It’s hard to keep a secret in a small town, but the town of Cass managed to do so when planning a surprise celebration for Wilbur “Bud” Cassell and his 55 years of working at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. Cass employees and residents gathered last Friday to honor Cassell for his dedication to the park. Among those congratulating Cassell, center, were Cass Superintendent Benny McCune, left, and Assistant Superintendent Marshall Markley. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

What began as a normal day of work for Cass Scenic Railroad State Park historian Wilbur “Bud” Cassell, soon became a celebration of his 55 years of dedication to the park and the trains that make it so unique.

Park employees and state officials honored Cassell last Friday with a surprise party complete with greetings from Governor Jim Justice and United States Senator Joe Manchin, III.

Manchin’s regional coordinator Brian Aluise kicked off the celebration with a letter from Manchin, who could not attend in person.

“‘It is my distinct honor to recognize Bud Cassell for his dedicated work with the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park for the last fifty-five years’ – that’s incredible,” Aluise said, reading the letter. “‘[Cass] could not find a better representative than Bud, and I’m honored to join you in recognition of his many years of service. His know- ledge of this region is invaluable, and he has played a vital roll in showcasing the best of our home state to residents and tourists from across the nation and around the world. His welcoming nature and wealth of knowledge make him a treasure within the state park system.’”

In his letter, Manchin acknowledged the many duties Cassell has had over the years, remarking that he has represented the town of Cass and the state of West Virginia above and beyond others.

“‘Bud has worked in several capacities’ – that’s an understatement – ‘while employed at this park,’” Aluise continued. “‘This long list includes track crew, brakeman, fireman, engineer, conductor, shop crew, night- watchman and his current role as the historian and museum operator. He is the authority on the park concerning the train, the train operations, the town and the surrounding area. Bud always greets those he meets with a warm-hearted smile and makes them feel welcome.’”

U. S. Senator Joe Manchin, III’s regional coordinator Brian Aluise, left, presented Bud Cassell an American Flag which had flown over the United States Capitol in his honor. Aluise also read a letter of congratulations from Manchin, who was unable to attend the celebration. S. Stewart photos

Aluise congratulated Cassell on his anniversary and presented an American flag to him which had flown over the United States Capitol in Cassell’s honor.

Representing the State Parks Department, Sissie Summers also shared comments on Cassell’s milestone.

“It’s a good day to celebrate a human iron force at Cass Scenic Railroad, and that’s what Bud is,” she said. “Bud Cassell is a kind – knows no stranger – gentleman and any day a visitor to the park gets to meet Bud, those are truly great days. I suspect it means more to Bud maybe than to the visitors. He gets to share his love and story of Cass because he is Cass. He remains dedicated not only to community and the place he calls home, but also to a wonderful state park and the state park system.”

Cass assistant superintendent Marshall Markley read greetings from Governor Justice, as well as sharing remarks on behalf of the employees of Cass.

“We talk about a lot of the different jobs that Bud has done, and I’m going to steal something that someone else says about him – ‘he’s one of the only people who has torn down a train, put it back together, worked on the track and engineered the train that was on that track’ – which is pretty amazing,” Markley said. 

In addition to the greeting from Justice, Cassell received two plaques from the Cass employees – one to hang at the museum and one to take home.

Delivering closing remarks, superintendent Benny McCune echoed much of what was said and added that he hopes the next 55 years will be even better for Cassell.

“Bud, I hope this helps you realize just how important you are to us,” he said. “I hope we’ve shown you how much we appreciate you here at Cass and how much other people appreciate you.”

During the ceremony, Cassell was all smiles and genuinely surprised by the ceremony.

“I didn’t know I was so important,” he said, laughing. “It’s all been good years. Everybody has treated me well, and I’m glad to work for the state.”

Adding to the surprise, Cass’s first full-time Superintendent Richard Dale, right, was present to help Bud Cassell celebrate his 55 years of service as an employee at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.

As he reflected on the past years and spoke with visitors, including first full-time superintendent Richard Dale, Cassell was in his element – sharing stories and enjoying the company of others.

“[I began] working on the track, repairing the track from Cass to Whitaker, just enough to start running the train,” he said of his first year at Cass. “Then I went from there to braking on the train, then firing the engine and then engineer, and then conductor. Then I worked in the shop.”

Cassell spent 50 years on the train before taking over as historian in the museum.

“Fifty years on the train – I didn’t know I was so crazy,” he said, laughing.