Cass Scenic Railroad: Fleeting Community

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:

Cass Train Station

Cass Train Station

Western Union telegraph sign

Western Union telegraph sign

Time to board the train

Time to board the train

All aboard

All aboard

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.

Locomotive

Locomotive

Locomotive no 6

Locomotive no 6

Chugging along

Chugging along

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

woods in motion

woods so green

and a lot of billowing smoke

so much smoke

RR crossing sign

As we gain elevation and during breaks in the rain, the beauty of West Virginia’s mountain landscape shines through the trees:

cloudy skies over mountains

On an earlier train ride during the previous fall, this was the scenery the passengers were able to enjoy:

West Virginia Fall scenery

West Virginia Fall scenery

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.

Bald Knob sign

Bald Knob Lookout

Bald Knob Lookout

But magically, for about five minutes, the skies clear up a bit and offer a quick glimpse into the valley:

Brief clearing of clouds

Brief clearing of clouds

This is what the view was like during the previous autumn outing:

View from Bald Knob

View from Bald Knob


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.

Getting off the train

Getting off the train

Going home

Going home

About Beauty Along the Road

My name is Annette. I am passionate about nature, health, simplicity, self-reliance, truth, and life-long learning. Originally from Germany, I now live in Virginia, USA. I am a therapist, health coach, writer, photographer, and organic gardener.
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46 Responses to Cass Scenic Railroad: Fleeting Community

  1. suzjones says:

    How wonderful. I have been on a railway called the Zig Zag Railway in Australia a couple of times. Unfortunately during the bushfires in the Blue Mountains, the railway lost a significant number of carriages and there was damage done to tracks etc. Since it is completely volunteer run it faces an uncertain future.πŸ™‚
    Another train ride we went on that was a lot of fun was the Kuranda Railway in Cairns.

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  2. Thanks for taking us along on the ride, there is something wonderful about old fashioned steam trains….once cutting edge technology now evokes nostalgia. I was also fascinated by the shots of the Amish women, what an austere life to live, amidst the colour and fast pace of the modern modern world, but they looked peaceful and contented.

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    • Yes, old-order Amish are quite an interesting community and difficult to get inside of. However, in our county, there are many Mennonite families (with a less strict religious orientation than the Amish). Many of them use modern technologies to meet the demands of farm life. I enjoy interacting with them as we share similar self-reliance values.

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  3. Loca Gringa says:

    Amazing journey! We have a similar nostalgic train where I’m from in Manitoba. The scenery is very bland there. That train is called the Prairie Dog Central and really not much to see on the prairieπŸ™‚. Your landscape is stunning.

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  4. Wonderful! Thanks for the ride. I really enjoyed it.

    janet

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  5. Barneysday says:

    There is an old logger train that runs in the summer near Yosemite. Its a great treat to ride it into the mountains along the abandoned logger trails. This was a great reminder of past adventures.

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  6. Annette , ein wirklich schoener post, it felt like I was one of the passenger.Thank you for sharing. Cornelia

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  7. I enjoyed the train journey with you. I had to giggle at the name “Bald Knob”. I wonder how it got its name?πŸ™‚

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  8. suej says:

    Enjoyed the trip….

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  9. randee says:

    Thanks for sharing. I love doing historic touristy trains. We have many narrow-gauge rails in the Colorado mountains.

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  10. Thanks for taking us along on the nostalgic, and scenic, train ride, Annette. I love these kinds of experiences.πŸ™‚

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  11. Azure James says:

    That must be really pretty in the height of summer. I love the Appalaichians.

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  12. mpejovic says:

    Looks like a beautiful ride and a great way to preserve the past. I recently took my kids on a local train ride East of San Diego and it definitely wasn’t as green as this but they loved every minute of it.

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  13. We went on the Puffing Billy when visiting family in Australia. This reminds me of that trip. Good memories.

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  14. I like the blue caped superman!πŸ˜‰ It was a pretty awesome ride.

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  15. Tina Schell says:

    How fun Annette! The cloudy day reminds me of the day my two sisters-in-law and I made a long trek up to the top of one of Colorado’s major peaks only to see absolutely NOTHING as it was snowy and foggy. I love that you had the photo from a clear day to compare!!

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  16. Sartenada says:

    Amazing. Old trains are real near history. Maybe sometimes in Finland I’ll make the similar trip. Great post and wonderful photos.

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  17. Tish Farrell says:

    Enjoyed the ride immensely. Can’t beat a good old steam train, and such breath-taking surroundings.

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  18. scolgin says:

    We have a train like that in Northern California called the Skunk Railroad. Super neat.

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  19. Love the photo series. Currently we don’t have live steam in Wisconsin, the engines are being rebuilt. Hopefully by the end of the year one of them will back in operation. If I’m lucky and they don’t pull an insurance regulation on me, I plan on being in the cab again for at least one more ride. It’s been over twenty years since they pulled ours off line to rebuild the boilers and gutted them. I miss riding in the cabs, but 25 years ago they didn’t have all the insurance binders they have today. Alas, most of my engineer friends have moved since elsewhere or passed on. Live steam is addictive.πŸ™‚

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    • So you have driven one of these trains yoursefl? That’s awesome… have you written about it?

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      • Not yet. In February of each year they host a Snow Train, now pulled by a diesel locomotive. Riders have dropped by half since they stopped steam, which of course cut the income for the rebuilding funding.Since we have snow there should be some nice photo ops before the weekend (and I can crawl where the public can’t go thanks to my buddy). I never drove, that highly skilled. I guess I was an iron horse groupie. When I was in the cab I was allowed to ring the bell. I loved the tourists’ response when they noticed my soot covered face, “damn, it’s a woman!”πŸ™‚

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