Cass Railroad, West Virginia

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Cass, West Virginia would be just another forgotten dot on the Mountain State map, if a century ago, a railroad hadn’t rolled through town.  Steam engines are still chugging along the tracks, which were first laid to bring lumber from the surrounding hills down to a sawmill in town.  Now, the cargo is tourists and train lovers.

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The Cass Railroad is on WV Route 66, west of Route 28 and east of US 219.

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I didn’t plan my visit to Cass around a train ride, so the tracks were mostly quiet during my stop in town.  I was lucky, however, to catch one engine slowly chugging past the station.  Just try to ignore the plume of steam and smoke, obviously going in the wrong direction.  Yes, the engine was traveling backwards.

Before rolling across the town’s one and only railroad crossing, the engine was parked next to the Cass train station.  The large parking lot, just below, will hold the cars of hundreds of passengers, who magically appear out of the mountains, just before a train’s scheduled departure.

[tmt_info =””]Cass Railroad offers several routes. For a short ride, take a two-hour trip to Whittaker Station, four miles up the track.  A five-hour trip runs to the top of Bald Knob, the third-highest point in West Virginia, at 4,842 feet.  Another five-hour trip takes you to the former town of Spruce.  As of 2008, fares ranged from $16 to $30 per person, based on the route, the day of the week, and time of year.  Explore your options here.[/tmt_info]

Much of the town of Cass is either owned or operated by the state of West Virginia, as a state park, and West Virginia does its state parks very well.  Because of this long-term effort, Cass is not just a railroad or a train station, it’s an experience that involves the entire town.

Just above the station, there’s an old company store (the big white building) that now operates as a huge gift shop, selling just about every kind of train-related memorabilia imaginable.

After crossing the railroad tracks and passing the company store, WV Route 66 makes a left…

… and runs past a row of restored, turn-of-the-20th-century company houses. The state owns them, has fixed them up, and now rents them to visitors.

[tmt_info =””]In addition to the company houses, you can also rent a caboose or wilderness cabin.  The cabooses have drinking water and coal for the stove, but that’s about the only amenities provided.  The wilderness cabin provides even less — you’ll need to bring everything from toilet paper to flashlights.  You can find out more about the rentals here.[/tmt_info]

Nearby, there’s also the old Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1904.  When the lumber mill closed in 1960, the town’s population dwindled.  In 1970, the church dissolved, and the building was handed over to the town to act as a community center.

[tmt_info =””]Construction on the railroad began in 1900.  From 1908 to 1922, the mill at Cass ran almost 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, cranking out billions of board-feet of lumber and pulp.  Operations slowed by the late 1950’s, and the mill abruptly shut down at the end of the shift on July 1, 1960.  Within a few months, a plan was hatched to convert the railroad into a tourist attraction.  The state purchased Cass Railroad in 1961, and the trains were running again in 1963.[/tmt_info]

[tmt_info =””]Leaving Cass, continue west on WV Route 66.[/tmt_info]

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Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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