Trains….for logging and Coal

The largest tree logged in the State of West Virginia, near Lead Mine, Tucker County, 1913. This white oak, as large as any California Sequoia, was probably well over 1,000 years old. It measured 13 feet in diameter 16 feet from the base, and 10 feet in diameter 31 feet from the base. Logging was a resource that was sought out by the railroads.

The success of the geared engine for mountain logging was phenomenal. Lima Locomotive Works and its successors of Lima, Ohio (which produced the Shay between the years 1880 and 1945) made 2,761 Shays. Of this number, over 200 were used in West Virginia logging. The geared design opened a new era in logging. For the first time it was possible to operate a locomotive on track that was no better than that formerly required by animal-powered tramways.

The Shay Engines at Cass State Park, Cass West Virginia

The history of the logging railroad in West Virginia  is interesting. It was originally constructed in 1902 by the West Virginia Spruce Lumber Company to remove timber from the Shaver’s Fork region of Monongahela National Forest. In 1910, it was sold to the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company, who in turn sold it to with large amount for Mower Lumber Company in 1942. Faced with dwindling timber supplies, the operation folded in 1960. It was left to an impassioned plea by Mrs. Russel Baum of Sunbury, Pennsylvania to convince the West Virginia Legislature to purchase the remaining tracks and three remaining engines as a tourist attraction. In 1961, the Legislature appropriated $150,000 to make the purchase. Since that time, the line has been extended from 7 to 22 miles.

Cass, West Virginia, formerly a company-town built by the West Virginia Spruce Lumber Company, is now a state park and home for the Cass Scenic Railroad which operates vintage equipment for rail-fan excursions in the Cheat Mountain area. In this photograph, double-headed Shay locomotives No. 2 and No. 4 reenact an empty log train departing Cass for the cutting fields where harvested timber would be loaded for delivery back to the sawmill. Named for their inventor, Midwestern lumberman Ephriam Shay, Shay locomotives feature a geared drive train (patented in 1882) from the steam cylinders to the wheels. Shays are slow but very powerful and flexible, capable of negotiating rough, curvy and hilly track that would stop a conventional steam engine. Shays were built from the late 1800s up through WW-II. I love to visit Cass State Park in the Fall when the leaves are changing here in West Virginia. They have rides up the mountain. If you would like to read more about our Cass State Park click here. [Eternal Link]

A big tree here in WV in the 1800’s

Two lumber jacks logging a big tree here in West Virginia 1800's

For the most part, the history of the Mountain State has been determined by its geographic barriers and the attempts of its citizens to overcome them. Early settlements occurred on the navigable rivers and near natural breaks in the mountains. Travel by road remained slow and difficult even into the 20th century. Much of West Virginia’s interior remained remote until the advent of the interstate highway system of the 1970s and 80s. For industry to prosper, railroads had to be built.

The B&O is the oldest railroad in the U.S., and more than 210 of its 379 miles lie in West Virginia. Constructed by Baltimore and the state of Maryland as a link to the agricultural Midwest, to commerce offered by the Ohio River and to increase the citys competitive edge, the Baltimore and Ohio was completed to Wheeling on Christmas Eve, 1852. In what is now West Virginia, the line passed through Harpers Ferry and Grafton, which became a major division point that also served the Northwestern Virginia Railroad, later connecting with Parkersburg. Martinsburg also became a first-class railway town, possessing an engine house and machine shops.

Several of the major battles, skirmishes and troop movements during the Civil War in what is now West Virginia were due to the struggle to control the regions railroads. For the most part, however, major damage was averted. The period after the war can truly be called West Virginias railroad era.

Shay logging train in West Virginia Cass Almost heaven West Virginia

Locked deep within the heavily forested mountains that also offer a wealth of lumber, are the rich deposits of coal, natural gas and oil that characterize so much of the state. These reserves were largely inaccessible until the coming of the rails. Following a depression in the 1870s and the beginning of the industrialization of the United States, railroad lines were constructed, which had as their main goal the recovery of West Virginias natural resources.

The construction challenges were daunting to say the least. The Chesapeake and Ohio Line, which connected Richmond, Virginia, and Huntington, faced enormous barriers. Tunnels were blasted and drilled through the mountains giving birth not only to a rail line, but to legends as well. One such legend concerns the Big Bend Tunnels near Hinton and John Henry, the “Steel Drivin Man” made popular by ballads. In fact, a statue near the site of that epic contest has commemorated the story of John Henrys competition with a steam drill.

One of the first trunk lines built in West Virginia after the Civil War, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway C&O train history was begun in 1868 and the rails were connected at Hawks Nest on January 29, 1873. Following the pathways of Native Americans and stagecoach routes, the C&O line entered the state east of White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County and traveled through the canyon of the New River, followed the Kanawha River for several miles and then cut across to Huntington and the Ohio River. Collis P. Huntington was responsible for extending the line on to Louisville, New Orleans and points west, thus further opening trade to the South, the West and broadening the city of Huntingtons prominence.

The completion of the line in 1873 opened the southern half of West Virginia, most notably the Kanawha River Valley, to industrialization. The railroad also made possible the intensive mining operations that fueled the states economy for 80 years and continue to do so today.The Norfolk and Western Railroads Ohio Extension was completed in 1892 and built expressly for the purpose of opening up the rich Pocahontas coal field in southwestern West Virginia. This rich coal seam produced a fuel highly prized by Americas industries. Many of the southern counties of our state owe their development to this mining activity, which would not have been possible were it not for the construction of rail links.Many of West Virginias most renowned and colorful historical figures are associated with the rail industry. Collis P. Huntington, H. H. Rogers, Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen Benton Elkins all built and expanded the railroad system and brought prosperity and development to the states citizenry.

Casual visitors, as well as serious students and rail buffs, can enjoy the ongoing interpretation of West Virginias rich railroad history. And railroad tourism is giving new life to our states ribbon of rails.