Governor Hulett Smith drives gold spike on top of Bald
Governor Hulett Smith drives gold spike on top of Bald Knob

Cass Scenic Railroad

Sunday Gazette-Mail
June 9, 1968

Long Step Up at Cass

Bald Knob still deserves its name on top, but with the Governor turned gandy dancer and a symbolic spike (temporarily) cinching down the last rail, you can now take a long, long ride on the Cass Scenic Railroad.

By William C. Blizzard

Gov. Hulett Smith stood in the middle of the Cheat Mountain meadow at Whittaker on May 25, surrounded by several hundred spectators, the sunlight playing on his somewhat ruddy face as it was outlined against the blue sky.

He smiled as he spoke into a loudspeaker microphone, a bit of incongruous modernity in the rustic setting.

"Now," he said, "if I can find a hammer light enough, I'll drive that golden spike."

In a few moments, aided by T. R. "Pete" Samsell, current director of the Dept. of Natural Resources, Smith tapped a symbolic golden spike into a prepared hole in a crosstie of the Cass Scenic Railroad. His act inaugurated the public extension of the Cass Scenic Railroad from Whittaker, four miles up the mountain from Cass, to the top of Bald Knob, another eight miles of steep, serpentine thrills for railway buffs.

West Virginia's foremost tourist attraction has now taken a long step up as the leading antique, scenic railway in the East. Although there are more than a dozen such tourist railways in the Eastern United States, most take passengers only on short runs over relatively level ground. The powerful locomotives do little work.

Not so with the Cass Scenic Railroad. Even on the short, two-hour Whittaker round trip, taken by more than a quarter-million passengers during the past five years, a 12 per cent grade forces firemen to shovel a lot of coal, and two railroad "switchbacks" are necessary for the ascent and descent.

The switchbacks, similar to extreme hairpin turns on a highway, are curiosities themselves, two of the few in use anywhere in the United States.

The newly inaugurated 24-mile round trip requires 4 1/2 hours (including a 45-minute passenger stop at the top) and near the top of Bald Knob is the steepest part of the 12-mile run up Cheat Mountain - an incline of almost 14 per cent. During this 12-mile ascent the Cass Scenic Railroad passenger rises 2,257 feet - from the 2,443-foot level at Cass to the 4,700-foot marker at the top of the mountain.

The maximum height of Bald Knob is 4,842 feet, but the railroad terminus is 142 feet below that level.


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