Train coming in

On October 7, 2008, a group of Lexington Newcomers made the trip to Cass to ride the old steam train. This railroad was used for years in the Cass logging and paper industry.

The day was a delight. Perfect weather, glorious color in the higher elevations, and abundant historical interest.

Follow the link to Cass Scenic Railroad State Park to find out more about this wonderful place. Better yet - go visit!

Forest road

The elevation at the town of Cass is 2688 feet.

We will be climbing to Bald Knob, which is 4700 feet. The track is steep at times and we will pass through two switchbacks. To negotiate these the train passes the switch, a switchman jumps off to throw the switch so we can continue on the higher track, and then he resets the switch and jumps back on board as we pass.

At this lower elevation the trees haven't reached their full fall color yet.

Steaming 1

The color of the vegetation changes with the altitude.

This area of West Virginia, especially at higher elevations, has a climage similar to Canada. It is much cooler than our home in Lexington, which is about 2 1/2 hours away by car.

Steaming 2 Coal smoke is black. Escaping steam is white. Coal smoke and cinders made their way into the open cars (and our hair and clothes).

Mountain farmsThe track passes through woods for most of the way, but there are some spots where cleared fields allow a mountain vista.

Logging campPart way up the mountain at Whitaker Station The Mountain State Railroad & Logging Association has recreated a 1940s logging camp. The site includes both living quarters and vintage logging machinery.

Logging campDocents explained the uses of the various pieces of machinery. Most are very rare because unused devices were often cut up for scrap when no longer needed.

Taking on waterShortly after Whitaker Station we stopped to take on water for the rest of the climb. The reservoir was in a thickly wooded area that captured the steam and coal smoke. The smell of the coal is distinctive, to say the least.

Scenic overlookThe rolling hills of the Appalachians looking east toward Virginia. These mountains aren't craggy like the Rockies or the Alps because they are very much older at over one billion years, give or take. (The oldest mountains on earth are in the South Africa Barbeton range -- estimated at 3+ billion years.)

What we now see as ridges were once the mountain valleys! it's easy to see why parts of this range are called the "Blue Ridge" or "Great Smokies".

Steam engineThe locomotive is always down-grade of the load to prevent the possibility of runaway cars if for some reason the coupling failed.

We tourists rode in open cars. Each car had its own brakeman (or brakewoman in our case). There were some seats, but many of us stood for the entire 4 1/2 hour trip to enjoy the scenery. There are a couple of closed cars with reserved seating, but ... why?

The beautiful scenery of the mixed hardwood forest is due to the logging industry that removed almost all of the original spruce.

Bald KnobAt the summit, Bald Knob, the spruce, is beginning to recover. It is the climax forest for this area. There are dense stands here and there in the hardwoods.

We enjoyed box lunches during our stop at the summit.

The park maintains several cabins - some in Cass and some on the mountain - that are available for an overnight stay. The conditions on the mountain are "rustic" and you must bring all your own food.

Shay locomotiveOur workhorse locomotive is Shay #6. It was built in 1945 for the Western Maryland Railway coal service - the last Shay ever built. It was in operation only a few years before going to the B&O Railroad Museum. The Cass Scenic Railway leased and restored it starting in 1990.

Ephraim Shay designed these locomotives  in the late 19th century specifically for logging. Follow the links above for technical discussions of the design.

This monster was given tender loving care by its engineer. He spent the entire break carefully oiling the many moving parts.

See below for more of the beautiful views going back down the mountain

Wild, wonderful WV



Red tree

The views on both sides of the railway were magnficent. This is an excursion that we had put off for many years, but it was more than worth the trip. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Rocky stream

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