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philidelphia, PA. Usually loaded trains consisted of two leading 4-6-0s, 10-15 hopper cars, and a trailing 4-4-0. Empty trains were shoved back up the 3 1/2% grade by all three engines usually 15-20 hoppers at a time.

A New Century:

By the end of the 1800s, the railroad began to look for a more efficient way to run, turning to the only other railroad they knew of at the time EUC&N looked to the EBT for ideas and found that they would need much stronger power as the EBT had begun selling off their 1800's locomotives as early as 1890. The EUC&N approached Baldwin again this time replacing their aging ten-wheelers with 2-8-2 outside-framed Mikados, following suit with the EBT who also ordered Baldwin "mikes". However, this wouldn't be the last idea taken from the EBT. After purchasing the Mikados the EUC&N knew they needed more space for their new larger fleet of engines. In 1910 the railroad moved to Hatchet Creek and modified the transfer yard into a locomotive facility. However, the EUC&N had the very bizarre idea of purchasing the plans for several of the EBT's Orbisonia buildings and built exact reconstructions to 30-inch gauge specifications including roundhouse, machine shop complex, and paint shop along with several other service buildings.

The Golden Years:

Once moved into the new facilities in Hatchet Creek the railroad underwent a split in ownership from the mines to a private corporation of its own rebranded as the Hatchet Creek Railroad. Around the same time, two additional mikado's were brought in from Baldwin. The railroad prospered in the 1910s and 1920s only finding minor derailments and broken rails to be the hardest challenges. Until 1929 when the infamous wreck of #8 occurred. In 1930 the railroad sold off 3 of their "Mikado" engines due to a drop in general freight traffic and by 1935 they retired the remainder of their 1890's "Americans" and "Ten Wheelers" due to a sharp decline in passenger traffic. This saw the eventual scrapping of these engines except for two of the 4-4-0 "Americans" #3 and #5 these engines were sidelined for special occasions and summer trains for the mining families.

Big Changes:

In 1940 the Hatchet Creek RR was again looking for newer, stronger power. This marked the "Mikes" days as numbered and in the following years, the line would see the largest 30in locomotives ever built for a US system. The 4-8-4 "Northerns" were by far the most interesting and impressive locomotives built for Hatchet Creek at a weight of 200,000 pounds and with a tractive effort of 25,600 pounds these engines matched up with the likes of the EBT's 1910s "Mikados" with ease. These new engines arrived between 1943-45 to help with WWII efforts and immediately showed their power with trains usually being doubled from the original 15-20 car trains to 35-40 cars. This was the final nail in the coffin for the HCRR 2-8-2, all of which were scrapped at the engine facilities at East Union between 1944-46. The new engines also caused the numbering system to change with the "Northerns" taking 1-5 and the other engines being the 4-4-0 and the 2-4-2 taking 6, 7,8, and 9.

Decline:

While most of the 1940s went smoothly for the HCRR with the end of WWII in 1945, a massive blow was taken to all of the railroads in the Northeast. Hatchet Creek was no exception. With only 5-6 freight trains a month and a drop in coal production from the mines the railroad laid off several clerks and closed the freight depot at Crystal Lake. Into the 1950s the standard gauge lines of the US had completed dieselization and found a much cleaner alternative in diesel fuel than coal. Hatchet Creek however soldiered on with their "Northerns" and when the Baldwin Locomotive Works announced they would stop production of steam locomotive parts, Hatchet Creek bought up mass quantities of spare and extra parts for the engines. Things took a turn for the worst when the East Broad Top Railroad, a big friend and main exporter of coal on the Hatchet Creek vanished from common carrier service in 1956. Although things were looking bleaker and bleaker for the railroad, they began shipping coal out by truck, modifying the EBT transfer to handle road traffic. This saw the railroad hold on to their slippery ropes and finish out the 1950s.

End of the line:

In 1961 Hatchet Creek faced certain death when Daugus Mine in Nesquehoning closed due to a drop in coal quality and failing infrastructure in older sections of the mine. In 1963 the railroad bit the bullet and purchased 4 DM-12 diesels from ALCo, trying to cut costs on steam locomotive maintenance and improve efficiency. Finally, in 1967 just ten years shy of turning 100 years the crumbling Hatchet Creek Railroad was sold to a broker company that began looking to liquify its assets.

Silver lining:

Hearing about the closure of the railroad and an avid lover of trains Nick Kovalchick, then president of Kovalchick Salvage and owner of the East Broad Top (Which he had purchased in 1960 and turned into a tourist line.) jumped at the chance to save another interesting piece of American narrow gauge history. Within two years after the sale, much like the EBT, the Kovalchicks had tourist operations running from Hatchet Creek to East Union using the DM-12 diesels purchased in 1963. The tourist line ran under Kovalchick Salvage and operated in tandem with the EBT often having joint featured events and specials.

Photography by Peyton Boyd: (Stevens Pass Railfan)


RESKINS


Locomotives


Kamino F3A-B


Jointed Rail Model

Kamino C30-7


Kamino H1D


Jointed Rail Model

PRSL Baldwin S12


C&O GP35


PC GP35 Pack



Kamino AS-16


Kamino ALCO Pack


Kamino GP35


PRSL Budd RDC


NS ex-NW,SOU
GP35 Pack


West Chester
rs18 1803


American flyer
0-8-0


Rolling Stock


Kamino RPO


Jointed Rail Model

Kamino Bobber Caboose


PRSL EX-PRR N5 Caboose


Jointed Rail Model

P&S 100 ton hopper



NJT Comet Cars


Kamino Caboose


PRSL P60b
Baggage Car


Jointed Rail Model

NYC ACL Hoppers


Other


Kamino Ford F-350 MOW Vehicles


Photography by Peyton Boyd: (Stevens Pass Railfan)


HORNSOUNDS



Diesel


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BN Leslie RS3K


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Nathan p3


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Leslie rs3l


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Nathan k5la w/ ebell


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Nathan m3


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Nathan m5r24


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SP Nathan p3


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UP GE AC44CWCTE
Nathan p3



Steam


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Lionel Whistle


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PRR 3 chime


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Handcock 3 chime


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NP 3 chime


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