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.

Waiting

Everywhere i look i see a poem waiting:
Kentucky Wonder Beans
the muddy garden shoes by the door waiting
for my feet
to deliver me to a place of peace and solitude
where peppers bow and dance on heavy laden stalks.
Arugula sings as it grows — Taste me Taste me —
and beans swing through their jungle playing
hide and seek with the leaves;

the two flannel shirts shrugged off in haphazard heapsOkra
on the chair in the mudroom
— his and hers — sleeves entangled, plaids clashing,
waiting for him to say (In the cool of the evening)
Have you seen my flannel shirt?
and she will know exactly where it is;

the okra on the counter, cut into symmetrical flowers,
waiting to be made into thick aromatic okra stew.
A friend brought it —
His wife said Don’t bring me any more okra.
I love okra, he grinned.
Maybe i won’t plant so much next year;

the glossy green peppers piled precariouslybasket of peppers
in the wicker basket — waiting their turn to be
sliced diced and frozen for winter’s
friday night fiestas;

the dark brown just-plowed garden dirt
drinking up the rain
waiting for the creamy garlic cloves
in their smooth purply skins
to spend the winter buried
in the snow-covered earth;
freshly plowed

the lime green clock on the kitchen wall
bought at Walmart for $3.99
ticking away the seconds minutes hours
ticking away summer into fall
ticking away seasons into years — waiting
for someone to notice minute and hour hands
colliding with dizzying disorienting
speed.
kitchen clock

Ordinary Magic

still life
Magic                         Magic                         Magic
bedazzles                     enchants                      embraces
the                           the                           the
still                         still                         still
life                          life                          life
only if                       only if                       only if
our                           our                           our
eyes                          ears                          hands
are                           are                           are
open                          attuned                       free
to                            to                            to
see.                          hear.                         hold.

If our                        If our                        If our
eyes                          ears                          hands
are                           are                           are
closed                        plugged                       filled
to the                        with the                      with the
colors                        sounds                        stuff
that                          of                            we
surround                      our                           cling
us                            own                           to
there                         choosing                      there
are                           we                            is
no                            miss the                      no
magic                         magic                         magic
prisms                        of                            touch in
reflected                     someone                       finding
on our                        else's                        real
souls.                        song.                         gold.

sunflower

This is another poem written for Monna McDiarmid’s online poetry workshop Poet Laureate of your own Life