After adding the operation of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park locomotives to the Mountain Rail Adventures, Mountain Rail West Virginia president John Smith has kept the railroads busy with upgrades, restorations and additions to the multiple excursions on the Cass trains, Durbin Rocket and Cheat Mountain Salamander.
The most recent project was laying track to connect the Cass line to Durbin, which is nearing completion.
“We’re basically one bridge over a side stream away from finishing,” Smith said. “We’ve got all the track work done. There’s a little touch up we can do here and there, but basically speaking, the track is connected, all the ties are in and most of the stone is in.”
The bridge is for the stream called Trout Run and will be built by the West Virginia Department of Transportation. Smith said the bid should be let in the next few weeks, so Smith feels the route will be finished soon.
The project started in 2016 and the first run should be sometime after Labor Day in 2020.
“It will be a regular run,” Smith said. “It will be an add-on out of Cass. In other words, Cass is the centerpiece of steam locomotives, and it is strictly a summertime venue. Once you get partway up the mountain, it’s too cold come November and you can’t stand it, so we’re trying to expand the operating season at Cass into the winter, give more options for the summertime travelers, and hopefully increase the traffic at Cass and in Durbin, as well.”
Due to the grade of the regular Cass runs to Whittaker and Bald Knob, it is only possible to use the open-air cars, leading to colder riders. But with the new run to Durbin, which will be mainly a flat ride, it will have closed cars with heat and restrooms.
The train will depart Cass and travel to the end of the track in Durbin. There will also be options for trains departing from Durbin and traveling to Cass. Smith estimates the run will take about an hour.
With the project so near completion, Smith said there is no time to take a break. Instead, Mountain Rail is continuing to find ways to improve and continue to offer a unique venture into the history of railroads, logging and West Virginia.
“The whole place exudes history,” Smith said. “The history of West Virginia railroads is how the place is built. There you have kind of a rolling history book, so we’re, one at a time, fixing them up as we go – all the steam locomotives at Cass.
There’s still more up there. We’ve never had a chance to appraise or assess any of the other ones, but there are other Cass engines up there that we haven’t touched in half a decade.”
Along with restoring the locomotives to their original glory, Smith said the maintenance crew is putting finishing touches on a camp car similar to those that were on display at Whittaker Station for years.
The camp car is designed to look like a typical camp used by the wood hicks who logged the area. Instead of just being for display, the new camp car will be available for a castaway camp experience, much like the Castaway Caboose on the Durbin Rocket.
“Years ago, there were two castaway cars on exhibit at Whittaker,” Smith said. “The oldest of them had basically deteriorated. They brought it down to Cass and it was in deplorable condition. So, we’ve rebuilt it. It’s going to be used like a camping experience. That ought to be pretty cool. You’ll stay along the river on the Greenbrier.”
As opening day for the season draws near, Smith said he is ready to see the locomotives back on the tracks and is anticipating the maiden voyage of the Cass to Durbin train.
“Right now, you can taste it,” he said. “Most everything is done and ready to go.”