The Cass Scenic Railroad is Geared Steam, USA as the tourist railroad boasts the largest collection of operating geared steam locomotives in the country. The railroad was originally part of the Mower Lumber Company’s massive timber operations around Cass, West Virginia in the Appalachian Mountain range. How the Mower Lumber’s rail operations eventually turned into a tourist railroad and state park was nothing short of miraculous. Today, Cass Scenic is one of the most popular tourist lines in the country, operating the largest collection of geared steam locomotives found anywhere in the world. Additionally, the tourist line is a big boost to not only the State of West Virginia’s economy but also the local region of Pocahontas County where the railroad is located.
hard to believe that the bustling, popular Cass Scenic Railroad of
today was another left-for-dead timber operation in West Virginia when
the Mower Lumber Company called it quits in late June of 1960 after
roughly sixty years of hauling logs off of the mountains surrounding the
little community of Cass. What is even more surprising is that a local
railfan from Sunbury, Pennsylvania named Russell Baum actually started
in motion the events that would lead to Cass Scenic’s creation! Had it
not been for the efforts of Mr. Baum there would very likely be no such
thing as the excursion train now operating the former logging line in the remote mountains of eastern West Virginia.
As the story goes Mr. Baum was an avid fan of the Mower Lumber’s rail operations and upon learning it was shutting down and to be scrapped began seeing what he could do to save it. What resulted was State Delegate J.C. Cruikshank becoming involved and was able to convince the state legislature about looking into the possibilities of turning the railroad into a state park and tourist attraction. After also able to convince the president of Midwest Raleigh Steel, Sam Silverstein, to suspend scrapping operations of the railroad a committee was put together to analyze whether the property should become a state park and took a ride over the remaining line, concluding that the state should purchase the railroad.
Unfortunately the property was not saved yet. Because 1960 was an election year, by early 1961 new politicians were in Charleston and were not too keen on the prospect of the state owning a railroad. However, once again delegate Cruikshank came through and after speaking with new governor W.W. Barron was able to convince him that the state should still purchase the property. So, as it were, the Mower Lumber’s former rail operations around Cass were purchased by the state in March of 1961 and given to the WV Department of Natural Resources to manage.
Lastly, if it were not for Chesapeake & Ohio Railway agent P.F. Long, Cass Scenic Railroad would also not have been able to land on its feet as quickly as it did. Mr. Long was able to convince C&O brass to give the fledging new tourist railroad the Cass depot, water tank, ex-logging trackage, three old coaches, and a shop crew from Clifton Forge to overhaul the Shays on the property!
From this point forward Cass Scenic Railroad was off and running with its first official passenger trip debuting on June 15, 1963. The first year of operations Cass saw over 23,000 passengers and a year later that numbered had jumped by over 35%! Initially the railroad only operated trains as far as Whittaker Station, about four miles north of Cass, but in 1968 the railroad was able to push rails all of the way to the top of Bald Knob (another seven miles), giving visitors a 20+ mile panoramic view of surrounding mountains and forests.
Today, Cass Scenic rosters a fleet of eight geared steam locomotives including six Shays (five of which are operational), one Climax, and one Heisler.
· Shay #2
· Shay #4
· Shay #5
· Shay #6
· Heisler #6
· Climax #9
· Shay #11 (A former Feather River unit.)
The railroad has increased its services to visitors in recent years such as reopening its route to the former town of Spruce, WV (where it now connects with another state-owned tourist railroad, the West Virginia Central), available dinner and Halloween trains, cottage rentals in Cass (of former company houses), and caboose rentals for overnight stays. Also, if you decide to visit Cass don’t forget to stop by the old company store, still very much in business.
All in all, a trip to see Cass Scenic Railroad and the historic little town it calls home is well worth it. You certainly won’t be disappointed, either, by taking the train up the mountain behind the railroad’s famous Shays. Just remember to take a jacket with you, and maybe even long pants, as even during the summer months it can be quite cool on top of Bald Knob! To learn more about Cass Scenic Railroad please click here to visit their official website, which provides plenty of information concerning exactly what the tourist line offers. If you are planning a visit to the railroad please be sure to visit their site!
For more information on the history of Cass Scenic Railroad consider the book West Virginia Logging Railroads from author William E. Warden. Not only does this book cover in detail all of the most well known logging railroads that operated in the Mountain State it also gives a superb background of the three most recognized geared steamers to ever operate; the Shay, Climax, and Heisler. Also, for more about tourist lines like Cass Scenic you might want to consider the book Tourist Trains Guidebook, which is put together by the editors of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine. The guide below is the latest, released in just April, 2011 that now includes more than 470 museums and tourist trains. In any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing either of these books please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.