Well now that we have our feet firmly planted in September and fall is right around the corner, let's look at one of the biggest attractions this time of year in Pocahontas County - scenic train rides. As someone that has the pleasure of meeting and helping many of the folks visiting Nature's Mountain Playground, I can honestly say the topic of our train rides factors in to about seventy-five percent of my conversations with guests. People love coming here and riding our trains. And why not? Pocahontas County has some of the best train rides in West Virginia. What better way to take in the beauty of our rugged mountains and inspiring scenery than a leisurely journey by train? And although our train rides stay busy for much of the year, autumn may be the busiest time of all. Every year visitors are drawn to these mountains in anticipation of the beauty and vibrant colors produced by the fall foliage. So let's take a look at some of the great scenic railway journeys Nature's Mountain Playground has to offer.
The Durbin Rocket
The little town of Durbin owes its beginnings to two industrial giants of the early 20th century - the railroad and timber industries. The demand for timber, and a means to move felled trees from northern Pocahontas County to various saw mills, played a key role in the development of Durbin in the early 1900s. And Durbin has held on to that history in one significant way, namely, the Durbin Rocket. The Durbin Rocket is the given name of a coal-fired, steam engine locomotive (a Heisler No.6, for you train buffs) that operates with coaches and wooden cabooses from the 1920s in tow. Climbing aboard the Durbin Rocket is very much like stepping back in time.
The Rocket excursion covers ten and a half miles in two hours as she follows the course of the Greenbrier River. And there's no worries over keeping the little ones in their seats for that two-hour ride. The mix of open and closed cars, providing an opportunity for children to get up and move about the train, makes the Durbin Rocket one of the more unique train rides in Nature's Mountain Playground for kids. The open cars are also ideal for those scenic photo opportunities that will undoubtedly present themselves as the old Heisler No.6 steadily moves you down the tracks.
For a truly one-of-a-kind train experience you can't beat Durbin's "Castaway Caboose". With this excursion you not only get the beautiful trip along the Greenbrier River, but you also get an overnight stay in your very own private caboose. Your private car will be untethered from the rest of the train at one of two secluded locations where you'll spend the night in a converted Wabash Railroad caboose with all the creature comforts of home. The next morning the train will arrive to return you back to civilization. The caboose will accommodate parties from one to six people, making it a great family adventure or a quiet couples' getaway. And as a quick side note, the Durbin Rocket excursion will be undergoing some changes as a new line connecting Durbin and Cass will be opening soon. You can check out all the details and seasonal schedules for the Durbin Rocket at mountainrail.com.
Cass Scenic Railroad State Park
If Durbin came to be because of the timber industry, the town of Cass was built by the timber industry. Founded in 1901 by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company, Cass was built as a company town for the men logging in the surrounding mountains. Construction of the railroad started that same year and was built for the purpose of hauling felled trees to the mill at Cass. Over time, the railroad track was lengthened to the third highest peak in West Virginia, Bald Knob. By 1977, Cass became part of the state park system and remains one of the top tourist attractions in Pocahontas County.
A big part of the fun of Cass is not just the train excursions (more about those in just a minute), but the charm of the town itself. Visitors who come to ride the train can also fill their day with stops at the Company Store and The Last Run Restaurant. There is also an artisan's co-op, featuring the works of local crafters. And if that isn't enough to pack into your day trip, be sure to check out the Cass Historical Theater and Historical Museum - one of the only authentic lumber railroad museums in America. You can even book an overnight stay in one of the restored company houses. All this and we haven't even talked about the train rides! And for all you train historians out there, here's a little teaser for you straight from mountainrail.com.
"Cass is the home of the world's largest fleet of geared Shay locomotives. Five Shays, one Heisler and one Climax reside here. The legendary turn-of-the-century class C-80 Shay, #5 has been toiling up Cheat Mountain for 115 years, making it one of the oldest engines in continuous service on its original line, and the oldest operable Shay in existence!" Mountainrail.com
How's that for some serious train trivia?
The Cass depot offers two excursions: the Whittaker Station run and the Bald Knob run. The Whittaker Station run is a two hour, eight-mile round trip that departs from Cass at 11:00 a.m. and again at 2:00 p.m. As the train climbs in elevation, travelers will experience two switchbacks, allowing the engines to alternate between pushing and pulling passenger cars up the steep grade. The railroad levels off just in time for a thirty-minute stop at Whittaker Station - an authentic logging camp recreated with the help of volunteers from the Mountain State Railroad and Logging Historical Association. During your layover be sure to get out and stretch you legs, relax at the shady picnic grove and take in the scenic views before climbing back aboard for your descent down the mountain to the Cass depot.
If a two-hour excursion just isn't enough for you, then definitely check out the Bald Knob run. Departing only once daily, at 12:00 p.m., the Bald Knob run covers a twenty-two-mile round trip in about four and a half hours. One of the distinguishing characteristics of this excursion is the dramatic increase in elevation that takes place over the course of the journey. You'll pull out of Cass at an elevation of 2,452 feet, but by the time you reach your destination of Bald Knob (remember, the third highest point in West Virginia) you've climbed to an amazing 4,842 feet - that's almost doubling in elevation! There's something special about reaching that kind of altitude. Not only are there breath-taking views in every direction, but the surrounding trees, flowers and even the atmosphere itself takes on a whole new look and feel. It's a sensation you must experience for yourself to fully experience. As with the Whittaker Station run, there is a thirty-minute layover along with a provided sack lunch and plenty of room to stretch your legs before the return trip back to Cass. For more information and seasonal schedules on these excursions, be sure to visit mountianrail.com and Cass Scenic Railroad State Park at wvstateparks.com.
Few that have paid us a visit here at Nature's Mountain Playground would deny there is something of fun and interest to do here all year long. But for me, and many of our guests, there is something really special about being in Pocahontas County in the fall. The crisp air and changing leaves make this time of year almost magical. And one of the best ways to experience that magic is on one of our West Virginia fall foliage train rides. So, whether you choose the Durbin Rocket, the Whittaker Station run or Bald Knob run at Cass, or go crazy and ride all three, you won't find a better way to experience and celebrate the beauty of fall in the mountains of West Virginia.
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