Scenic overlook somewhere in the never ending mountains – the wooden sign suggests you spend your vacation in some cabins somewhere down that hillside.
Between being away and having little to no reliable internet access, and then getting home and giving in to post-vacation ennui, I have had no motivation to do much of anything. The blog has suffered and I feel guilty for being so unmotivated.
Besides, it’s hot. Have you noticed? It’s fucking hot out today. Blech.
Be that as it may, I had a good night’s sleep last night, got my errands done today, and here I am with so much to say that I don’t know where to start.
A rustic welcome to Whittaker Station
So I’ll start with the weekend. It was an interesting weekend. A long Friday to Monday weekend. Also long was the driving. We went to West Virginia. It took double-digit hours each way. Two entire days in the car. You know you’re getting old when you try to get out of a car after sitting in it for several hours, everything hurts and nothing will unbend.
It’s not pretty. It is pathetic. I needed a walker.
The rusting, burned out hulk of the old saw mill
Here’s something I learned about West Virginia. Y’know how in Maine they say “You can’t get there from here?” In West Virginia, you really kinda can’t.
I talk about living in the middle of nowhere, but I’m in the Northeast where living in the country just means that the homes are a little more spread out, there are no sidewalks or street lights, and you can occasionally hear an owl. The middle of nowhere really isn’t that far from anywhere you need to go.
On our way to the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, we passed through several national forests and their scenic overlooks, through small towns that suddenly segued into farmland or mountains, and up and down a lot of steep hills while going around very sharp turns. The further in we got, the more I wondered “where do these people shop?” Their farms didn’t seem comprehensive enough to feed a family. Where the hell are the groceries? Where the hell do they fill their gas tanks? Where’s the hospital/school/dentist? Some of the homes were truly in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere being along a state road with very little traffic, fewer services, and hours from civilization.
Do-si-do-ing with the Shay at one of the switchbacks.
I have no business complaining about the nine mile drive to the nearest big grocery store, never mind that there is small one only about three and a half miles away. And I don’thave to go over a mountain to get there. Oh, and I have phone service.
The park is within range of the Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which is a quiet zone. Translation: no phone service. At all. Whatsoever. And thankfully, no encounters of the extra-terrestrial kind. Even ET could not have called home.
Poor photo taken from a moving car of one of the dishes for the radio telescope looking for intelligent life out in space, which makes sense because they’re unlikely to find any here.
There is a visitor information building at the railroad. All of the employees at the park were knowledgeable about the area, and were very helpful advising us of a route home that would not take us across the three mountains that we crossed on our way there thanks to our GPS. In fact they stressed “Do not use your navigation system. Use the map.” I’ve never been prone to carsickness, but holy mother-of-mountain-gods, that was a ride I do not want to repeat in the near future. There was more than one way out, but no matter which way we went, there were still mountains between us and I-81.
In addition to a better route out of the mountains, we learned about the Book of Stupid Questions that the staff had begun to keep for their own enjoyment. It seems some stupid questions are universal and regularly asked by curious visitors. Some of my favorites:
- What time does the 12:00 train leave?
- What time does the fog lift?
- What do you do with the snow?
- Are the roads heated?
View of snow-free mountains on the way up to Whittaker Station. I think Virginia is off to the left.
The park was mostly about the train ride. Cass Scenic represents the logging railroads of the area. There was a small museum, as well as a movie and diorama/model train layout, but not much else. Cass was built as a company town, which is still intact. The railroad brought the logs down to the sawmill near the train sheds. It was a huge operation. Once the logs had been sawn into boards, they were hauled away to market by trains of the Chesapeake & Ohio.
Close-up of the Shay’s pistons and gears.
Getting up the mountain required special geared locomotives which could handle the grades and still pull a consist. They have five working Shays, as well as a Heisler which they were running as a special this past weekend. There is also a Climax being rebuilt which our guide suggested might be ready in the next two or three years.
The Heisler waiting for picnickers at Whittaker Station
And that’s your history lesson for today. There will be a test.
Another shot of the Heisler
The train rides were really nice. We lucked out with the weather. It was humid but it never did rain during either day, which was good because all of the passenger cars were open cars. Which means when it rains, you get wet; when it doesn’t rain you get a nice breeze.
Hanging out in the Shay
Two of the other Shays simmering away on a siding. All five of the working Shays are kept going 24/7 and they seem to rotate through the engines day by day.
The allure of Cass is their working Shay locomotives. We never did take the long ride behind the Shay to Bald Knob near the top of the mountain (people were actually able to say Bald Knob with a straight face). We rode the Heisler both days. The Boy says he prefers the Shay, but I guess they’re more fun to look at than to ride behind.
Regardless, it’s a long way to go for a train ride. A really. Long. Way. To go. Plus, we never did stop at a Waffle House.
It was a wasted opportunity.
Riding down the mountain in the cab of the Heisler. Not a Waffle House in sight.