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A Brief History of the Cass Operation
by George Deike

A Chronology of Cass Rail Operations:

The West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company (WVP&P) built the sawmill, railroad and town at 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 Greenbrier 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.

The huge 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 years 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 busy railroad.

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 Trackage

The original logging railroad can be described in four parts. The first three were the original (1901-1927) GC&E built by WVP&P; the remaining part was built by Mower as a logging branch in the 1950's.

Cass Hill

From the Cass Depot the trains today use the former C&O Railway track to the water tank. There, the trains shift to the 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.

The Switchbacks 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.


Whittaker

Once the site of a construction camp from the building of the railroad, here now is the Mountain State Railroad & Logging 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.

The center 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. The four-wheel bobber caboose, reportedly ex-B&O, brought up the rear of log trains into Swandale for many years.

The remaining 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 the new setting. The skidder remained at the same set for several months.


Old Spruce

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 and a 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 1 miles from Old Spruce. In 1945 track was again 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 sharpest on 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 became the West Virginia Central Railroad, a part of the West Virginia State Railroad Authority in 1997.

The grades 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 from 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.

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This page last updated or verified on October 29, 2011