Sunday, June 5, 2011

All Aboard

The West Virginia Cass Railroad State Park met my expectations. We climbed to the summit of Bald Knob on an old logging train, open cars, cool breezes. The steam engine was the star attraction of the trip. It was a Shay, built especially for logging, capable of steep grades and curving rails. The designers created gears so that every wheel of the engine provided power and traction.

The details of the steam powered train became more interesting as we climbed. We saw the train yard, with its mound of coal, shovels idle, although clearly they were used to feel the coal elevator manually. We stopped for water twice, water stored from mountain streams. In the old days, the train would pump water out of any stream along the way. Our engine was the largest ever made, weighing in at 169 tons, and it produced more power than was needed to push our four tourist cars up the mountain. So the boiler constantly let off steam, puffing huge white plumes. The whistle let off puffs of steam as well.

I mentioned we got pushed up the mountain. That spared us from breathing smoke all day. The black plume of coal smoke was astounding. Lump coal does not burn completely, and the excess goes into the air. Coal powered electric plants grind the coal to fine powder in order to burn it more completely.

Seasonal employees man the train, and I thought at first the brakeman on each car had nothing to do. Then we started downhill. My view was of the woman brakeman in the car ahead. It took power to constantly turn the wheel to set the brakes just right, not so much they stopped the wheels, but enough they slowed the car from going too fast and hitting the car ahead. The brakemen worked as a chorus, checking the brakes visually by leaning out over the car, then waving okay to the car ahead and behind.

My woman was all business. In idle times, she talked about all the features of the train. She talked to her coworkers about hoping she could get on in the shop over the winter. Almost everyone in the state park system gets laid off at the end of the season and goes on unemployment unless they have a winter gig. It touched me to think about her living on the edge that way.

At the top of the mountain we stopped for a million dollar view from an observation tower. A kind gentlemen snapped this photo of us and emailed it to me when my batteries died at an unfortunate moment. A random act of kindness, and I received rather than gave.
Hello from West Virginia, almost heaven!

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