Posted by: bgtwindad | September 7, 2010

A visit to Cass Scenic Railroad

Cass Scenic Railroad Shay #11 at Whittaker Station, Cass, WV

Cass Scenic Railroad Shay #11 at Whittaker Station, Cass, WV

Over Labor Day weekend, my family visited the Cass Scenic Railroad at Cass, WV.  Cass is a living museum of the logging industry that thrived in the area during the first half of the 20th century.  In particular, they are home to a large stable of Shay type geared steam locomotives, and provide 2 and 4 hour excursion rides up the old logging railroad on Back Allegheny Mountain.

We took the 2-hour round trip to Whittaker Station, about half way up the hill.  This ride features some spectacular views as the train crawls up the steep grades (averaging 4.5% and rising to 8.7% in places) and sharp curves (up to 29 degrees!) on the mountain.

Shay locomotives (and their competitors the Climaxes and Heislers) were specially designed to handle these difficult trips, with tilted boilers, vertical pistons and geared trucks that helped provide smooth, continuous power to the rails.  Our host for the trip was Shay #11, weighing in at 105,000 lbs.

The smooth power delivery of the Shay becomes evident as it begins pulling the grade.  Shays do not produce the sterotypical “Chugga-Chugga” of standard steam locomotives, but more of a smooth rumble that almost – but not quite – resembles a Diesel engine.  There’s no mistaking that black plume of smoke and the ash blowing off the roof of the cars, though.  This is coal-fired steam power at its best!

If you decide to go, you should also check out the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, WV, only a few miles away.  I don’t have any photos, since digital photography isn’t allowed (it messes with the radio telescopes), but it, too, is well worth the visit, and is a wonderful mix of astonishingly beautiful scenery and science at its best.

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