Cass Scenic Railroad, Home Of The Unique Shay Locomotive

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.

It’s 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. However,, if it were not for Chesapeake & Ohio Railway agent P.F. Long, Cass Scenic Railroad would 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 fledgling 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.  For more than five decades the state continued to maintain and operate the park.  However, that all changed in late 2014 when John and Kathy Smith's Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, which also operates the nearby West Virginia Central and small excursion train out of Durbin, took lease of Cass Scenic Railroad.

The husband/wife team has been quite successful with the WVC and other railroad assets.  It is hoped under their guidance that, coupled with the WVC and Durbin operations more fluid operations can be achieved among all three while providing higher ridership via additional trips available to the public.  They are currently rebuilding the northern end of the Chesapeake & Ohio's Greenbrier Branch to reestablish service between Cass and Durbin while long-term goals including reactivating the former Western Maryland line between Durbin and Elkins.  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:  This locomotive (Class PC-13) was built in July of 1928 by the Lima Locomotive Works (Pacific Coast Shay) for the Mayo Lumber Company of Paldi, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  It later worked for Lake Logging Company, Cowichan Lake British Columbia & Western Forest Industries, and at Honeymoon Bay, B.C. before it was eventually acquired by Cass in the 1970s.  It weighs 93 tons and utilizes a three-truck design.

Shay #4:  This locomotive (Class C-70) was constructed by the Lima Locomotive Works in December of 1922 for the Birch Valley Lumber Company of Tioga, West Virginia and given #5.  It was later acquired by the Mower Lumber Company at Cass in 1943 and given #4.  The Shay weighs 80 tons and carries a three-truck design.

Shay #5:  This locomotive (Class C-80) was originally built by the Lima Locomotive Works in the fall of 1905 for the Greenbrier & Elk River Railroad of nearby Spruce, West Virginia.  Since that time it has not left the area.  The Shay weighs 90 tons and features a three-truck design.

Shay #6:  One of the largest Shays ever built (Class C-150), and the last, it is a relatively modern design constructed by Lima in the spring of 1945 for Class I carrier, Western Maryland Railroad.  The WM used the locomotive on its Chaffe Branch near Elkins, West Virginia.  It operated for only four years until being stored in 1949 and later donated to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in 1955.  In 1981 the museum gave it to the Cass Scenic Railroad in exchange for a little 0-4-0 switcher built by the H.K. Porter Company.  Affectionately known as "Big Six" the mammoth, 162-ton Shay (three-truck) was soon restored and remains in regular service today.

Heisler #6:  Another unique geared design this locomotive (Heisler Class C-90) was built by the Heisler Locomotive Works in 1929 for the Bostonia Coal & Clay Products Company of New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Given #20, it later found its way to the Meadow River Lumber Company of Rainelle, West Virginia before being acquired by the Cass Scenic Railroad in 1968.

Climax #9:  Yet another geared type this locomotive was originally built in 1919 by the Climax Locomotive Works for the Middle Fork Railroad Company as #6.  It later worked for the Moore-Kepple & Company of Ellamore, West Virginia and was purchased by Cass Scenic from the private collection of Robert Johnson based in Rossville, Georgia.  The Climax is currently under restoration.

Shay #11:  Another Shay from the West Coast the locomotive (Class C-90) was built by the Lima Locomotives Works in July of 1923 for the Hutchinson Lumber Company of Feather Falls, California.  It later worked as Feather River Railway #3 and was donated to the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum of San Diego, California in 1967.  In 1997 the 103-ton Shay made its way to Cass Scenic Railroad and is currently operational.

The railroad has increased its services to visitors in recent years in other ways such as reopening its route to the former town of Spruce (where it now connects with 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!

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