Above: A pair of Shays prepares to pull an excursion during the 2000 Club Trip. Photo Credit: Stu Dom

Cass Scenic Railroad
MPRR Club Trip Archive

Cass Scenic Railroad Photo Gallery

Above: A view of the winding route of Cass Scenic Railroad. Photo Credit: Stu Dom

Below: Inside the shops at the Cass Scenic Railroad. Photo Credit: Stu Dom

Above: The fireman checks over the Shay before depature. Photo Credit: Stu Dom

Below: A partial group photo inside the excursion train with Stu, Bill, Ginny, and Larry. Photo Credit: Stu Dom

Article By: Stu Dom

On the night of August 3, 2000, three couples from the Mohegan-Pequot Model Railroad Club (Bill & Ginny Paradis, Larry & Susan Southwick, and Stu & Phyllis Dom) converged at a motel in the West Virginia mountains for a 2-Day sightseeing tour of the Cass Scenic Railroad. The motel that we stayed at was the Inn at Snowshoe, which turned out to be at the entrance to a road which lead up to a rather significant ski resort. Although each couple traveled to the area by car (nearly 600 miles direct) only Bill & Ginny made the trip to and from in one day. The remainder of the group had many side excursions along the way and made an extended vacation with this event as the focal point. This auto trip traveled through some of the most curvy roads in the country, which increased the driving time significantly.

On Friday morning (8/4/00) Bill and I got up early to buy tickets for the noon 5-hour round trip to the top of Bald Knob, which is the third highest peak in West Virginia at 4842 ft, and the highest railroad east of the Mississippi. This long trip up the mountain was a 22 mile round trip adventure where the train climbed nearly 2400 feet in height, which represents an average incline of about 4 %, and inclines at several places reaching the double digits It was during this initial trip to the West Virginia State Park (Cass Scenic Railroad) that the first of the 3 operating 3-truck Shay engines as Cass was observed – Engine No. 11. As can be seen from these pictures, this engine was in immaculate condition. We later learned that one of the reasons for the shiny quality of the engine, is that each engine is cleaned daily, and the care taken on these engines is unbelievable.

Bill and I had a chance to visit the Engine Service Facility at that time but decided to wait until the next morning when Larry could join us in the entertainment. After buying the tickets and taking some pictures, we went back to the motel to collect the remaining members of the party and then traveled back to Cass to embark on our railroad excursion. Now here’s when the fun really started. The first thing we noted was that our train was staged at the terminal with Engine No. 2 at the lead. We also noted that the first car in front of the engine, was a flat car that was being loaded with bicycles. We found that these cyclists were hitching a ride (I’m sure it wasn’t complementary) to the top of Bald Knob and were going to ride these mountain bikes back down for more exercise and entertainment. I asked why they didn’t just ride their bikes to the top to get more exercise value and was told by one that it was just laziness on his part. However, the train was fairly heavily loaded with many younger people, at least by my standards, due this cycling event. We had a lot of time to take pictures of this engine as there was much work by the crew in readying this engine for the days run. The working side of the engine, as seen on the picture to the right was truly a work of art. There we so many oil cups, valves, and moving parts that you had to wonder how it could all work. And the maintenance on these engines is overwhelming. There were several major differences noted between Engine No. 2 and Engine No. 11. Engine No. 11 seemed to have a high velocity smoke discharge system which produce rather narrow cone of smoke, of a lighter nature that Engine No. 2 which always produced a billowy black smoke trail. We never did gain a complete understanding of the cause of this difference, but believe it to be due to the way steam was mixed with the smoke in the smoke box. I believe that one of these engines was called a Pacific Class engine, and the other was not.

There were 8 cars on the train for passengers, and all except the last car – the first up the hill – appeared to be converted log cars. Our group preferred the last (first) car to get a good view going up and stay away from the smoke, which was a converted, rather large, caboose. The seats for the passengers were arranged back to back down the middle of the car so that everyone had a view. Although, many of us stood up anyway to get a better view of the train and take pictures. The train left very close to on-time and traveled by the water tower, coal bunker, engine service facility and various railroad equipment, not necessarily in working condition. There was an old crane that I believe to be in working condition. There was an old Climax Engine that was in very bad shape, and I’m not sure if it is repairable. And, there was a Heisler engine that was under cover and due to be rebuilt. We learned that a new boiler had been manufactured for this engine by a local company and was ready for insertion into the carcass. We also learned that this restoration project had been delayed due to red tape that the State Park System of West Virginia had on building of a service structure on the premises and lack of manpower. This structure was needed before this restoration could begin.

After we departed the service area, we began climbing, and snaking our way up the hill. On several occasions I could see most of the train as it moved around the many curves. The day was cloudy but the temperature did not make the trip too uncomfortable. The whistles at crossings were heard independently from each engine, and the sound, although quite different between the two, was beautiful. I doubt that the residents of the several homes that were near the tracks an the early stage of the journey were too thrilled about the noise though. I was very much impressed by the condition of the roadbed. Everything was nicely ballasted, the ties were in good shape the track was very smooth, albeit a little curvy. Since the train never traveled more than about 5 MPH the ride was relatively quiet – remember that we were at the other end of the train from the engines.

After about an hour of travel, we arrived at our first destination, Whitaker Junction. This is also the end of the line for the 3 other trains that head up the mountain each day. Again, we had more time to take pictures and stretch our legs. This spot has a smooth, pasture like ambience, a snack bar, restrooms (not too modern – remember it is mid summer), storage tracks for equipment, and a steam winch for logging. From there we headed further up the mountain, stopping to take on water at the 7 mile point. The watering hole is simply a stream filled tank (actually a tank from an old shay locomotive), and the filling process involves use of a steam injector. It didn’t take too long to fill the engine’s tank completely and off we were again. We finally reached the top after about 3 hours, and had another chance to exit the train and look around. The next day we all got up early and went down to the shops. We were able to go right into the shop and see their work on Engine No. 4, which has been in restoration for nearly 4 years. I believe that they plan to have everything back in service with a year. They had obviously done some major work with the smoke box, and had replaced the boiler back head. There were parts everywhere, and I didn’t see any service manuals laying around to show them how to put it all back together. We also watched them preparing the other engines for the days runs in the service yard area. Again, much oiling, adjusting, and cleaning. There was also a much time spent on all of these services, which highlights the progress that has been made by switching to diesel engines. It was during this event that we had an opportunity to observe the largest Shay engine still in existence, the Western Maryland No. 6 Engine. This engine is used for the 3 times daily runs to Whitaker Station. It appears to be a much more maintenance free engine which is likely indicative of the progress made in lubrication techniques since the earlier Shays were build.

All in all, everyone had a very good time, and the experience with the Shays was very rewarding. I’m not sure that I would want to be live and breathe the smoke that belched out of the engines, and the good old days may have been pretty difficult. But, I am ready to suggest having some sort of logging operation on our club layout with Shay engines as the major focal point.

Share |