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 Post subject: Geared steam tourist railroad practices
PostPosted: Thu Sep 21, 2017 10:57 pm 

Joined: Sat Nov 28, 2015 7:28 pm
Posts: 163
Location: Northern WV
Last month, I had the privilege of riding the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Railroad in Felton, CA. We rode behind a narrow-gauge Shay locomotive up steep grades through an never logged section of Redwood forest. Having ridden the Cass Scenic Railroad many times, I noticed a couple of differences in their operating procedures.

First, the RC&BTRR train began with the locomotive in the lead pulling the train to the first switchback, then pushing to the second switchback, and again pulling to the loop at the top of Bear Mountain. Cass does the opposite with the engine pushing from the beginning, pulling between switchbacks, and pushing for the final destination.

Secondly, the RC&BTRR used the train air brakes to descend from the steep mountain grades. Cass has brakemen (OK, brakepersons) that activate the passenger car brakes manually. There are white dots on the wheels which the brakeperson must check frequently to make sure the wheel is still turning to prevent flat spots. This leaning way out looks pretty dangerous to me.

Anyway, does anyone know if each railroad has a reason why they do things the way they do, or is it just a case of "that's the way we've always done it"?


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Roger Cole
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 Post subject: Re: Geared steam tourist railroad practices
PostPosted: Fri Sep 22, 2017 11:04 pm 

Joined: Sat May 14, 2016 7:03 pm
Posts: 8
Good questions Roger.

I myself visited Cass for the first time about 3 weeks ago and was definitely surprised to hear that they use the handbrakes on the cars to control the train speed. I cannot tell you why they use the handbrakes and not the air brakes and I agree with your observation that it seems dangerous with the brakeman hanging out checking the wheels, but they seem to have been doing that a long time.

I have a good friend who used to work there as an engineman. On his first trip up to Whitaker he made a set on the train prior hitting the grade. He made the set in order to keep the slack stretched and prevent it from bunching up as the train began to go up the incline. He was promptly told by his conductor to "never do that again" upon arrival to Whitaker. So who knows when it comes to Cass.

I was told on my trip that they place the cars in front of the locomotives as a safety precaution. I figure if something were to happen with the train the engine would be there to at least slow or stop any uncontrollable movements down the steep grades. That is not an official statement just something regular visitors of the railroad told me.

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 Post subject: Re: Geared steam tourist railroad practices
PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 1:18 am 

Joined: Thu Mar 15, 2007 12:47 pm
Posts: 68
Location: Arizona
As one who has run both at Cass and Roaring Camp, I can offer the following:

Cass shoves the trains uphill because that is how the logging crews did it. They wanted the engines on the downhill side of the trains in case of coupler failure. At one time there were run-a-round tracks at each switchback to allow the engine to get around the train so as to be on the downhill end of the trains between the switchbacks. At some time in history, perhaps during Mower Lumber days, the use of the runarounds were discontinued and the trains were pulled between the switchbacks.

Because there is no wye at the end of the RR at Bald Knob, the engines come back off the hill backwards. Interestingly, when West Virginia Pulp & Paper ran the show, the engines faced toward Cass. Even if they used the wye down the hill from Bald Knob to turn the engine to face downhill, there is no place to turn in Cass.


Roaring Camp was built as a tourist railroad. They wanted the engines on the head end going both up and down the mountain, so they put reverse loops at both ends. Originally, there was no switchback at Spring Canyon. The switchback was built after the loop trestles were burned in 1976.

Despite having the Cass RR rebuilt with real ballast and heavy rail, it is still laid out like a logging RR. The grades constantly vary, and it is a constant effort to keep a consistent speed. Roaring Camp had real surveying work done and while the grades do vary quite a bit, the grades are much more consistent.

The constantly changing grades at Cass would make traditional automatic air brake operation using retainers difficult at best. Once you got a good handle on the train, you'd hit a big sag in the grade, and the whole thing would grind to a halt. The trains descend the hill with the brakemen tying down the hand brakes and the engineer trims up the speed by either riding the independent brake or lightly pulling the train as needed. The trick is in the transition from riding the independent which makes the train bunch up against the engine to pulling the train against the brakes which stretches the train. Doing that without putting everyone on the floor took some skill. A couple of engineers simply had the handbrakes tied down, and they pulled the train off the mountain. I had thought a combined automatic/straight air operation would work at Cass, where one could make an automatic air set, then hold it with the straight air after releasing the automatic air, You could fine tune the application with the straight air down the hill. Whether you would have problems with sliding wheels is another issue.

At RC, we put up the retainers at the top of the hill, and down we went. There were enough sags to allow you to release and recharge while the retainers held the train back. On the steeper spots, you had to put some independent brake on to hold the engine back a bit and trim up your speed. If you put too much independent on, the train would smack you in the butt, so you had to watch for that.

Running uphill at RC with its nice consistent grades allowed you to open up wide, and find the company notch where she'd pull the hill. In the easy spots, you could hook her up a bit more, but still you'd have to back off the throttle a bit until you hit the next stiff spot. With the convoluted grades at Cass, finding the sweet spot with a wide open throttle was hard if not impossible. Once you got things where you wanted it - wide open, hooked up, making 6-8 mph - you fall into a sag and off she'd go, You couldn't hook the engine up high enough so slow her down, so you had to back off the throttle. Then she'd hit a steep spot, the throttle would go back into the tank, and she'd fall on her face and you have to drop her down again. This was a pretty constant procedure. So, I would hunt for the happy spot where she run on the steep spots, then simply ease back on the throttle in the sags. That's not the "textbook" way to do it, but the "textbook" never ran a train to Bald Knob either.

I did ride WM 6 with a little 4 car train to Whitaker one day. The engineer hooked her up about 4 notches from the corner on that power reverse with the itty-bitty notches, and ran her with the throttle all the way. It made a lot of noise.....


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 Post subject: Re: Geared steam tourist railroad practices
PostPosted: Thu Oct 05, 2017 2:02 pm 

Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:41 am
Posts: 3013
Location: Inwood, W.Va.
This turned up, with descriptions of how you handled a train with disconnect trucks. No air on those things at all!

http://www.mendorailhistory.org/1_railr ... akemen.htm

The other pages there are worth looking at, too.


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 Post subject: Re: Geared steam tourist railroad practices
PostPosted: Mon Oct 16, 2017 11:50 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 9:54 am
Posts: 790
Location: NJ
What Earl had suggested, a combined straight air and automatic air system, sounds like the Orinocco system used on the DMIR and at Erie Mining (LTV). I had often thought of it for use at a place like Cass, but there is another factor involved here. Pocohantis County is one of the poorest counties in the state, if not the poorest. Having a car host on every car, and winding up the brakes as needed, provides some much needed employment. Plus, there is some history involved; this is how it was done in the 'olde' days.


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