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2006-08-24 - 27, Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, West Virginia

The restored Cass Country Store
Cass Country Store, Soda Fountain and Restaurant

On a rainy afternoon a few weeks ago, while riding away from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, we rode through the town of Cass, West Virgina, home of the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. We thought Cass might be worth another ride to West Virginia. A little research upon our return home revealed that the park offers several attractions including excursions on converted logging flat-cars driven by steam-power locomotives. That was all Russ and Phil needed to hear!

The lumber mill at Cass was in operation from around 1900 until 1925 and again, cutting second growth lumber, from 1942 until 1955. In the early 1960s, the town and rail lines were added to the West Virginia State Park System. Some of the original company houses have been restored, and some are now rented to the public as park cottages.

So, plans were made, dates were set, Goldwings were prepped, luggage was packed, and finally, the day arrived to depart for Cass.

Phil & Linda park their Goldwings at Cass Station
Phil & Linda park their Goldwings at Cass Station. The old hay barn is behind the station.

Russ, Bev, Linda and Phil started out from their part of town bright and early Thursday morning, and Wil joined them just north of Weaverville. We spent Thursday just getting to Marlinton, WV.

Friday morning, had breakfast at Dorie’s Restaurant, just down the road from the motel. They were kind enough to also prepare some sandwiches for our picnic lunch on the railroad. We rode to Cass and parked in the space once used to store finished lumber that was awaiting tranport.

We had a little time to look around inside the Country Store, and then it was time for the train to arrive.

Russ wrote an excellent article about this trip in the September, 2006 Newsletter, so for the most part I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves here.

Russ watches the steam-train arrive at Cass Station
Russ watches the steam train pull in at Cass Station
Bev boards the train
Bev boards the train
Bev, Russ & Phil view the countryside
Bev, Russ & Phil view the countryside

We stopped at Whittaker Station to further study the railroad and logging equipment. The Shay Locomotive is specially designed to operate on steep grades--up to 11 percent on Cass Railroad. A 2 percent grade is considered steep on conventional railroads! Switchbacks make it possible to use a lot less track to change the direction of the train.

Steam pistons up hign on the side of the train drive pushrods to turn the crankshaft which is directly coupled to the driveshaft on the side of the engine. The crankshaft is coupled to each axle using bevel gears, just like in the rear drive on a Goldwing. Nowadays the exposed mechanisms are lubricated with soybean oil. It’s more environment-friendly than dinosaur oil.

The crankshaft on the Shay engine
The exposed crankshaft on the side of the Shay engine.
At Whittaker Station, Phil inspects the mechanicals
Phil inspects the driveshaft and bevel gears at the Whittaker Station stopover.
Lidgerwood tower skidder
The Lidgerwood tower skidder is a huge railcar that carried logs out of the woods on aerial cables high in the air and for distances up to 3,000 feet.
Phil & Russ photograph everything in sight
Phil & Russ photograph everything in sight at Whittaker Station
The coal-fired boiler blows a lot of smoke when the engine is straining
The coal-fired boiler blows a lot of smoke when the engine is straining

From Whittaker Station, the train took us to our picnic lunch at Bald Knob, the second highest point in West Virginia at 4,842 feet. Just a little past Bald Knob the track is blocked by a rockslide.

A rockslide blocks the track just beyond Bald Knob
A rockslide blocks the track just beyond Bald Knob
The steam whistle blows as we round a curve
The steam whistle blows as the train rounds a curve
Wil takes a break from shooting photos
Wil takes a break from shooting photos
Wil tries out a locomotive for size
Back at Cass Station, Wil tries out a locomotive for size

After enjoying milkshakes and root beer floats and a little shopping we rode back to our motel in Marlinton.

One thing that impressed me about the Marlinton Motor Inn, at least in the block of rooms we had, was that the windows were in the back. There were no windows facing the brightly-lit parking lot. With the heavy blackout curtains on the windows, the room is really dark when you turn the lights off. Almost no light leaked in around the door frame. It’s a little hard to find the bathroom when the only light in the room is the indicator on the smoke detector!

When I woke up Saturday morning, it was still quite dark in the room. I turned on the light switch and the room stayed dark. I tried a couple of other light switches, and then I noticed that even the smoke detector light was off. I then used deductive reasoning and many years of experience as an electronics technician to conclude that the power was off.

I opened the curtains to let some light in the room so I could get dressed and packed. I managed to shave, even though the sink was around the corner and a long way from the window.

We planned to eat breakfast again at Dorie’s, but it turned out that power was out for the entire town of Marlinton and points beyond. The first restaurant we found outside Marlinton was the Lumberjack Restaurant, 37 miles away in Richwood, WV.

Our next stop was at the New River Gorge National River near Fayetteville, WV. At 876 feet above the New River, the bridge is the second highest bridge in this country. When completed in October, 1977, it reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow mountain roads and across one of America’s oldest rivers to less than one minute.

New River Bridge
The New River Bridge is the second-highest in the United States.
Wil, Russ, Bev, Linda and Phil pose on the old New River Bridge
Wil, Russ, Bev, Linda and Phil pose on the restored old New River Bridge below the new bridge
Kayaks about to pass under the old bridge
These kayaks are about to pass under the old bridge
The tram at Hawks Nest State Park
The tram at Hawks Nest State Park

From the New River Gorge, we rode to Hawks Nest State Park. Russ, Linda and Wil took the aerial tramway down for a look around the marina while Phil and Bev took a break at the visitor’s center at the top of the cliff.

We rode on, passing through Charleston, West Virginia, and stayed overnight at the Comfort Inn & Suites in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. Unfortunately, the concert at the Mountain Arts Center right next door was sold out.

We arrived home in Asheville after more scenic riding on Sunday afternoon. Somewhere along the way, we stopped for Wil to take a picture of his odometer.

Wil’s Goldwing odometer hits 90,000 miles
Wil’s Goldwing odometer passes another milestone
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