Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Train Ride Back Through Time

OK, so you went to Snowshoe Mountain for the week and you hiked alot, saw some great sunsets, some tremendous scenery and you ate some great italian food, that's great! And then, one day you went to a defunct mountain mill town that has been restored as a West Virginia State Park and you rode a scenic train powered by a 100 year old steam engine. So what is so special about that? Well, nothing except that the town, Cass, was built to serve as a company town for the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company on land originally owned and purchased from my great-grandparents. And my grand-father, prior to his stint as deputy sherrif and grocery/meat market owner, worked in the mill during his youthful days. And, because nearly every childhood visit to my grandparents resulted in a trip to ride the "Cass train."

The town of Cass as a company town in it's day served as the flagship for a pulpwood dynasty and rail operation that employed thousands and the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company evolved into Wesvaco. As the years passed and the industry changed, the town of Cass began it's slow decline that most small towns in America eventually experience and in the 1960's the State of West Virginia saw an opportunity to create a new state park centered around the train tracks that once served a vital role in transporting the timber from the top of the 4800 foot mountainside to the mill in the valley. Critics of the plan were quite vociferous, however, after 23,000 people visited the Cass Scenic Railroad during it's first months of operation, the critics were quickly silenced.

Through the 50 year history of the Cass Scenic Railroad the state park has grown and evolved, and still has a multitude of potential for growth. A photo featured in a 1964 edition of National Geographic magazine shows a 140 foot waterfall located within the Cass Cave, a cavern under the mountain where the scenic train operates. The cave is on private property and is not open to the public, however, there remains the possibility that at some point this wonder of nature may become part of the state park system as well.

Even though I have logged several trips on the Cass Scenic Railroad through the years, I still get goose bumps when I hear the sound of that classic lonesome train whistle that is akin to the Shay Locomotives that power the passenger cars up that mountain to the top of the world and back into the history of my descendants who settled in that rough and rugged area of Almost Heaven, West Virginia. I have embedded a video below that features the train ride from the Autumn of 2010. I would strongly encourage you to plan a late September or early October trip to the mountains of Pocahontas County in West Virginia and enjoy natures artistry at it's finest with the colorful explosion that takes place across the mountain ridges during the fall. Wherever you may be today, have a great day From The Land of Palm Trees. Enjoy!

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