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Old 11-22-2011, 12:03 PM   #751
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

This is Fireman Chris Lambert. I'm not sure what the handle he's
holding is attached to or what it does, but he works it for all he's
worth, along with monitoring quite a few gauges, knobs, levers and
dials. He also helps Danny by looking down-track on left-hand curves,
at which time Danny can't see any of the train beyond the engine.

But Chris' real job is tending the fire, vividly illustrated in these photos.
They say that on average the fireman tosses one large shovel-load
of coal through the "butterfly" door every 30 seconds during a run, and I
believe that to be true.

The floor in the engine is smooth metal, and the wooden divider
between us and the coal hopper has a mouse-hole-shaped opening at the
bottom, so that when a shovel-load of coal is scooped up, gravity
forces another load of coal out onto the steel floor of the engine,
ready to go into the fire. If you look close, you can see chunks of
coal on the floor.

The heat from the firebox is intense. Chris operates the butterfly
door, which is steam-powered, via a foot pedal attached to a long
lever, which you can see under his left foot in both photos. He's got
this deal down to a fine art, opening the door at the last possible
instant, and closing it just as quickly. It's hotter than the blazes
inside the cab anyway, and when the door is open the heat blast is
incredible.

Chris is young and lean. There are probably several other requirements
for being a fireman, but I think those two are probably at the top of
the list.

Done shoveling for a moment, he'd hop up on his perch, wipe the sweat
off his face with a rag, and go on about the business of helping Danny
drive the train. And if we were "digging in," very quickly he'd be back
on the shovel, feeding the fire.

Note that in the last pic the business end of his shovel is completely
inside the firebox! It isn't enough that he throws coal in there. The
firebox is relatively large, and he has to keep an even fire. Every
load of coal was aimed with precision, to the back, to one side or the
other, or straight down just behind the door.

Chris made it look easy. I know it isn't. Look at the last photo again.
Can you imagine how hot that must be??

Between the movement of the train, low light, and shutter lag, these
photos were hard to get. I shot a dozen or more, and got just two keepers.
They're not very good by technical standards, but I very much like the
tales they tell and the memories they invoke.

Oh yeah, almost forgot: I asked Danny how long in advance they had to
start building a fire before they could put an engine into service. I
was surprised by his answer.

Turns out there's always a fire going in the Shays, unless they let it
go out for the monthly cleaning of the firebox. Remember Shay #5
shown earlier in the yard at Cass? It's idle, but it's got a fire burning.

Danny said the problem with a cold engine is the danger of breaking
metal parts during the reheat process due to the varying rates of heat
expansion the many metal components go through, so it's easier, and
safer, to keep them lit 24/7.

When the engine has been shut down for maintenance, we were told it'll
take 36 to 48 hours to bring it back up to temperature, very slowly
and in a controlled manner. If it's really cold, in the dead of winter for
example, they'll even do a preheat sequence with kersosene heaters
before they start building the coal fire, all to help lessen the
chance of damaging old, massive, irreplaceable metal parts.

Great stuff!

Danny and Chris are a team. They always work together, and they always
drive Shay #6. Danny spoke with great respect about his fireman. I
never got a chance to really visit with Chris, but watching them in
action, I know the feeling is mutual.

One last note for tonight: Chris' Dad was the conductor during our
train ride on Sunday, and Chris' Grandfather is a machinist back in
the repair shop in Cass. Three generations of West Virginia mountaineers,
helping to preserve a unique, antique, nearly forgotten way of life.

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Old 11-22-2011, 12:04 PM   #752
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

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Old 11-22-2011, 12:07 PM   #753
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

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Old 11-22-2011, 12:11 PM   #754
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

Wanna go for your own cab ride in Big 6? Sure you do!

This is our new friends Danny Seldomridge and Chris Lambert, headed
down-mountain from Bald Knob to Whittaker Station. (Note: The feller standing behind Danny is in my spot. ;-)

Turn up the volume, click the button in the lower right to go full screen, and enjoy!!

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Old 11-23-2011, 04:05 AM   #755
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

We've stopped at Whittaker Station, four miles up the mountain from
Cass, to give everyone a chance to stretch their legs and enjoy our
wilderness surroundings.

Whittaker Station is, in essence, a recreation of an old-time logging
camp, the centerpiece of which is a very tall Lidgerwood tower
skidder, said to be one of only two such skidders left in the world.
The Lidgerwood was carried on a railcar, and via its aerial cables
could bring logs as far as 3000 away feet from the track.

I don't have many photos from this stop. My ride in the engine had
been a filthy one - everything is covered in coal dust, cinders, and a
tenacious coating of oily, blue-collar patina - and I spent most of my
time in the men's rest-room in a near-futile attempt to clean up with
waterless hand soap, as there is no running water at Whittaker
Station. No matter, I was a very giddy boy.

I very much enjoyed my time in the cab (your basic huge
understatement of the century) with Danny and Chris, and I think Danny
enjoyed the company, too, as he invited me back for the remainder of
the ride up to Bald Knob. I thanked him for his kindness but said I'd
gotten my fix, and wanted to spend the rest of the ride with Denise.

It also allowed another rabid railfan to hitch a ride in the cab (a
cute little filly who was hitchhiking around the country - you should have seen
the fellas' eyes light up when she asked if she could join them ),
and gave me a chance to see and experience the journey from a totally different
(and much quieter) perspective, in the company of my best friend.

Big 6 is a remarkable machine. It was that way in 1945, when it was
completed, and it remains so to this day. It's the largest surviving
Shay locomotive in the world, and the last one ever built. My cab ride was an
experience I will never forget.

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Old 11-23-2011, 04:10 AM   #756
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

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Old 11-23-2011, 04:15 AM   #757
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

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Old 11-23-2011, 04:23 AM   #758
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6


Photo by Dnutz
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Old 11-23-2011, 01:04 PM   #759
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

We've left Whittaker Station and begun the long climb to Bald Knob.
For this stint I've joined Denise in the relative clean and quiet of
one of the open passenger cars. The breeze and fresh air felt
wonderful! At this point we haven't yet "switchback'ed," so we're
still being pushed, rather than pulled, up the mountain. If you look
closely you can see Engineer Danny Seldomridge in his office:

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Old 11-23-2011, 01:08 PM   #760
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

Do you see the black smoke way down in the valley below?


You're looking back at Cass, West Virginia, where we
started, and the smoke is coming from another Shay and its consist,
climbing up the mountain behind us towards Whittaker Station with a
load of passengers. They'll be long gone before we come back down the
mountain, but we'll actually pass the afternoon Whittaker run later in our
journey. It's simple, yet ingenious, how our two trains go around each
other on a single track (photos to come).
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Old 11-23-2011, 01:15 PM   #761
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

This is at Oats Run. We're taking on water from the rusty-colored
tank (an old boiler, perhaps?) you see on the right, which is spring fed:


Big 6 leaves Cass with 6000 gallons of water in the tender,
but that's not enough to get us to the top (and we'll have to stop at
Oats Run again on the way down). Incredible!

The Shays don't have a water pump in the conventional sense,
so they rely on a "steam siphon" to pull the water from the tank up into the tender.
It's quite the process, and has been working marvelously for well over a century.
The fellow standing on the tender is watching the water level through a trap door.
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Old 11-23-2011, 01:19 PM   #762
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

We've arrived at Bald Knob, end of the line, just a
tick shy of a mile high, the third-highest point in all of West Virginia:


We stopped for a half-hour or so, to give everyone a chance
to stretch their legs (and to breathe air not filled with coal smoke
and cinders). They warned us ahead of time to dress warmly for Bald
Knob, but it was easily 85 degrees up there, and possibly even hotter.
Unusual, we were told, even for July.
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Old 11-23-2011, 01:22 PM   #763
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

In this photo you can see steam shooting high into the air. The Shays run a
maximum of 200 pounds of steam pressure, and here the pop-off valve
has, well, popped off, bleeding off excess pressure while we were
stopped, without the need for human intervention. Loud!


One of Fireman Chris Lambert's many duties is monitoring the boiler
pressure during the run. I noted during my time in the cab
that he consistently kept the pressure at a steady 192 psi,
regardless of whether we were "digging in" or "gliding." Cool stuff.
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Old 11-24-2011, 04:08 AM   #764
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

The following pix are an attempt to show the view. The second is looking
basically east, towards Virginia, and was shot with no zoom.

The next ones were both shot at all the digital zoom my old little Nikon
could muster, with the camera steadied as best as possible against a
wooden pole to try to minimize camera shake. They're not good photos
(some of the "artifact" is probably distortion from the heat),
but they do give a pretty good idea of how high we've climbed.

You can see one of the dishes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)
in Green Bank, West Virginia, which is nearly five miles away from where we're standing.
I think this dish is the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.

If so, it is the largest steerable radio-telescope in the world,
measuring approximately 330' x 360' across the dish (think football
field-size, plus some), and weighing in at a staggering sixteen million pounds (no,
that's not a typo). And that's "moving" weight, not counting the
wheel-and-track structure that supports the antenna. Simply amazing.

There is more info on the NRAO at www.gb.nrao.edu.

Senator Byrd passed away on June 28th, 2010 at the age of 92.
He was born in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, just a few miles down the Parkway from us,
and died here in Virginia. He was America's longest-serving senator, and the
longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress.
RIP.

It was a warm visit to Bald Knob and shade was at a premium, but it
had been a grand ride to this point and now we're going to do it
again, only down-mountain this time.

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Old 11-24-2011, 04:14 AM   #765
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Cass Scenic Railroad: A Ride On Big 6

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