Railfan Weekend celebrates 50 years of railroad history at Cass
Every spring, die-hard railroad buffs get the first rides of the season on the rails of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park as part of the annual Railfan Weekend.
The Mountain State Railroad and Logging Historical Association has been sponsoring Railfan Weekend nearly as long as Cass has operated as a state park. With the park turning 50 years old this summer, MSRLHA is celebrating with four days of "Titans of the Mountains" May 16 through 19.
Tucked away among some of the highest mountains of West Virginia, Cass offers excursions that transport passengers back in time to relive an era when steam-driven locomotives were an essential part of everyday life.
Two things set Cass apart from other historic and scenic railroads around the world, said MSRLHA secretary and treasurer Bob Hoke.
"The authentic geared locomotives are quite rare—especially in the number that they have there," said Hoke. "There are other places that have them, but not in the concentration that Cass does."
"Secondly, it's a totally authentic line," Hoke added. "The route that you take up the mountain is the same route they took in 1901. Nothing has changed. The track is new, but the switchbacks are the same, the route is the same."
Cass is also unusual in that the knowledge of how to keep the century-old locomotives running is passed verbally from one generation to the next.
"Some people say it's 100 years of oral tradition, unhampered by progress," said Hoke. "But the bottom line is they still go up and down the mountain. There's no operating manual on this stuff. The older guy teaches the younger guy—the apprentice-level guy."
The association's annual railfan event can draw anywhere from 170 to 600 participants who want an up-close and personal look at this remarkable piece of living history, Hoke said.
This spring, registered participants are traveling to Cass from as far away as England and Japan.
"Cass is well-known internationally as a pretty neat place, if you're a railfan," said Hoke.
Most railfans come from much closer. Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida are typically well-represented among the railfan contingent, said Hoke.
"Cass is a nationally significant, historical resource," said Hoke, "because of the town—what's left of the mill—the whole situation of everything being relatively authentic, the track being authentic, and the equipment that actually runs."
Railfans are also consummate shutterbugs, noted Hoke. With the mountains and historic setting, Cass offers unlimited potential for some spectacular railroad photographs, as evidenced by the entries in MSRLHA's annual photo contest and the images that grace the eight-page, full-color 2013 Railfan Weekend brochure.
While Cass is the focus of railfan weekend, on Thursday, up to 130 passengers will be treated to an excursion on first-generation diesel equipment along a seldom-visited, picturesque stretch of the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River, courtesy of the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad.
Photo locations will feature the unique lumbering and mining communities of Pratt, Coal Rock, Harper and authentic Western Maryland section houses at Linan.
After the train returns to Cheat Bridge at 3 p.m., passengers will depart from Durbin at 3:45 p.m. for photo run-bys along the former Greenbrier Branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio's line from Ronceverte with the DVGRR's Moore-Keppel Lumber Company Climax No. 3 locomotive and several passenger cars.
The special railfan weekend prelude will be capped off with an 8-to-10 p.m. night photo session with Climax No. 3 at the Durbin depot.
Friday through Sunday, Cass Scenic Railroad State Park's unparalleled fleet of rare Shay and Heisler locomotives take center stage for Railfan Weekend, from sun-up and well into the evening.
During the day, the historic town, depot and water tank, as well as breath-taking mountain settings at Whittaker Station, Bald Knob and the S-curve near Old Spruce, will be the backdrop for one-of-a-kind photo opportunities.
On Friday and Saturday from 8:30 p.m. until 10 p.m., striking night-time photographs of the locomotives will be made possible by no less than 25,000 watts of high-powered lighting that will illuminate the engines, depot, water tank locomotive shop and company store.
Friday will also feature a commemorative address and celebration of the 50th anniversary of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park at the Cass Shop. Scheduled speakers include Jim Wrinn, editor of Trains Magazine, as well as state park officials.
Saturday's activities will include guided walking tours of the town and tours of the MSRLHA restoration shop where people can see the significant progress volunteers have made in restoring a Climax locomotive.
Registration information for Railfan Weekend can be obtained online at msrlha.org or by calling 800-225-5982.