PENNSYRR.COM by Jerry Britton

Jerry Britton's PRR Middle Division in HO Scale

The Pennsylvania Midland Railroad, as described in the following series of articles, is a freelance railroad created by Jerry Britton. The railroad is inspired by actual events and histories of related railroads in Mifflin and Centre counties of Pennsylvania. History itself is not changed, but leveraged to create future outcomes that never came to fruition.

Since the dawn of the railroad age, citizens of Mifflin and Centre counties had yearned for the iron horse to connect their communities. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania surveyed three routes for possible railroads to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh via Harrisburg. They were known as the southern, middle, and northern routes. The middle route would have such a railroad approach from the east, hit Lewistown, then go north through Mann's Gap (Reedsville) and head west down the "Big Valley" through Belleville, and on towards Huntingdon.

1895 Railroads of Mifflin County
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When the Pennsylvania Railroad was built, it reached Lewistown in 1849. However, the PRR opted to continue along the Juniata River to Huntingdon, rather than follow the middle route survey.

Still seeking connectivity north of Lewistown, local citizens chartered the Mifflin & Centre County Railroad(M&CCR) in 1863. The proposed route was north out of Lewistown, through Mann's Narrows to Milroy, and across Seven Mountains to Bellefonte, and on to Milesburg in Centre county. The Pennsylvania Railroad became a partner in the venture and absorbed the line in 1865, but it never made it past Milroy. The line would become known as the Milroy Branch, and later, the Milroy Secondaryafter passenger traffic was eliminated (1940).

In 1868, locals chartered the Kishacoquillas Valley Railroad(KVRR) to connect Belleville to Reedsville on the M&CCR, a distance of nine miles. Belleville was centered between ore deposits at the Greenwood Ore Banks and Greenwood Furnace. Much of the output of the Greenwood Furnace went east to the Logan Iron Works in Burnham, also on the M&CCR.

In 1884, the Seaboard, Pennsylvania & Western Railroad was chartered as a competitor of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It's projected route ran east to west along Stone Mountain and across Mann's Narrows, just south of Belleville. It never came to fruition.

Trolleys came into vogue, and in 1906 the Big Valley Street Railway Co.was chartered to run 27 miles between the Juniata Valley Electric Street Railway (JVESR) in Huntingdon, up the length of the Big Valley (through Belleville), to Reedsville to connect with the Lewistown & Reedsville Electric Railway. In 1909 the three lines were merged into the Huntingdon, Lewistown and Juniata Valley Traction Co. Several miles of roadbed were completed, but the company went bankrupt in 1914.

There was also talk of an "inter mountain railway"whose eastern terminus would be Reedsville. It would follow the route of the KVRR west for about a mile, then deviate north up Coffee Run, then angle northwest through a natural cut in Stone Mountain, through Greenwood Furnace, and on northward through Tussey Mountain to State College. This concept never made it off paper.

In 1853, the Lewisburg, Centre and Spruce Creek Railroad was chartered to run from Lewisburg to Spruce Creek, where it would meet the PRR. The charter was amended to have the connection move to Tyrone instead. Construction started eastward from Tyrone and westward from Lewisburg. In 1879 the company was reorganized as the Lewisburg and Tyrone Railroad, and leased to the Pennsy in 1880. Construction stalled, and the west end of the railroad only made it as far as Fairbrook and would later become known as the Fairbrook Branch. The eastern end detoured and connected to Bellefonte and was named the Bellefonte Branch. A connection was available to Milesburg and the PRR's Bald Eagle Branch. The Bellefonte Branch would eventually be severed to become the Bellefonte Branch and the Montandon Secondary (east end).

1895 Railroads of Centre County
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Meanwhile, in Centre county the Bellefonte Central Railroad(BFC), a shortline between Belletonte and State College, was exploring numerous expansions. It had started in 1882 as the Bellefonte and Buffalo Run Railroadand reorganized in 1892.

1895 Railroads of Huntingdon County
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In 1894 the line was extended southward to Pine Grove Mills, at the base of Tussey Mountain. While this connection would only provide agricultural and logging traffic, it was part of a larger plan to link to the Huntingdon & Broad Top Mountain Railroad(H&BTM) in order to tap into the Broad Top coal region. The easy route would be to follow Tussey Mountain to Spruce Creek, but it was determined that the area there was too congested with the Pennsylvania Railroad controlling the geography. Any proposed line would have to cross or tunnel through Tussey Mountain to reach the H&BTM at Huntingdon. 

The BFC also contemplated linking to the Central Railroad of Pennsylvaniaat Bellefonte (built in 1893), allowing the Bellefonte Central to form part of a coal route tapping the Broad Top field on behalf of the New York Central. The project stalled in 1896.

During the early 1900s, the BFC and the PRR were at odds over freight rates. The BFC's largest customer was the lime mines just west of Bellefonte. The BFC performed all of the shifting work and interchanged the cars with the Pennsy at Bellefonte just a mile away. Since the freight rates were based on mileage, the Pennsy received most of the income. The BFC wanted a larger share since it was doing all the work!

When the Pennsy filed to abandon its Fairbrook Branch in 1927, the BFC leased the line and connected Fairbrook and made a connection at Struble. The plan was to haul the lime traffic across the BFC, down the ex-PRR Fairbrook Branch, and interchange with the PRR at Tyrone, thus increasing its mileage. The Pennsy countered this tactic by refusing to accept interchange at Tyrone! Operations were suspended on the BFC extension in 1933.

History leaves three unmet needs:

    • The BFC wanted to route lime products over more miles of its own line before interchange in order to increase revenues.
    • The BFC wanted access to the Broad Top coal reserves via the H&BTM, perhaps for bridge traffic to the New York Central.
    • The public sought alternative passenger routes between Lewistown and Huntingdon to State College and Bellefonte.

The histories of these short lines are well documented in The Ol' Hook & Eye - 2nd Edition - A History of the Kishacoquillas Valley Railroadby John G. (Jerry) Hartzler, and Rails to Penn State: The Story of the Bellefonte Centralby Michael Bezilla.