Cass Scenic

Another major industry in the mountains of West Virginia is logging, generally for paper and packaging production. Although many longtime logging towns and lumber mills are now gone or in ruins, operators such as WestVACo (the former West Virginia Company) still run tree farms, lumber concentration facilities, and paper mills in the area. Many of the railroad branches that once served this industry are now gone, or have become tourist lines, and we are visiting some of them this weekend.

The forests on Bald Knob mountain were once logged by the Mower (rhymes with power) Lumber Company, the logs were processed by a WestVACo lumber mill at Cass, and the results were transported out of the area on the Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad (later a branch of the C&O). Independent loggers, who sent their product out on a branch of the Western Maryland railroad that served the Cheat River Valley, once logged the forests of Cheat Mountain and the Cheat River Valley, surrounding the onetime logging town of Spruce.

Today, the Mower Companyís railroad has become the Cass Scenic Railroad, a West Virginia State Park. For the entire Mower era, and some of the Cass Scenic era, the outside connection for this railroad was the Greenbrier branch of the C&O. When the latter was severed by floodwaters in the 1980s, a connection was built from a location up on the side of Bald Knob over to the Western Maryland at the site of the former logging town of Spruce, now vanished. In recent years, the Western Maryland line in the Cheat River Valley has been sold to the West Virginia Central, a shortline that also operates former B&O branches as a single railroad.

Located at Cass are the ruins of the lumber mill that WestVACo had run at this location until 1960. Here are the visible remains of the belt-drive powered machinery at the former lumber mill. Past the lumber mill is the water tank serving the locomotives and then the yard and repair shops for the Cass Scenic Railroad. In the yard is one of the Shay geared logging locomotives making up what will be our train at noon. Inside the shops are other Shays in various stages of repair, as well as various interesting large machine tools specific to steam locomotive repair, such as the machine for fitting new tires onto driving wheels. The Cass Scenic's depot is to the south of these artifacts, adjacent to the road across the river (east of the line), on the west side of the line, which runs north, past the water tank and repair sheds, then turns west and starts the climb uphill, through the regrown forest that has replaced the trees logged before the area became a State Park, to the first switchback, where the tail track heads northwest.

The line uphill from the first switchback heads south, on a ledge on the side of the mountain, and then turns just north of due west, to the second switchback, a little further up the hill, out of which it again heads south on another ledge on the mountainside, turning west again to reach Whittaker, the place where the short turns terminate, and longer distance trains also stop, since this is the last place on the trip to purchase drinks and snacks. At the stop, the train crew passes through the train setting all of the handbrakes. Passengers are allowed half an hour to use the facilities and visit the replica logging camp and logging equipment, including a steam-powered skidder, located here. Then itís time to get back on the train and continue up the mountain, turning north on a ledge in the woods that is now on the west side of the mountain.

The next location of interest is the connection between the Cass Scenic and Spruce, heading north, the other end of which (a mile away) is on the West Virginia Central, after which the Cass Scenic turns northeast, still climbing through the trees, crosses the ridge, and turns north again on a ledge now on the east side of the mountain, turning east, then just east of due north, and then east again to the watering location (not one of the large tanks) at which thereís a fixture for filling the tender tank from a stream. East of that is the wye on the northwest corner of the mountain, above Spruce, whence another line once headed north, and the line turns south, east, south again past another location where a line once trailed in, this one from the east, and then the end of track at the top of the mountain (over 4800 ft. altitude). Here there is an observation deck overlooking the Cass area.

The occasional vista along the track showing Snowshoe Mountain, to the west, or looking up to the top of Bald Knob, to the east, only emphasizes how much the rest of the trip is through the depths of the new growth forest (maple, oak, beech, birch, cherry, mountain ash). Pocahontas County, location of the Cass Scenic, is at the top of things: eight rivers flow out of Pocahontas County, but none flow in!