I realize I’m a little late posting this story, but we’ve been very busy lately. Nevertheless, last Thursday (July 30) Barb and I accompanied a childhood friend of mine (and her husband) on a ride up Bald Knob on Cass Scenic Railroad. Her name is Celeste (St. Pierre) Manning—one of 16 children born to her parents in North Charlestown, NH. Her family owns and operates a large gravel operation (St. Pierre, Inc.) in the village that was and is the biggest business in our childhood home community. As you might expect, the St. Pierre family is also the largest in the community. Celeste was born eleven days after me, and we went through the local school system together from kindergarten through high school (with the exception of first and second grades). Her husband, Paul Manning, was born and raised in adjoining Claremont, so our trip together gave me plenty of opportunities to recount memories of our shared past growing up in the Connecticut River Valley area.
We have visited with Celeste and Paul several times since they retired and moved to nearby Appomattox, VA last November, which is a three-hour drive from our farm. Celeste, like Barb, is an avid quilter, however Celeste owns a long-arm quilting machine used for quilting layers of fabric and batting together with programmable stitch patterns. Barb’s quilting operation is considerably smaller than Celeste’s, so Barb has been hiring her to do some quilt stitching work for us. Since they are new to our area, we suggested they ride the Cass Scenic Railroad, a WV state park the operates a number of Shay steam engines on an eleven-mile line that stretches from historic Cass village to the top of Bald Knob—the 3rd highest mountain summit in West Virginia, with an elevation of just over 4,800 feet above sea level. We have taken the trip at least three times previously, dating back as far as 2007, so we knew how spectacular the trip is.
We met them at the Cass village station about two hours before our trip was scheduled to leave. We got a brief tour of the historic village and watched a 30-minute video about the town’s history. It began its life as a company lumber town for the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company, also known as WESTVACO. The company built a railroad line to the summit of nearby Bald Knob in order to harvest the giant old-growth red spruce trees that covered the highest elevations of the mountain. A model of the historic town is displayed at the Cass Museum. We also toured the company store before we boarded our train for the five-hour round trip ride. The train that pushed us up the mountain was Shay #2, one of the largest and most powerful steam engines ever built. The Shay trains are designed for the steep grades (up to 10 percent) that the line traversed up the mountain.
Along the trip, we enjoyed a number of dramatic views of the rugged high mountains that are so characteristic of Pocahontas County. As we neared the summit, we got a fine view of the high ridges to the southwest, the highest of which is the location of Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, the biggest in the mid-Atlantic region. The longest ski trail has a vertical drop of about 1,500 feet, which places it in the category of Killington Mountain Ski Area in Vermont. Consequently, it is a popular winter tourist destination for our entire region.
When we eventually reached the summit, we enjoyed a 45-minute stop where a raised deck gave us a splendid view of the Alleghany Mountains to the east into Virginia. On a very clear day, some of the higher Blue Ridge Mountain summits can be seen nearly 100 miles away. We could also clearly see the giant radio telescope at nearby Green Bank Observatory. Visitors to Cass can also make arrangements for the train to pull a caboose to the summit that they can rent to spend a few nights at the summit. We have spent a night at the park’s wilderness cabin on the summit, and we can attest that it is an incredible deep-wilderness experience. However, we only planned to ride the train that day, so we captured all the pictures we could take and reboarded the train for the return trip down to the station. When we arrived back at the station, we enjoyed a light supper at the Last Run Restaurant and café. The old stories and new experiences we shared made it a memorable excursion for all.
Cass State Park is one of the best our state has to offer. It’s just another interesting place to visit that makes our region a major tourist destination and a unique experience for everyone. We hope you get a chance to enjoy it someday. We know we’ll be going back again in the future.