In the east-southeastern region of the U.S. state of West Virginia is a little town of Cass. Established in 1901 on the Greenbrier River, the small town was a booming company town for the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company that had a paper mill in the town. Joseph Kerr Cass was the vice president and cofounder of the company, and it is he who the town is named after. The town is surrounded by mountains and forests, and the lumber was used at the mill to make the paper. How was the lumber brought to the mill? It was brought by the train. The town was served by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, but a special rail line was built haul in the lumber from the mountain. In 1960, the mill closed. The town was no longer booming. The town of Cass, West Virginia became another ruined town.
Or did it?
In 1963, the state of West Virginia bought the railroad, and the Cass Scenic Railroad was born.
Some of you are saying, “I know the story. The train comes, picks up people, they go to a place and come back. It is the same old same old.”
Well, this same old same old is one of the most popular train rides in the United States of America, and it has attracted many people from foreign countries.
Some of you are saying, “Yes, but you see the West Virginia scenery.”
You do, but it is not just the beautiful exceptional beauty of the West Virginia mountains and forests that attract people to the Cass Scenic Railroad.
You arrive in Cass. You get your tickets. Then you wait. You hear a while. You see the steam. The train is coming. You see it coming around the bend but wait. The locomotive is going backwards and is pulling the train. The train pulls into the station. Things are strange. You board the train. The train pulls away from the station, but the rail cars are in front of the locomotive. What is happening?
The train departs from the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway tracks, and you see the ruins of the old paper mill ( burned down in 1882) and the water tower that is still used to add water to the locomotives. You pass through the yard and by the shops where the railroad equipment is repaired. Then, you are out of the town. You arrive at the first railroad crossing, and you feel the power of the whistle, but the train is still pushing the cars up the mountain.
Some of you are saying, “This is very strange. Why does the train push the cars instead of pull them like other trains?”
As you ride along, the tracks get steeper. The locomotive pushes the cars is because the tracks get steep. If the locomotive pulled the cars and the cars accidentally detached, they would roll down the tracks with little ability to stop them and to keep them from derailing which results in a huge mess.
Anyway, you continue up the mountain until you reach the first switchback. What is a switchback? Because of the steepness of the mountain, the tracks could not be built continuously up the mountainside. With the switchback, the train pushes the cars past the switch. (A switch, also called an interlocking, is where trains go from one track to another.) The tracks are switched, and now the train pulls the cars up the steep grade.
Some of you are saying, “Wait a minute. I thought the locomotive had to push the cars up the mountain.”
In this situation, the locomotive, or locomotives if there is more than one, pulls the cars up. It arrives at another switchback, and it pushes the cars again. You then arrive at Whitaker Station. What is Whitaker Station? It was and old logging camp, and some of the old logging equipment to include those that ran on the rails is on display. There is also a picnic area and a snack bar.
Some of the trains stop here and return to Cass, but you did not come to ride the Cass Scenic Railroad just to go part of the way.
You continue up the steep mountain grade passing through the forest. You occasionally pass by an overlook and get a great view of the valley below. After a long ride, you come upon a spring. It is here where the locomotive gets water. Once the locomotive is filled, it continues to push the cars up the mountain. It keeps pushing until, you reached the spot. What is the spot? It is Bald Knob, the third highest point in the state of West Virginia. The tracks end here, but when you walk over to the overlook, the views are never ending.
Sadly, it is time for the train to return to Cass. You board the train, and the locomotive carries the weight of the cars as it goes down the mountain. You arrive in Cass. The trip is over.
The Cass Scenic Railroad is part of the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and is owned by the West Virginia State Rail Authority, and it is operated by the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad who also owns and operates the New Tygart Flyer, the Cheat Mountain Salamander, and the Mountain Explorer Dinner trains out of Elkins, West Virginia, and it also operates the Durbin Rocket which has been relocated to Cass from the town of Durbin, West Virginia and runs along the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway line north of Cass along the Greenbrier River. You can ride the train to Whitaker Station, Bald Knob, and select trips to the site of the town of Spruce Knob, a town that was only accessible by train. The state park along features the original general store that is open during the operating season. It features a museum that tells the story of Cass and the railroad during the days as a company and logging town. You can see the old mill (now in ruins). If you need to spend the night, some of the old company workers houses are available to rent. There is also the Greenbrier River Trail that runs along the old route of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway south of Cass. The trail takes you across the old railroad bridges and through the original tunnels, and you will get many great views of the Greenbrier River. Please be advised that the region is in a wi-fi free zone due to the nearby Green Bank Radio Observatory making your cell phones and iPhones useless.
The Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is located in Cass, West Virginia and is main accessible by West Virginia Route 66 which is a windy road between West Virginia Routes 28 and 92 in Green Bank and U.S. Route 219 and West Virginia Route 55 in Snowshoe. The Cass Scenic Railroad only runs from late May to late October, but there are plans to run the Durbin Rocket year-round. If you like, you can even spend a night in a caboose. The old houses are available to rent year-round. You can get more information at https://mountainrailwv.com/.
A ride on the Cass Scenic Railroad is a ride you will remember for a long time. Even if the trains are not running, a visit to the town will take you back in time.