Cass Scenic Railroad

Most of a lifetime ago in a village far, far away the Kansas City Southern Railroad ran trains through my home town headed south to New Orleans or north to Kansas City, and a hundred points in between. Our town of 800 living souls had a rail terminal where passengers could buy tickets and board or disembark from their comfortable travels (at least compared to airlines). Freight trains rumbled through at all hours of the day and night, but the fast passenger came through like clockwork at 7:30 a.m. southbound and 5:55 p.m. northbound. The passengers were pulled by diesel locomotives but some of the freights still followed coal-burning steam engines. For them, Mooringsport Station had a fully functional water tank, a necessity for steam powered engines.

 

Taking On Water
Taking On Water

My mom taught school and dad worked construction. Five out of seven days each week of my early years were spent with my grandmother “Big” (named for the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof character Big Mama). On school days in 1952 I’d hear a steam engine coming and cry out “Noo-noo nain!” In a minute Big’s old ears would catch the sound, and she’d mimic it with words reflecting the historic place of the railroad in American life: “Black and dirty, makin’ money. Black and dirty, makin’ money.”

 

Why the EPA Hates Coal
Why the EPA Hates Coal

West Virginia has built its tourism industry around fishing, snow skiing, and old time railroads. Cass Scenic RR is 50 miles south of Elkins. They take you up the mountain in rebuilt cars pulled by ancient steam engines. Our engine was a Shays geared locomotive with ten driving wheels. It and the rails were built over a hundred years ago to haul logs down from the mountains on a line of at most fifteen miles. The roadbed was short but steep; those 9% grades demanded powerful engines to haul the huge green logs. Our engine was built in 1905 and has been in operation ever since; its first 55 years pulling wood, and its last 55 pulling tourists.

 

Shay No. 5 in Its Salad Days
Shays No. 5 in Its Salad Days
Logger ID Tags.  Most were immigrants known by that number.  Example:  "Italian #142 killed today."
Logger ID Tags. Most were immigrants known by that number. Example: “Italian #142 killed today.”
It Was a Tough Way to Make a Buck
It Was a Tough Way to Make a Buck
That's a Switchback, or, A Shortcut to Mountain Climbing in a Train
That’s a Switchback, or, A Shortcut to Mountain Climbing in a Train
Shay Number 4
Shays Number 4

It didn’t go fast enough to say “Black and dirty, makin’ money”. Starting up its sound was an accelerating chuff-chuff-chuff. Later it was just plain loud going five miles an hour. We had to cross highways twice each way, both giving the engineer an opportunity to play his blues music on the steam whistle. Every engineer tries to invent a signature riff, as whistles are capable of varied tones, attacks, and slurs. When you’re in the car right behind the engine their volume is unspeakable.

 

Lima Locomotive & Machine Co. 1905
Lima Locomotive & Machine Co. 1905
The Fireman
The Fireman

Our weather was perfect with a few clouds and some fog, but no wind or rain. The temperature was a luxurious 60 at our 11:00 a.m. departure, a tad higher three hours later, and yes, this was July 1. We saw a huge deer of at least 8 points, a wild turkey leading three chicken-sized chicks, and 20 kinds of wild flowers.   At the halfway point our train side-tracked at a rebuilt logging camp with reproductions of logger’s cabins, the saw-sharpener’s shop, and the kitchen/dining room. The engineer spent his 20 minutes of quiet oiling a hundred moving parts. The fireman rested after shoveling 1,000 pounds of coal on the way up; down would require half that (brakes need steam too).

 

Four Miles and Already She Needs Oil (That's the Engineer)
Four Miles and Already She Needs Oil (That’s the Engineer)
Our Train, Shays Number 5. at the Station
Our Train, Shays Number 5. at the Station

Today we were time travelers. I’m so glad we went.  And here’s another of my favorite train songs!  (Close that stupid ad.)

10 thoughts on “Cass Scenic Railroad

  1. Whoa!

    Check out your beautiful new blog design.

    It looks fantastic.

    ===

    What a great adventure you had on the Cass Railroad.

    Makes me miss the days I spent in WV.

    ===

    Love the song, too.

    Like

    1. Isn’t it an interesting layout! If any of you are in the market for a renovated website, I can hook you up with an artistic developer. Not cheap, but reasonable, and so creative.

      Thanks,

      Jackson

      Like

      1. Yes, the layout is very cool.

        ===

        Another option would be to put a link to the designer somewhere here on the blog. Lots of blogs have one at the bottom of every page.

        Something like: “Blog Design By ….,” and then clicking on it takes one to the designer’s site.

        If my sometimes dusty memory is right today, I thought I saw such a thing on your old blog?

        ===

        Cheers 🙂

        Like

  2. and the medallion picture of the three of you, Kat in PINK, Jackson in blue and yellow, and Pink in liver and white!

    You guys are looking GOOD!

    Like

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