Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Cass Scenic Railroad, West Virginia

It's June 2017: I've been to the USA again and found another spectacular steam railway. I have to admit that I like the American Olde Steamy railroads. They seem to do higher, steeper and/or longer than we do in the UK; some to a massive extent and Cass Scenic Railroad is one of these.

I've visited the Cumbres and Toltec, Durango and Silverton, Georgetown Loop, Mount Rainier and a few others before. Cass was new to me and what a gem. It's steepest gradient is 11% or 1 in 9.09 and, according to wikipedia, is the third steepest non-rack railway in the world.

Cass is the home for Shay locomotives. Like Joyce (there is a connection), Shays are geared locomotives and they don't go fast. They are designed for steep gradients, sharp curves and poor track as built for logging railroads in the last century or earlier. Cass has about five operational Shays plus a Heisler and a Climax although not all in workable condition.

So what's a Shay?
Shay No. 2 at Bald Knob Summit
Shays have a three cylinder vertical steam engine along the right hand side. The engine drives a flexible shaft which powers all axles using a ~2:1 bevel gear mechanism. To counteract the weight of the side-mounted engines, the boiler is offset to the left of the chassis; I wouldn't describe this as an elegant feature but it probably prevents a lot of toppling accidents.
Three cylinder vertical engine
Three cylinder vertical engine with air brake pump in the foreground.
Driveshafts are below.
Like Joyce, the engines revolve quite fast and produce a purr rather than a chuff when in motion. A variable length drive shaft with gimbal bearings enables the drive to reach the axles whilst also being able to negotiate sharp curves and undulating track. Bevel gears provide the 2:1 gear reduction.
Drive shaft with gimbal bearing and square variable length shaft joint
Other end of above drive shaft
2:1 Bevel gearing to axles
All the action is on the right hand side. Although one-sided, it does make preparation easier by avoiding the need for access to both sides.
RHS Action Packed side
LHS not so populated
Cass Scenic Railroad is steep. It runs for 11 miles to a height of 4842 feet through some of the most spectacular forestry locations. It also has a zig-zag.
Route from Cass to Bald Knob summit
There is an extensive loco fleet, definitely not of the conventional type.
Loco Fleet
Trains arrive loco-first from the yard to depart propelled from the 'Depot' at Cass.
Arriving at the 'Depot'
Video clip is here on YouTube (including bells & whistles).
The train propels the carriages (cars) from the depot up to the summit except in the zig-zag.
Departing from the depot.
Video clip is here on YouTube (including bell but no whistles).
The train passes this location by the maintenance shed.
Running line leftmost
It begins the ascent and approaches a level crossing. Note that, in the USA, heavy use is made of the whistle when approaching a hazard. (Memo to me: must get one like this for Joyce).
Crossing approach
Being a propelled train, it's possible to book to be in the carriage adjacent to the smoke stack. Whilst this seems like an enthusiasts' heaven, the smoke stack is extremely loud. Many passengers use ear defenders and I'd very much recommend this as 2-3 hours of the noise is somewhat fatiguing and it also drowns the informative commentary.
Video clip is here on YouTube (including whistles galore but no bells).
Cass Level Crossing
A second video clip is here on YouTube (including whistles galore, no bells but many birds).
The line climbs up the hillside.
Line fades away behind
Video clip is here on YouTube (including no bells, whistles or birds but the gentle purring of the fast revving steam engine).
Onwards and Upwards
To gain height in a short distance, the Cass railroad has a zig-zag. I've tried to capture the gradients encountered.
Video clip on YouTube of the train arriving at the zig (including no special sounds).
Line climbing to meet the zig-zag middle section
Video clip of Shay setting off hauling the train up the middle section of the zig-zag (sounds different hauling in reverse).

The train approaches the down-coming train waiting on the top section of the zig-zag.
Down train ahead on left
Video clip on YouTube of the train meeting the down train.
The up train goes into a long spur and waits while the down train follows into the spur. The down train then reverses out and down the zig; the up train then reverses out and up the zag.

The line climbs onwards to the summit at Bald Knob (4842 feet) through some amazing countryside.
Almost at the summit
Shay No. 2 at the Bald Knob summit
View backwards from whence we came
Finally, Shay No. 2 descends somewhat more quietly than when climbing (including not much noise at all!).

A fantastic 5 hour journey, one of the best there is.

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