The rails of Pocahontas County may not be familiar to her, but Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad 2-8-0 No. 4 is returning to West Virginia to take up residence at Cass Scenic Railroad.
The locomotive was on display at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer when Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad board member Robert Van Camp got the wheels turning to bring No. 4 back to West Virginia.
Van Camp worked with DGVR operator John Smith to complete the deal.
“He’s the one that really pushed to have it make the sale,” Smith said. “We appreciate his efforts on it. [The museum] really does want it to come back to West Virginia so those folks down there were kind of instrumental in making this deal happen. They sold it to us at a reasonable price.”
In her heyday, No. 4 operated in Clay County and, once restored to her natural beauty, Smith plans to use the locomotive on a new ride.
“Our goal would be to operate it from Cass to Durbin once we finish that line next year,” he said. “We’re working on that now. It will be an extra attraction at Cass that you could either ride up the mountain or ride up the river just like it was back in the 80s which was really popular. It will be kind of fun to do that. The Cass to Durbin line is actually perfect for this locomotive.”
Smith traveled to North Carolina this week to pick up the first of four truckloads carrying the locomotive. He hopes to have it in its entirety at Cass in a month.
Like Humpty Dumpty, when the pieces are all together, it will be time to put it back together again.
“It’s going to take awhile to get No. 4 up and running,” Smith said. “It has work to be done on it. The skill set needed to do that work is right there at the Cass shop. If anyone can fix it, those guys can. The little bit we’ve been with them now, for three months, they’re very impressive. The knowledge and skill that they have, and the shop itself is set up to do just that – fix locomotives. It makes sense.”
While the machine shop works on the locomotive, crews will continue work on the Cass to Durbin line, which also needs a lot of work before its completion.
“There’s a huge amount of work from the 85 flood,” Smith said. “We have fixed several of the washouts and we have crews working on that every day. Basically, I think personally it will take a good year, year-and-a-half to get it done.”
The new line is Phase 1 of the Highland Adventure of Mountain and Rails plan Smith first proposed in 2012. The plan is a combination of railroad and rail trails to create a 90-mile loop connecting six counties through trains and trails.
The loop project is going as planned, except for one slight change.
“Everything is coming together just as we originally planned except that taking over Cass was not our plan,” Smith said. “Really I think that the one thing is to make sure we have Cass well together, well organized and secure. We don’t want to do anything else there that’s going to jeopardize the operation of the Cass line. That’s first and foremost. After that, then we can look into really making advances in making this place somewhere that would be world class as far as riding steam trains.”
Even with the addition of unexpected curves in the track, Smith remains focused on his main goal – keeping the railroads in operation and preserving the locomotives. With the addition of No. 4, the light at the end of that tunnel is brighter.
“It’s a natural fit,” Smith said. “We could get other locomotives but we’re really interested in repatriating West Virginia equipment – make it historic and preserve it. Our goal this year is to get things running smooth. Then we’ll start working on other stuff.”