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Cass Scenic Railroad

Cass Scenic Railroad runs on the same tracks laid down in 1901 for the West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company. Those trains hauled cut timber off the nearby mountains to the band saw mill at Cass. The mountains were high, the curves tight, and the grades very steep. Only one kind of steam locomotive could run there: the Shay steam locomotive with its unique geared powertrain.

They are unlike other steam locomotives that have the traditional horizontal pistons and drive rods. Shay pistons are mounted vertically and power a horizontal splined driveline that goes to all the wheels. The wheels are turned by large conical gears, powering every wheel on the locomotive. Imagine, a steam engine with 12 wheel drive just as shown in this gallery. Look along the locomotive just above the rails to see the driveline that made all the difference.

The Shay locomotive was perfect for the job in the high mountains on logging railroads because of their very high tractive effort with all the wheels powered. Above all, they had the power and ability to climb almost any railroad grade you could ask of it. They weren’t fast at all, but a Shay could certainly haul uphill and down with a load!

There are five Shay locomotives running on the Cass Scenic Railroad along with a Heisler and a Climax. Together, they make the largest remaining fleet of geared steam locomotives in the world today. Amazingly, a few of the Shay locomotives at Cass today have been running here on the original line since the beginning of logging operations in 1901. Later, others were brought in from elsewhere to help make Cass railroading tourist attraction.

Other Things To See At Cass Scenic Railroad

The logging operation at Cass was remote and an entire town was built to house the workers. Most all the houses remain along with stores and public buildings. In the 1970s long after decades of logging were done, the entire complex was bought by the state of West Virginia and turned into a park. You can even rent a house there for a vacation rental.

The railroad shops are still there and occasionally open for tours. It’s very well equipped to handle all the maintenance needs of a fleet of old steam locomotives. Next to the shop, there is also an interesting track or two of defunct Shay locomotives and junk railroad equipment used for parts. Visitors can also see the remains of the large sawmill at Cass which unfortunately burned years ago.

My visits to Cass Scenic Railroad were a very interesting experience into true mountain railroading and logging railroads were unique unto themselves. As always, it was something to see the old Shay geared locomotives in action.

All the pictures are available as artist-made quality prints on gloss metal, stretched canvas, or matted paper, with free shipping to the US and Canada. ~Andy

Cass Scenic Railroad Pictures

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