Ties that bind: Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society fixing tracks with 'just our hands and some tools'

bmilazzo@centredaily.comSeptember 28, 2013 

— The clanging of a hammer rang out Saturday through the wooded area where the train tracks run through Lemont.

That was the sound of half a dozen men from the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society fixing railroad ties on the 0.8-mile stretch of rail from the Lemont post office toward Pleasant Gap and getting the tracks ready for the fall foliage excursions.

The tours, which will be held twice next month, take riders on a 12-mile journey from Bellefonte through Pleasant Gap and to Lemont, and back. The excursions began last year to Lemont for the first time in more than 15 years, however, several railroad ties are in need of repair before the tours can begin this year.

Society member Dirk Berg said after an inspector deemed some railroad ties a “high priority replacement” over the summer, the group has been fixing about 20 ties total. On Saturday, members completed about 14 ties, and expect to be done by next week, when the inspector makes his final assessment.

“We’re doing the work similar to how it was done 100 years ago,” Berg said. “We have no machinery, just our hands and some tools.”

Joining Berg in the restoration efforts include society President Dan Durachko, Vice President Ken Dishman, and fellow members Andy Richards, Cody Martin and Andy Cobaugh.

It takes at least three people to assemble a new tie as the group removes the old tie, digs a hole for the new one, hammers in spikes attached to the track and fills in the vacant areas with gravel and stone.

The process per tie takes about an hour and a half.

“We dig one out, gauge it perfectly, then replace it,” Richards said while explaining that some old ties date back 80 years.

Richards said last year, a track inspector put the group members through rigorous training on how to fix the ties.

Berg said the project is expected to cost about $1,000, which will come from society funds.

That stretch of track is owned by the society, while the majority of the rest of the rail is owned and operated by the Joint Rail Authority.

“It’s our responsibility to get what needs to be done, fixed,” Berg said. “Safety is very important, and the last thing we want is a derailment or to put someone in danger.”

Richards said it’s a requirement that every five ties are in “good shape,” but the society aims to have every three railroad ties in good enough shape to pass inspection.

“In other words, we don’t want three bad ties in a row,” he said.

Tickets are already being sold for numerous excursions by the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society. They include the fall foliage excursions, Halloween Express and Santa Express. For more information, visit www.bellefontetrain.org.

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @M11azzo.

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