Back in Time, Up in the Mountains

This isn’t a travel blog, because well, we don’t travel much.

All our time is spent up, here in this place, and there’s no time left for somewhere else.

But for an early Christmas present Pedro and Olivier got us tickets for the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in Cass, West Virginia. And it was so much fun, you, dear reader, get to hear about it, see photos, and then, ahem, make plans to travel there yourselves. (In the spring. Although I’m told the same railroad line operates a Polar Express tour in November and December and they are already sold out for this year…)

Steam locomotive

It was a wild and wonderful day in late October in the wild and wonderful mountains of Pocahontas County, West Virginia. 60% of Pocahontas County is State or National land, and we took so many photos both our cameras died…

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The Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is about 45 minutes east of Elkins WV. There are several scenic railroad trips one could take on this Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad; the old Cass logging train up the mountain to Whittaker Station is just one. The Cass logging train has been going up Cheat Mountain since 1901 when the line was first built. Shay Locomotive #5 is the second oldest steam engine in the country.

We got our tickets at the station and headed up to the logging museum to wait for the train. Cats Railroad Station

The old company houses in the town of Cass have been renewed, and are now for rent to folks who would like to spend time hiking, kayaking, and exploring. Eight rivers have their headwaters in the mountains of Pocahontas County: the Cheat and the Greenbrier are the largest.old logging tools

We couldn’t miss hearing the train come into the station. There’s just something about about those long slow train whistles.

Cass Scenic Railroad Station

On the way up to Whittaker Station, the train goes over two mountain roads, marked with nothing but a stop sign, and train crossing warnings. Of course, long blasts of the train’s whistle are a good warning too.

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Railroad Crossing signs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you travel up the mountain in the coal-fired steam engine, the train is alternately pulled and pushed by the locomotive. There are two switchbacks; the train backs into them, with the guidance of a switchman, and then the train chugs off again, this time pulling the cars.

switchman

The switchbacks are for power. These Shay locomotives go up the mountain on an 11% grade. Today’s train tracks are considered steep if the grade is 2%. These locomotives are the same steam engines that are used in the mountains of British Columbia, but they were retrofitted to use West Virginia coal.

switchback

For one trip up the mountain, the locomotive uses one ton of coal to produce the steam. The coal is shoveled by hand by the fireman, just like it always was.

Coal fired steam Shay locomotive

The scenery was spectacular and what a thrill it was to be riding in an open car up a steep grade with the train chugging on the rails and blasting its whistle and the coal cinders flying in your eyes. 🙂 It was cold, too. Snow and ice covered the tops of Bald Knob and nearby mountains.

fall day in the mountains

You can also take the full tour up to Bald Knob (and even spend the night in a rustic caboose). At 4700 feet it is the third highest point in West Virginia.

fall in the mountains

img_1393We were glad to  disembark at Whittaker Station for coffee and hot chocolate. Did I mention it was cold in the mountains?

Whittaker Station Elevation Sign

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The entire time we were on the train, I kept humming to myself “Life Is Like a Mountain Railway” a great old bluegrass gospel tune. Even the the wheels on the tracks kept the beat.

Life is like a mountain railway....

I wish I’d gotten a photo of the train stopping to fill up with water, but both of our phones had died by then. When we got back to the station, we checked out the Company Store and bought old fashioned root beer barrel candy; we stopped at the West Virginia Artisan Shop; and we had an early dinner of homemade chicken noodle soup and pulled pork sandwiches at the Cafe. While we were eating, the bluegrass  band Donna Ulisse and the Poor Mountain Boys was tuning up for a hurricane relief concert.

 

black clouds, red sunsetIt was a lovely day, and as we were going home over Cheat Mountain, the skies proclaimed glory with this fiery sunset.

12 thoughts on “Back in Time, Up in the Mountains

  1. What a fun trip! Do you think it would be too long of a day for a 6 year old? Matthias loves trains and I was thinking that would be a great 6th birthday present. (His birthday is the end of March.)

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    • I’m thinking no, but I don’t know for sure. There are 4 steep steps to get into the cars and we watched senior citizens (not US!) getting off with difficulty. There might be another train in their Mountain Railway adventures that is, though.

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  2. Wow!!! I feel like I just went for the train ride as I viewed the images and read your description of the trip. Very beautiful country. I did find the YIELD symbol on the RR Crossing sign humorous. Obviously they don’t want their steam engine damaged by any drivers willing to gamble with a steam train. 🙂

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  3. I read your post on being a hermit before this one. Now if you were a hermit, you would have missed this wonderful trip! Bill and I went on a “leaf peeping” trip about 5 years ago and got to ride a train pulled by a steam locomotive. A wonderful experience – cinders and all!!

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