Big turnout for Railfan Weekend at Cass
Cass was the site of an international railroad convention this weekend as nearly 400ﾠ members of the Mountain State Rail and Logging Historical Association (MSRLHA) gathered for their annual Railfan Weekend.
Railfans from around the world, including Japanese, Swiss, Germans and Canadians, arrived Friday to begin the festivities with a ride up the mountain to Whittaker Camp on a passenger train pulled byﾠ steam locomotive Heisler Number Six.ﾠ
Many, if not most, association members are avid photographers who document their visits to railroad destinations. The Heisler pulled the train into Whittaker Camp three times for the photographers, giving them every chance for a perfect picture.
MSRLHA coordinator Joe Gonzalez, bullhorn in hand, stayed busy all weekend lining up the mob of photographers who disembarked for planned photo ops at several scenic locations. Gonzalez was forced to maintain discipline several times when over-eager shutterbugs jumped in front of the established photo line to snap a shot - only to ruin the photo for several others.
Photography is a competitive event for many railfans, who submit their photographs for the George Greenacre photography prize. Greenacre was a railfan who was instrumental in the formation and management of MSRLHA until his death in 1999. His family set up a fund in his honor to award the best photographs taken during the Cass Railfan Weekend.
Railfans toured the MSRLHA machine shop on Friday evening, where machinist and project chief Grady Smith told members the history and status of the Climax locomotive restoration. MSRLHA volunteers arrive every other weekend to work on the rare engine, which could be operational within two years.
Saturday was a big day for railfans and included a long ride to Bald Knob. At 4,700 feet, Bald Knob was the farthest extent of logging lines out of Cass. During the industrial period, a loop in the track allowed trains to turn around, be loaded, and head back down the mountain to the mills.
Unfortunately, fog and rain became heavy above 4,000 feet, ruining the spectacular view from Bald Knob and causing the relocation of a planned photo session. Saturday afternoon included several photo ops with a log train and the passenger train at different locations, including the former logging town of Spruce.ﾠﾠ
Sunday started with a bang for railfans.
Three locomotives, two Shays and a Heisler, roared down the tracks out of Cass station for a photo op. Hundreds of photographers jockeyed for position along the shop road to shoot the locomotives steaming abreast.
Afterwards, the group rode a steam train to Whittaker Camp, where the world champion Cogar family, of Webster Springs, demonstrated their ax-throwing and wood chopping skills.
Arden Cogar and son Arden Cogar, Jr., together hold 87 woodchopping titles. The family will be competing in the Southeastern U.S. World Championship woodchopping finals this weekend in Webster Springs.
A Japanese gentleman, who spoke little English, was on a 10-day group tour in the U.S. His itinerary included the three-day weekend at Cass, followed by a visit to Washington, D.C. and the Smithsonian Institute. The gentleman said people had been very friendly to him during his visit.
Thomas Fischer, a travel agency owner from Berlin, Germany, was vacationing with a group of 29 railfans from Germany, Switzerland and Denmark. Fischer said he has loved trains since he was a young boy.
"There are lots of railfans in Germany," he said. "I've come to Cass twice because it is one of the best places to see. We also visited Steamtown and Stroudsburg in Pennsylvania. I don't know if I can come back next year, but I will be back, for sure."
Ron Krampien, of Stratford, Ontario, was visiting Cass for the first time.
"The trains brought me to Cass," he said. "I talked to people and saw it on the internet. It's a must see event - and we'll be back. It's been a super weekend. Good people, good food and beautiful sights. The weather - we'll work with it."
Krampien said steam trains make Cass a special place.
"We don't have the steam around our way. That's why I'm here. We have all diesel and new stuff. We have the odd steam engine here and there but nothing compared to this in one spot. We've never been to anything like this before."
In addition to trains rides and photo ops, railfans enjoyed guided tours of historic Cass, a visit to a 4,000 square foot model train being built above Cass Company Store and country style meals at the Cass Community Center.
As the final train arrived at Cass Station Sunday afternoon, MSRLHA coordinator Bob Hoke told the group that next years' Railfan Weekend might be expanded to include a run to Cheat Bridge.
MSRLHA is a non-profit, all volunteer, organization dedicated to the research, collection, preservation, and restoration ofﾠ West Virginia lumbering and railroad equipment. The association is based in Cass and boasts more than 500 members from the U.S. and several foreign countries.
The group provides important support for Cass Scenic Railroad State Park including restoration and maintenance of the parkﾒs railroad and historic structures. The association also provides interpretive services and assists in the general promotion of the park.
For information on the group's activities, see www.msrlha.org/.