Cass, West Virginia, once a thriving lumber town, is now almost entirely abandoned. If it wasn’t for the railroad still being maintained for tourists and a few houses available for vacation rentals, the town would be long forgotten. However, the place comes alive an hour or two before the train is scheduled to leave.
People line up to buy their tickets at the old-fashioned railroad office:
There is a bit of a scramble as couples and families find seats, claiming their territory for the duration of the ride. A large group of Amish people cluster together, chatting among themselves but never with any of the other passengers.
The train leaves the station
The locomotive begins its ascent of the mountain. Many of the boys and men on the train undoubtedly know all the specs, the kind of engine, its capacity, and its age and are sharing whatever they know about this massive machine.
A small community of men, the train conductor and his assistants, are working to make the train ride smooth and safe for everyone: brakes need checking, tracks need re-setting as the train switches from one track to another, water needs to be refilled to cool the brakes. There are many work-related stops along the way.
Soon, conversations develop. The man in the blue rain poncho tells me that he came to Cass as a boy, as part of a summer camp internship. He now returns every few years with his wife, to ride the train and spend time in the mountains. A young couple is visiting from France enjoying their summer break from medical school. Food gets passed around and shared.
At first, all we can see is dense woods on both sides
and a lot of billowing smoke
As we gain elevation and during breaks in the rain, the beauty of West Virginia’s mountain landscape shines through the trees:
On an earlier train ride during the previous fall, this was the scenery the passengers were able to enjoy:
After about an hour, we are pulling into the Bald Knob station. Rain clouds and fog fill the valley and there is little hope for the desired views from the massive wooden platform.
But magically, for about five minutes, the skies clear up a bit and offer a quick glimpse into the valley:
This is what the view was like during the previous autumn outing:
The white structure is the Greenbank National Radio Astronomy Observatory
When the conductor blew the whistle sending steam billowing in the air, everyone returned to their seats on the train which began its descent back to Cass. The mood among the passengers had shifted noticeably: we were cold and tired, and nestled against our neighbors for a little extra warmth. Conversations slowed and then stopped as the rocking of the train lulled us into a trance.
Back at the station, the short-lived community of passengers disbanded, the Amish group walked towards their mini bus, the train crew probably had some beers together and soon the station was as abandoned as before.