2010 RV Rally travel blog

What's Left of the Boiler House

Larry at the Cass Water Tower

Shay 4 Engine - check out the massive 3 pistons and gearing...


Train Trucks and Gears

Black Smoke

Rounding a Curve

Looking Back

Logger Shanties

Diesel Log Loader


Eric the Brakeman

August 3, Tuesday: OK folks, today we’re going to learn everything we ever wanted to know (and maybe more) about logging and the locomotives made to climb the mountains.

Cass is now a WV state park, and besides the train rides, they offer several different tours. We got to town about 9:00 so we could take the locomotive repair shop tour before our scheduled train ride. The tour included an explanation of the pulp and milling operations here.

When the Luke family first planned to build the town they were only interested in the red spruce for their pulp and papermaking operation. Sam Slaymaker convinced Mr. Luke to include a sawmill for lumber and flooring operations. So the trees were harvested on the mountain, brought down to Cass on the railroad and dumped into the mill pond. The pulp wood was debarked and then reloaded onto flat cars for transporting to Covington, VA, where the pulp and papermaking plant was. The hardwoods were fed into the double band saw mill. We saw one of the band saws, and it was huge. It must have been about 20’-22’ in circumference and about 10”-12” wide. That thing ran at 10,000 feet per minute. The mill capacity was 125,000 board feet of lumber per 11-hour shift, and they ran 2 11-hour shifts 6 days a week. From the saw mill, the lumber went to the kilns were it was dried for 10 days. Then it went into the finishing house where it was more finely planed and made into tongue and groove flooring. They shipped 4 to 7 railroad car loads per week.

Other kinds of lumber were produced here also. After final planning, the boards were stacked outside to air dry. The stacks were 40 feet high, and they sent out 40 car loads each day. That’s a heck of a lot of lumber! Estimates are that 7 million board feet of chestnut was processed here.

The double band saw was powered by steam. The boiler was fired by the scraps of lumber and the saw dust; they never purchased and fuel for the boiler. The steam powered a Hamilton steam engine that had an 18 foot flywheel. We’re talkin’ some power here.

The lumbering operation used 3 types of geared locomotives: Shay, Climax, and Heisler. Logging railroads often had rough, temporary tract, steep grades, and sharp curves. Conventional steam locomotives were log and heavy and their large driving wheels would derail and lose traction on inclines. So logging required a different type of locomotive.

All three of the logging locomotives are similar in that the pistons rotate a crankshaft that powers a long, jointed drive shaft that turns the wheels through reduction gears. (If that sounds like I know what I’m talking about, I don’t. I copied that from their literature.) Unlike conventional rod locomotives, power goes to all the wheels of the geared locomotives. So if there are 8 wheels on the engine, it has 8-wheel drive. The engines have a short wheelbase and swivel trucks. They are slow and steady and all their weight is used for traction, just what is needed on the steep mountain tracks.

The logging companies used temporary track for the trains. If they came to a stream at grade, they wouldn’t build a bridge but just lay track across the stream bed. The locomotives didn’t care; they had 8 drive wheels and would just run through the water because they could.

We saw the Shay 4 engine. This engine was purchased by the Mower Lumber Company (successor of the WV Pulp and Paper Co.) in 1943 and was built specifically for the WV logging industry. It has 3 pistons with a 12 inch bore and weighs 80 tons.

The other Shay we saw was #5, the second oldest Shay in existence. It was built in 1905 and has been in continuous use ever since. Shay 5 has a bore of 13-1/2 inches and weighs 90 tons. These are the two engines that powered our train up the mountain.

We went into the repair shop and saw some of the equipment used to maintain the locomotives. There was a huge metal lathe and other equipment. We learned that the wheels are not bolted on; they are pressed on with pressure and held on by friction. Who knew?

It takes 48 hours to bring a cold locomotive up to pressure. It could be done faster, but at Cass they don’t like to stress the metal that much. So they keep the steam up in the locomotives 24/7.

Then it was time to get on the train. We had seats on an open air car, and fortunately it wasn’t too cold today. We started out with the engines pushing us up the mountain. In order to gain elevation in the least distance, they used two switchbacks. We’d go up the mountain to a certain point and seemed to go off on a siding. The train would reverse and continue up the mountain going in the opposite direction and at a steep grade. We did that twice going up the mountain.

There were many curves and that was good because we could look back and watch the engines belching all that black smoke, soot, and sparks. The way government regulates everything today, I’m amazed they let old steam engines still run because they sure put a lot of pollution in the air. I was surprised to see some Indian Pipes growing along the track. The only other place I’ve seen them was on Swan’s Island.

We sat next to an interesting guy on the train. He was a physicist having a day off after a conference of some sort. He was telling me a lot about the mechanics of trains and wheels and tracks. He said that the wheel is cone shaped and that’s what really keeps the wheel on the track, not the flange. As the train goes around a curve, the inner wheel travels less distance than the outer wheel. The cone moves over the rail to find the correct radius for each wheel as it goes around the curve.

We stopped for a bit at the Whittaker Camp #1, a recreated 1940s logging camp. The workers slept in a bunk car. They were packed in, rarely bathed, often had wet, sweaty clothes, and didn’t wash them very often. My nose tingles just thinking about it. The men ate in another car. The cook may have been the most important person in camp. Loggers needed about 7,000 calories a day, so they were encouraged to eat as much as they wanted. If camp food was not good, the loggers would often move on to another camp. If it was too bad, the cook got fired. In the early days, the loggers worked six 11-hour days, but the cook worked 7 days a week.

They also had log skidder on display. That was one huge piece of machinery that allowed logs to be brought from as far as 3,000 feet away to the railroad siding using a complex aerial “cable car” system. From there the log loader, a diesel powered crane, loaded the logs onto the log cars.

Logging by truck began in the 1930s and by the ‘50s it was almost all done by truck because it was easier and cheaper to grade a road than to grade and lay track for the train.

Then the train went back down the mountain. The engines were in front of the cars going down the mountain. Brakemen turned a hand wheel to set the brakes on each car. In effect, the engine pulled the train down the mountain. Each brakeman had two cars to handle. That meant that they had to run along the logs on one car to reach the brake on the next car. Dangerous work. On our train, there was a brakeman on each car, and they ran the train the same way. The brakes were set at just the right pressure so that the engines actually pulled the train down the mountain. Eric, our brakeman would lean way over the edge of the car to see if the wheels were slipping or skidding. If they were, he’d back the brake off just a little.

The lumber company started by cutting all the red spruce, which grows at the higher elevations. It was used for the wood pulp, but it was also a very light weight lumber. In fact, the Wright Brothers ordered red spruce from Cass to use on their 1904 #3 experimental flyer.

The end of the line for us was Bald Knob at an elevation of 4,700 feet. Just as we got there it started to rain. Great. But I think we were really in the middle of a cloud that decided to off load some moisture. It didn’t rain hard and it didn’t last very long. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see very far from the observation platform because of the fog. It would have been beautiful on a clear day.

When we got back we looked at a diorama of Cass (see the photos) and saw a short film about the town. I think Cass is the only town built especially to support the logging industry that still stands much as it did in the early 1900s. It’s really a lovely little town.

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