Ride the Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia
Cass Scenic Railroad Heisler No. 6 along with Shay No. 11 lead a loaded log train down the former C&O mainline. Note the Cass Country store which was built in 1902 in the background and that the locomotives have been temporarily lettered for predecessor logging railroads that operated at Cass. (Walter Scriptunas II, Public Domain)
The railroad has five Shay steam locomotives, one Heisler and one Climax. The engines were designed especially for mountain use.
Its flagship locomotive is Shay No. 5 that was built in 1905. The C80-3 Shay has been running on Cheat Mountain for more than 100 years. The 90-ton locomotive was designated West Virginia's official state steam locomotive in 2004 by the state legislature.
Shay No. 6 is the last Shay engine ever built, in 1945, and is the largest still in existence at 162 tons.
The passenger cars are refurbished logging flat cars made into open-sided passenger coaches. The railroad typically offers four trips per day: three 90-minute round trips of eight miles to Whittaker Station and one 4.5-hour round trip of 22 miles to Bald Knob.
Adult tickets start at $18 on weekdays and $23 on weekends for the shorter trips; tickets on the longer trip start at $24 on weekdays and $27 on weekends. Tickets for children 5 to 12 on the shorter trips are $13 on weekdays and $16 on weekends; longer trips are $17 on weekdays and $20 on weekends.
Tickets are higher in the fall foliage season, late September through Oct. 30. The railroad offers weekend charters in the spring. Group rates are available and the railroad also sponsors dinner trains and other special events.
Tickets include admission to the Cass Showcase with its slide show and diorama, the Railroad and Logging History Museum and the logging camp tour.
Free tours of the railroad locomotive repair shop and the town of Cass are offered regularly. Cass is compact and it's easy to do a half-hour walking tour on sidewalks, alleys and wooden boardwalks. The town has changed little from the early 1900s, officials say.
You can walk past the old Cass Hotel. It was reputable and on the right side of the tracks from other hotels, bars and brothels on Dirty Street across the tracks and other locations across the Greenbrier River.
The old three-story company store next to the depot was built in 1902 as the Pocahontas Supply Co. and now houses a restaurant and museum.
Today the post office is in an old meat market that once butchered 25 pigs and 25 cows a week to feed the residents of Cass.
But the most striking thing about Cass is the former company-owned houses that are still standing. You can even rent one.
The nearly identical two-story white houses, built in the early 1900s, each have a living room, dining room and kitchen downstairs and three bedrooms upstairs. Bathrooms were added starting in the 1920s.
Owners and renters could put on additions with free lumber from the company. When a house was sold, the deed included a provision that the house could only be sold back to the company for the exact amount that the worker had paid for it.
The company-owned houses line several streets and have been restored. At present, 20 cottages are available to rent. They draw tourists and train buffs spring to fall and skiers in the winter. Snowshoe Mountain, the largest ski resort in West Virginia, is 11 miles west of Cass off state Route 66.
The Cass cottages can accommodate 6 to 12 people. They are equipped with microwave stoves and televisions with basic cable. There is no air conditioning and no telephone. Rates range from $75 to $111 a night depending on the season.
On Bald Knob, you can rent a cabin once used by a ranger who manned the nearby fire tower. You ride the train and then hike three-quarters of a mile to the cabin. The rate is $50 a night plus railroad tickets.
The railroad also offers overnight stays in cabooses for up to three adults and two children at Whittaker Station, Spruce and Bald Knob. You ride the train to your caboose, stay the night and return the next day. The rates start at $85 a night at Whittaker Station and $119 at Spruce and Bald Knob plus railroad tickets.
Pack lightly for the cabin or cabooses, because space on the train for your gear is limited.