Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

Cass, West Virginia, was founded in 1901 by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company. A company town, employees lived in company-owned houses and shopped at the company store. While I have no information for Cass specifically, in many such communities the workers were paid in script (company-issued currency) that was discounted by outside merchants, if it was accepted at all. Goods bought at the company store typically were priced higher than area merchants, if there were any. But the company store did offer credit to employees, payment for which was deducted from future pay. Cass had 52 company houses, which appear to be larger and more comfortable than the company houses seen in coal towns. There was also a church and a Masonic Lodge. Employees logged nearby Cheat Mountain and the logs were carried to the mill in Cass by rail.

The mill ceased operations in 1960 and over time the State of West Virginia bought the railroad and much of the town. Given State Park status, the town and facilities continue to be restored for rapidly growing tourist visitations. Twenty of the former company houses have been restored to-date for tourist rentals, available for one night or up to two weeks.

The main attraction, of course, is the train ride. Powered by the small Shay steam engines once used by the logging railroads and riding on modified logging flat cars, visitors are treated to a leisurely trip up the mountain that includes two switch backs.

The train leaves the depot with the engine pushing the cars. If the passengers aren't sure why the engine is pushing instead of pulling, the reason becomes apparent after passing through the first switchback.

With the engine in front for the mid-section of the trip, the amount of smoke coming out of the stack becomes apparent. There's a sun somewhere in that picture above!

The situation is remedied at the second switchback, with the engine once again pushing from behind. That is probably a good thing because we now encountered the steepest section of track, a section with an 11% grade. That's a rise of 11 feet in every 100 feet of track.

The little engine labored hard up this section, with abundant smoke coming out of the stack. One of our companions was a retired conductor with the NF&G (Nicholas, Fayette, and Greenbrier) subsidiary of C&O Railroad. He pointed out the engine's wheels slipping on the track and the engineer releasing sand onto the rails to improve traction.

We continued our climb, passing a farm in a high mountain cove,

a copse of maples that obviously has grown from the stumps of previously-logged trees,

arriving at Whittaker Station, which is about half way up the mountain. This was also the half-way point of our trip and people were given time to exit the train, get refreshments, take pictures, and such. A longer, 4 1/2 hour trip goes on to the mountain top, but we were scheduled to return down the mountain.

Whittaker Station has a collection of logging railroad static displays, including a caboose, some flat cars, and a couple of cable-logging cranes. The latter were used to pull cut logs up the mountainside to the railroad, instead of snaking the logs with mules or cutting more roads across the mountain.

It was also a chance to get a "train poster" shot.

Then it was back down the mountain.

The last switchback.

Past the burned-out mill,

to be welcomed home by the Shays parked on sidings at the bottom of the mountain.


  1. Thanks for the ride, Jim! The state showed amazing forsight to preserve so much.Usually we wait till the whole thing's derelict, important parts are sold off or lost forever, then we cobble together what little remains and make a wholly unsatisfying tourist attraction. Here they seem to have got it righjt.

  2. I love the old train...I remember these from my youth days in Africa. All coal trains and probably still are.

  3. I love Cass Scenic RR. Wish you could have went to the top! We've been there a couple of times and went to the top the first time we were there. It is a slow trip and a lot chillier up on top, but the view is beautiful. I also like the store and the ice cream shop inside it. WE took a picture of our kids sitting on the stools with their ice cream cones and beside of the bear statue outside.

  4. Yes, Janet, I wanted to go to the top but we had only one day we could go and they weren't making that run that day. I want to go back next summer and go to the top. Also, between Cass and White Sulphur Springs is a valley that apparently was settled by German immigrants in the 19th century. The architecture of the barns and houses is fascinating. I want to take some time shooting pictures there. Jim