Cass Scenic Railroad 2021

By Erich Diebold

Travel and History Columnist

The Ohio Railroader “Rails Beyond” Staff

On Friday, August 27, 2021, my friend Grant and I rode the Cass Scenic Railroad’s Whittaker Excursion from the old Cass Depot, once the meeting point for the Mower Lumber Company and the Chesapeake & Ohio’s Greenbrier Branch, to the half way point on the route known as Whittaker. Our cars consisted of converted log cars which once carried lumber from the top of the mountain. Its’ cargo today consists of happy passengers who enjoy scenery but also the history of the railroad and the surrounding area. I have ridden the Bald Knob Excursion in July 2002, August 2015 and July 2020 but this trip, though short was something I would get to experience for the first time. It was also my fourth visit

The motive power for our train was Shay Locomotive #5, built by the Lima Locomotive Works of Lima, Ohio in November 1905. It was delivered new to Cass, making it the original engine that once hauled logs from the hills to the lumber mill in its hey day. #5 has the distinction of being the oldest Shay in operation worldwide.

Grant and I arrived at Cass near 10:30 a.m. just to see old #5 bring the three open air cars into the depot. It was assigned to pull the Whittaker runs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. while Feather River Shay #11 did the honors of pulling the Bald Knob Excursion at 12 noon.

After taking a few photos, we then took Back Mountain Road to the first grade crossing on their line where we could catch an aerial view of the train from up on the hill. #5 had an amazing Lunkenheimer 6 inch 3 chime that echoed over the hills after blowing for the grade crossing.

Afterwards, we headed back to Cass to watch Shay #11 bring the train into the depot to load passengers for the long trek to Bald Knob.

Grant and I then headed up to Gum Road where we could hear the chuffing of Shay #11 getting louder and working as hard as it could. The sound of the screeching Star Brass Desert 5 chime whistle announced its’ presence as it warned motorists of its’ approach.

Afterwards, we headed back to the town of Cass to do some shopping. Also with permission from the staff, we went to take pictures of the abandoned logging mill located adjacent to the Cass Shops.

A while later, the Whittaker train came back into the depot. Prior to departing, we checked in our tickets. While passengers were boarding, the crew gave us special permission to climb into Shay #5’s cab and sit in the engineer’s seat. I took some interior photos of the cab as well as a quick video cab tour. After getting some photos of the locomotive from the engineer’s perspective, we then headed to our rear passenger car, located at the east end.

We passed by the engine house and then ascended the hill to the first lower switchback. The brakeman on the rear had his job of a traditional railroader, using hand signals to communicate with the engine crew.

We then went approximately two miles to the upper switchback and finally made it to Whittaker.

Although it never served as a logging camp, a recreational set up, complete with some old logging shanties, two cranes on adjacent siding tracks and informational signs can be seen describing the once tough 11 hour shift that log workers went through back in the day.

Our layover lasted 20 minutes and we had time to look at the logging shacks and were extremely fascinated by the large steam powered crane.

Its’ vertical boiler was of grand stature and required a lot of hard work and attention when it comes to running hot steam, maintaining water and fuel while keeping up with the task of moving the cut logs from the pile to the flat cars.

Five minutes prior to departure, the engineer blew three short blasts on the whistle, signaling passengers to reboard the train. When we arrived back, we took some photos of Shay #5 heading back to the shop.

About 10 minutes later, Shay #11’s whistle could be heard signaling the return of the Bald Knob excursion. We watched as passengers deboarded and crew taking time to close up the consist before #11 took it back to the yard. Grant and I had dinner at The Lost Run Restaurant before heading back to our hotel in Elkins.

If you love rail preservation, logging history and scenic views, the Cass Scenic Railroad is a must-do especially if you visit a place that is almost heaven (cue John Denver), Wild and Wonderful West Virginia.

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