Spectacular Cass Railroad - now with live music
Cass Scenic Railroad is one of the coolest places in the world. Not only can you ride an historic steam-powered train through some of the world's most beautiful mountains, you can get a great meal and listen to live bluegrass music at the same time.
Cass is home of the largest collection of geared steam locomotives in the world. Repeat: in the world. The park is home to five operational Shay locomotives, a Heisler locomotive and soon, when its restoration is complete, a very rare Climax locomotive.
The Fiddles and Vittles special is a themed weekend ride at the park, in addition to regular runs to Whittaker Station, Bald Knob and the historic logging camp at Spruce. Other themed rides include the Murder Mystery Train, a fall Harvest Day train and a Halloween ride on October 30.
The shorter, regular run to Whittaker Station is a two-hour round trip. The train departs Cass Station and winds four miles, through two switchbacks, to a re-created logging camp at 3,280 feet in elevation.
The Mountain State Railroad and Logging Historical Association (MSRLHA), a dedicated group of old-time rail enthusiasts, built the camp at Whittaker Station. MSRLHA volunteers support the state park in a variety of ways and are restoring a vintage Climax locomotive in their machine shop, located next to the Cass Railroad shop. The locomotive will be the fourth operational Climax in the world, when it comes online.
Normally, Whittaker passengers must pack their own lunch, or buy some snacks at a small concession stand. But, passengers aboard the Fiddles and Vittles special are treated to a generous buffet meal at the camp, as well as old-time music from a live band. Diners enjoy their meals in a picnic area at the beautiful station, surrounded by forested hilltops.
On September 28, Allegheny Outback performed a variety of old-time, bluegrass and gospel songs for about 60 passengers at Whittaker Camp. The riders enjoyed a buffet meal of chicken breast, vegetables, salad and cake. Diners could pile their plates as high as possible, but seconds were available.
During the hour-long concert, many passengers strolled about the camp and examined a display of historic logging equipment, including a Lidgerwood tower skidder, one of two remaining in the world. Mounted on railcars, the steam-powered machines carried logs on aerial cables more than a half-mile to loading areas.
Other passengers admired the huge locomotive that pushed the train to the station - Shay Number 6 - the largest Shay ever built. Normally assigned to longer runs to Bald Knob and Spruce, Number 6 is the big boy in the Cass railyard, dwarfing the other locomotives (if a locomotive can be "dwarfed").
Shay Number 6 weighs in at 162 tons, 59 tons heavier than the second-biggest locomotive - Shay Number 11 at 103 tons. Three giant pistons with a bore of 15 inches and a stroke of 18 inches gave the beast the power to pull huge loads of coal over the mountains - Number 6's original job.
The crew of Number 6 allowed passengers to climb into the cab, where the engineer and fireman described the workings of the iron giant. The engineer graciously allowed visitors to sit in his seat to have their pictures taken -ﾠ at the helm of the big, black engine. The cordiality of the crew members made the trip especially enjoyable and the photos will be enjoyed for generations.
Nighttime approached as Allegheny Outback played their final encore and passengers reboarded the train for the journey back to Cass. During theﾠ trip down the mountain, darkness enhanced the sound of old rail cars clanking on the tracks and the huffing and puffing of the steam engine, creating a surreal experience.
For information on the MSRLHA, see www.msrlha.org. A $20 club membership includes a subscription to The Log Train, a quarterly magazine chock full of information on historic trains and destinations in West Virginia.
Cass Scenic Railroad fares and schedules can be found at www.cassrailroad.com.