Written by Timothy Ruane
Junior, Industrial Engineering
Albert Dorman Honors College
Stewartstown Railroad is a historic railroad located in Stewartstown, PA. It runs for 7.4 miles to New Freedom, and was used by farmers to get access to a national railroad network in order to sell their goods. The railroad has an interesting history throughout the decades, including its transformations due to the Great Depression and trucks becoming more popular. However, its connection to the national network was broken and it ended as a commercial track, eventually becoming an operational historic track. Like all old things, it needs work and upkeep.
And that’s where you come in. You can get involved by volunteering your time at the railroad. Volunteers are always needed and appreciated. Anyone can sign up; there are monthly work weekends that are announced on the railroad’s Facebook page and the organizers will respond to questions on what kind of work will be going on. (In my own experience, if you’re willing to wake up at a reasonable time, you can fulfill your 15 hours of external community service requirements in a single weekend there.) There is a volunteer log in the station that records the time spent and what was done on the track, allowing an easy copy to be made with a simple camera phone.
The bigger question is, “Why would you spend your time working at the railroad?” Well, other than the fact that you’ll be able to sing, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” there are a handful of reasons, the first being that you will be restoring a historic railroad. Since I have started working there, the railroad has been improved to be able to support the locomotive and the other large cars for two miles, something that has not been done for a few decades. That feeling of seeing your work move rails and replace ties to allow the trains to be used again is amazing.
The second reason would be the learning experience that comes with the work. The railroad understands that not all people will have experience with all the jobs required to fix a railroad, so they teach you. In the beginning, the majority of your work will be general work in the station and in the yard, but more importantly replacing ties and aligning rails. The more often you go, however, the more you’ll learn. Since I’ve started, I’ve learned how to drive trains, how to use an acetylene torch, how to operate a backhoe, and a lot about train mechanisms and track layouts. Not only are you helping the railroad, but you’re gaining hands-on experience that you can list on your resume.