BELLEFONTE - The Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society has been bringing the history of railroads alive since 1984.
The BHRS serves two different functions, as a historic railroad and as an excursion train on the Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad, or NBERR. Andrew Richards, BHRS Treasurer, said they run on tracks owned and operated by SEDA-Council of Governments Joint Rail Authority.
"We run our excursion trains on tracks owned not only by SEDA-COG but also the NBERR with equipment provided by them as well," Richards said. "However, we own the very last mile of track when going into Lemont."
Sentinel photo by LAUREN KERSHNER
The historic Bellefonte train station is home to the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society and the Bellefonte Chamber of Commerce.
Richards said they use cars provided by NBERR, because their cars are non-operational. BHRS has two Budd Rail Diesel Cars, or RDC. The Budd RDCs are two of four rolling stock that the society has in its possession. Rolling stock is defined as everything on a railroad that moves on rails.
The other two pieces of stock are a caboose being repaired and a snow plow. The society received grant funding in 2010 from PennDOT for the repair of one of the Budd RDCs, the goal is to have it repaired by April of next year. Other grants and funding comes from other groups, Richards said.
"We get transportation grants from the government, which are distributed at a county level," Richards said. "One grant came from the National Railroad Historical Society to fix the caboose. We also have received gifts from other equipment research sites."
To help with this he said the group is taking donations for the caboose restoration to not only restore it but to also turn it into a mini museum.
"We want to turn the caboose into its own history story," Richards said. "We would be able to use it as a starting point to present past, present and future history of railroading. In the process we will find out more about the caboose itself."
Richards said they believe the caboose was in a movie before being sold to the Bellefonte line, but the only way to find out is to restore it and find a serial number.
Richards also said Historic Bellefonte has given grants to pay for advertising, to help save on costs for the excursion rides. The excursion rides and other community events are where the group wants to expand, to reach the current generation. BHRS offers rides on repaired speed cars during the various fairs and festivals in Lemont, at which it also has a table with pamphlets and flyers promoting the history of the railroad industry and the organization. The ultimate goal is to have the repaired Budd RDC offer more excursions and special events.
"People would be surprised how often we get asked if we can help with a special event," Richards said. "We have been asked to transport wedding parties from the church in Bellefonte to a reception space up the tracks. Reunion groups have also asked us if they can use the cars for transportation. The problem is we can't do that since our stock needs to be repaired."
He also said other tour groups come through about three times a year and are only there for the tour. If the society can offer this group a ride, it not only helps BHRS but the local businesses these people will visit as well. Richards said this all goes back to reaching out to the younger generation and promoting history.
BHRS is trying to expand, but being an all-volunteer group they find it difficult to do everything they want to do. While it only has about 30-40 active members and only about 5-10 of them show up for a work party, Richards said it will always be a volunteer-based group.
"We do not have the money to have real employees," Richards said. "However, the group of volunteers that we have are a very ambitious group."
He credits this volunteer group with the current expansion efforts and those planned for the future.
Richards said once the group is no longer limited to only using cars and engines from the Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad, more excursions will be offered, as well as various special events.
The next excursions will be Friday. Richards said two Halloween trains will be offered on Friday, one leaving the station at 6 p.m., the other leaving at 8 p.m., both lasting about an hour. Four different Fall Foliage trains will have varied departure times and destinations starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday continuing through 1 p.m. Sunday. Starting Dec. 20, train rides with Santa will be offered.