A Brief History of the Cass Operation
Chronology of Cass Rail Operations:
West Virginia Spruce Lumber Co., Greenbrier & Elk River, then
Greenbrier Cheat & Elk RR.
West Virginia Pulp & Paper Co.,
Greenbrier Cheat & Elk railroad name was used until 1926, when
Bemis to Bergoo line was sold to the Western Maryland Railway.
Cass Scenic Railroad.
The West Virginia Pulp
& Paper Company (WVP&P) built the sawmill, railroad and
Cass. Grading for the rail line was to the top of the mountain in 1900;
construction was done with hand tools and black powder. Rails were laid
in the first weeks of 1901, as soon as the C&O railroad
Branch, also under construction at that time, could deliver the steel.
Early that year the trains were moving pulpwood into Cass. By 1915,
there were 81 miles of main line. By 1960, when the railroad and mill
operations ended, including temporary branches, some 250 miles of track
had been built in all.
logging operation used Shay locomotives almost
exclusively. From the first at 50 tons, locomotive sizes increased with
almost every purchase. By 1905, two 80 ton Shays were in use for the
steep Cass Hill, the climb out of town up the mountain. CSRR No. 5 is
the only remaining engine of those bought new for use at Cass. In
1912-1914, two 100 ton Shays took over the Cass Hill. Finally, in 1921,
a 150 ton Shay, No. 12, was purchased for the long main line runs. Two
used C&O 150 ton 4-truck Shay locomotives were purchased two
later. For a brief time, there were three 150-ton engines on the main
lines, two 100-ton Shays on Cass Hill, and seven 65 to 80-ton Shays on
woods runs. WVP&P's Greenbrier Cheat & Elk was a very
In the 1930's,
the operation shrank, suffering from bad
economic times and dwindling timber. In 1942, it was sold to Mower
Lumber Co. By the 1950's, only three Shays remained, including No. 4,
bought used, now in service at Cass. The operation closed in 1960; the
Cass Scenic Railroad began in 1963.
The original logging railroad
can be described in four
parts. The first three were the original (1901-1927) GC&E built
WVP&P; the remaining part was built by Mower as a logging
Hill, from Cass up the mountain to Old Spruce and down the Shavers Fork
of Cheat River to the town of Spruce.
- Cheat River line, north from Spruce, down Shavers
Fork 39 miles to a junction with the Western Maryland Railroad near
River line, west 35 miles from Spruce, through the Big Cut to Slaty
Fork, and down Elk River to Bergoo.
- Bald Knob line, from Old Spruce north to the top
of the mountain, now a part of the Cass Scenic Railroad.
From the Cass Depot the trains
today use the former
C&O Railway track to the water tank. There, the trains shift to
original GC&E which runs by the Cass Shop. The present shop
buildings were built after a fire destroyed the 1922 GC&E shop
complex in 1972. The climb up Cass Hill is typical logging railroad;
about 35,000 log trains climbed and descended the hill in 60 years, and
some 20,000 Cass Scenic trains have passed since 1963.
were built to hold a Shay and 13 cars.
This length today allows two Cass trains to pass. Until Mower removed
them, there were run-around tracks. Engines were switched so that they
were always on the down hill end of the train. Above the Second
Switchback is the steepest grade on the Cass Hill, 8.7 per cent. After
that is Whitaker, above which the grade becomes relatively mild.
Once the site of a construction
camp from the building
of the railroad, here now is the Mountain State Railroad &
Historical Association's Whitaker Camp One display. Starting in 1993,
volunteers built 1,100 feet of track in three sidings. On the west side
of the display area are three portable shanties, patterned after the
remains of actual shanties at one of the last logging camps in the
woods. The saw filer's shack has big windows to provide light for the
filer's work. The others housed the foreman, surveyor, train crews, and
men deemed more important than the wood hicks, the men who actually cut
the timber. Next to the shanties is an abbreviated camp train,
representing where the hicks washed, slept, and ate their meals. The
419 is an original Mower car; the other is a reproduction, built on an
original flat car.
track holds a log loader, built by the
Meadow River Lumber Company at Rainelle. This large loader was designed
when Meadow River started harvesting whole trees, cutting the trunks
into shorter logs in the mill instead of in the woods. The loader rests
on a Meadow River skeleton log car, one of a large fleet manufactured
at Rainelle. The other flat is a very early example of a steel flat
car, from Elk River Coal & Lumber-Georgia Pacific at Swandale.
four-wheel bobber caboose, reportedly ex-B&O, brought up the
of log trains into Swandale for many years.
track holds a tower skidder, assembled
from older Lidgerwood engines and winches by Meadow River Lumber
Company. A tower skidder brought logs on a aerial cable from distant
cutting sites to the railroad, where a log loader could stack them on
the cars. When all the logs were removed from a site, the far end of
the cable was moved so that eventually all timber in a circular area
around the skidder was taken out. Every time the cable was moved it
meant many hours of back-breaking work as the crew carried 100-foot
lengths of small cable through the woods between the skidder and the
new anchor site. When these lengths were joined, the crew then used the
skidder's rigging engine to stretch the 1" diameter main cable out to
setting. The skidder remained at the same set for several months.
Rails reached here in 1901.
There were a few houses
built and the first logging camp was put nearby on Shavers Fork. Rails
were pushed upstream onto what is now Snowshoe Resort land and used
until 1905. Here at Old Spruce, there was an 800-foot siding
timber coal dock, the remains of which are barely visible. The dock was
used for coal transfer to the camps. All trains stopped at Old Spruce
to set brakes before starting downgrade to Cass, In 1903 the mainline
was built down Shavers Fork to Spruce where a logging camp was
established 1¼ miles from Old Spruce. In 1945 track was
laid on the 1901 grade up Shavers Fork; the second cut lasted until
1950. In 1960, the last skidder was operated here at Old Spruce. The
old locomotive water tank from Shay 8 was placed here to supply water
to the skidder.
The Bald Knob Line
Old Spruce to Bald Knob, these
4.5 miles on the Cass
Scenic Railroad were a Mower logging branch known as the Cabin Fork
line, built in segments from 1950 to 1958, and once 12 miles in length.
The part up to CSRR MP10 was logged in the early 1950's. The last mile
to Bald Knob was the last active logging track, with cutting into 1960.
The Water Tank
is typical logging practice. Locomotives
have a steam siphon capable of lifting water into the tender from any
trackside source. This tank, fed by Oats Run, is fashioned from the
shells of former mill steam boilers. An 8 per cent grade and sharp
curve make starting from here challenging.
The Wye led to
a branch with another camp and five
skidder sets. The main line curve at the wye was 36 degrees, the
the Cass railroad. The Cass Track Crew made significant modifications to this section of track in 2008 to reduce the sharpness of this curve. Formerly, the big Western Maryland Shay 6 could not squeeze around
it so when No. 6 was used on Bald Knob trips, the wye, rebuilt in 1997 by
MSR&LHA volunteers and the Cass Track Crew, was used like a
switchback to bypass the curve. The wye is still used occasionally to turn equipment around.
At DP Switch,
just short of MP 10, the Cabin Fork line,
now a road, cuts to the left. From this point, the track was built to
Bald Knob in 1957. Several camp sites and skidder sets are passed
before the train reaches Bald Knob.
At Bald Knob
the original grade curves sharply to the
left at the road crossing. Logging trains circled the summit before
crossing the same spot that the CSRR trains now reach by a direct route
on a 9 per cent grade. This was the last major logging site. From the
observation platform you can see lands cut by a dozen lumber companies
using seven different logging railroads.
The Cheat River Line (Shavers Fork)
As the train exits the
interchange track at Spruce,
passengers are now riding on the former GC&E trackage which
the West Virginia Central Railroad, a part of the West Virginia State
Railroad Authority in 1997.
along the river are usually a little less
than 1 per cent. This allowed the GC&E to operate 20 to 30 car
trains with a single 150-ton Shay. The log cars were brought from the
woods by smaller engines. The track connected to the Western Maryland
near Bemis, 39 miles north of Spruce in 1918. Cutting was not finished
on that end of the line until 1926. In all, there were more than 70
logging camps on the Cheat River line.
The Elk River Line
The railroad from Spruce west to
Elk River was the
greatest engineering challenge the GC&E faced. The grade rises
Spruce, increasing to 2.4 per cent just before the Big Cut, 1.5 miles
west of Shavers Fork. The Big Cut was perhaps the largest excavation
ever for a logging railroad. A tunnel was considered, but the red
shale's would not support a roof without lining the whole length. In
1910, the company began digging, with a big Marion steam shovel, moving
the earth with dump cars. One locomotive was assigned to the
construction. When the cut was done in 1914 it was 1,000 feet long and
100 feet deep. At 4,066 feet above sea level, the cut was the highest
point on a major railroad east of the Mississippi River.