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 Post subject: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:08 am 

Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2004 7:24 am
Posts: 478
Location: Canada
[quote][I am sending out this message to let everyone know of the present status and the future of the involvement of MSR&LHA in the restoration of Climax build #1551. The #1551 has been under restoration for the past 14 years in a building erected for that specific propose on the grounds of the Cass Scenic Railroad. In the 2015 season for the first time since its beginning in 1963, the operation of the railroad was put in private hands. The WV DNR tendered over the railroad to the State Rail Authority. Although ownership remains with WV DNR the right to contract out the railroad lies with the SRA. They choose to contract the Cass Railroad out to the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad which already had an existing agreement to operate the West Virginia Central Railroad. This lease includes both the Climax #1551 as well as the building that it is presently housed within. As the Climax project approaches completion a few large projects remain. Key among these is the final fitting of the boiler to the smokebox saddle. This task needs completed before other key items such as the ash pan, line shaft, exhaust piping and many other items which will lash the boiler to the frame can be undertaken. On the first of December I (Rob Hilburn) made a formal request via e-mail to the DGVRR requesting both use of the 50 foot overhead crane in the front shop as well as a DGVRR employee to run it. Projected time to complete this project was 1 to 3 days. After considering my request the DGVRR has declined and instead made the decision to take on completion of the Climax from this point forward. Under these circumstances, a decision has been made by the Climax Build Team to remove all MSR&LHA equipment from the premises and mothball it as a whole at a secure remote location. I realize that many who are presently reading this communication have given large amounts of time and, in many instances, monetary funds to help with the continuing restoration process. I want to let everyone know that MSR&LHA is working with WV DNR to make sure that those remaining funds find their way to the Climax project via a restricted fund that can be disbursed to DGVRR officials upon request for the specific needs of finishing the Climax project. While physical involvement of MSR&LHA has come to a close in regards to the Climax, many other worthy projects remain at Cass. MSR&LHA involvement with the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park will continue into the future. While many members take special interest in the railroad itself, many others find the town and the surrounding area to be of primary interest as well. Many possible projects are on the board for consideration as we move into 2016. I encourage our membership to look at these options in the future. As I close out this communication I want to take the time to thank MSR&LHA for creating the opportunity for me to indulge both my love of trains (especially steam) as well as a passion for working with steel. It has been a blast. A final and heartfelt thanks to Grady Smith for his guidance, camaraderie and great times. I could not have asked for better.
Thanks for your time,
Robert Hilburn
Former Climax #1551 Build Team Leader
MSR&LHA Board of Directors/quote]


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 11:26 am 

Joined: Wed Jun 26, 2013 7:20 pm
Posts: 127
Better visit Cass while you still can.


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 12:27 pm 

Joined: Thu Apr 12, 2007 8:09 pm
Posts: 298
I have been pretty impressed with some of the things D&GVR has done, but I must say, this is a giant slap in the face to everyone at MSR&LHA, for everything they have done with Cass.


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 12:32 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:25 pm
Posts: 1806
State insurance liability is likely different than D&GVR insurance concerns, etc. Sad, but true as it impacts the volunteer work on the Climax. Sigh.


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 12:33 pm 

Joined: Mon Sep 27, 2004 6:17 pm
Posts: 514
Location: Scranton, PA
Bad news indeed. Seems privatization my not ALWAYS be the panacea people think it will be.

First the cancellation of the Railfan Weekend and now this. The Climax work sessions (from what I have been told) were also an exercise in living history, as a new generation was learning the ins and outs of locomotive (re)building.

The Railfan weekends were far more than a picture-taking party, it was a chance to reconnect with people, hear stories from some of the "old timers" and just immerse yourself in the history of Cass as a state park. There were many a time I'd just stay on the train during a photo stop just to continue a conversation I was having with other people. We're all a little worse off for not having these "reunions" any longer.

Semi related, does anyone know if Cass's numbers were up or down last year under private operation? If they were up, then I guess that's all that really matters.

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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 1:29 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
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Location: Baltimore, MD
Being the hardened cynic that I was reared and taught well to be, I'm forced to reserve judgement.

The gaping holes in this account are 1) what prompted D&GV to decide to assume responsibility of completion of the project; and 2) what about the decision prompted MSR&LHA to "take their toys and go home," as it were?

Both of these reactions seem quite extreme or unprovoked given the rather minor nature of the immediate preceding events. There is obviously far more to the story than simply stated here. I have no cause to question the motivation, expertise, competence, project management, or whatever of either D&GV or MSR&LHA, but apparently someone has some motivation somewhere. As suggested, this could be as simple an issue as insurance coverage, both liability and asset, an issue that might be amicably resolved. Or there could have been name-calling, accusations, objects thrown, etc. And I have seen, personally and second-hand, how simple minor disagreements over minor issues can spiral into the quagmires that became, among others, PRR 1361, Lackawanna 565/other Steamtown projects, LNER 4472, GTW 5629, and numerous other "projects"--some with happy endings, some not.

So, will the "REST of the story!" ever come out, or should I and others, for good reason, just ignore the whole darned thing until a Climax rolls out of the shop one way or the other?


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 2:10 pm 

Joined: Thu Apr 12, 2007 8:09 pm
Posts: 298
Alex above raises a very valid point that I did not think of...


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 2:34 pm 

Joined: Thu May 06, 2010 10:30 pm
Posts: 602
Location: Bucks County, PA
Dave Crosby wrote:
First the cancellation of the Railfan Weekend and now this. The Climax work sessions (from what I have been told) were also an exercise in living history, as a new generation was learning the ins and outs of locomotive (re)building.

The Railfan weekends were far more than a picture-taking party, it was a chance to reconnect with people, hear stories from some of the "old timers" and just immerse yourself in the history of Cass as a state park. There were many a time I'd just stay on the train during a photo stop just to continue a conversation I was having with other people. We're all a little worse off for not having these "reunions" any longer.


Let me start by saying that I'm not a MSR&LHA member, and I don't speak for the group in any capacity.

If memory serves me correctly, I remember reading online that the reason to not have the Railfan weekend didn't come from the new operators, but from the MSR&LHA group itself - as the organizers were getting tired of organizing and running the weekend without any new blood or interest from any of the younger members in taking over the responsibilities and priorities. I believe that's what I remember, but I could be wrong...

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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 2:36 pm 

Joined: Mon Sep 27, 2004 6:17 pm
Posts: 514
Location: Scranton, PA
Although I have no "insider" information, there is always the possibility that the operator needs another steam engine ready ASAP and the long term, methodical restoration process employed to date proved incompatible with the current operator's needs.

Perhaps the D&GV needs it to sub for a different Climax? The whole situation might boil down to "Thanks for all the hard work boys, we'll take it from here."

This will be interesting to watch unfold.

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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 2:42 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:25 pm
Posts: 1806
An excerpt from a Trains Magazine newswire in this thread:
Mountain State RR&LHA Cancels Cass Railfan Wknd. 2016

Quote:
Following the resignation of Railfan Weekend planning committee members, the board elected to cancel planning for its 2016 Railfan Weekend, attributing the decision not only to inadequate volunteers, but low attendance in previous years. This is the first year the association has not sponsored a Railfan Weekend in more than three decades.


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 10:19 pm 

Joined: Wed Oct 22, 2008 8:18 pm
Posts: 2072
my first reaction to this..."Damn the torpedoes...full steam ahead!!"

They should put the word out for help, invite etc and keep the project chugging along despite all the negatives. Or apparent negatives. But Mothballing it so they say means that they seem to still have a motivation for the engine, just tuck it away for a bit while they work out other things.

so, hard to say at this point, would like to hear more...


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 11:38 pm 

Joined: Thu Mar 13, 2014 2:34 am
Posts: 419
Location: Port Jefferson, NY (LIRR MP 57.5)
In the absence of additional information, I'm inclined to give the D&GV the benefit of the doubt here.

My most recent visit to Cass was just three months ago (October 2015) and I was pleased with what I saw. Passenger numbers seemed good, and there was a lot of interest in the new connecting service to Elkins, which has WV Central trains meeting Cass Bald Knob trains at the junction at Old Spruce. The new reserved seating system seemed to work well, and the new complimentary bag lunch provided to passengers on the Bald Knob train was pretty good. Most importantly, the trains were operated safely and on time, with all the skill and professionalism that railroad requires.

Overall, my very subjective impression was that the D&GV people are competent managers and know what they're doing. Things are looking up at Cass.

-Philip Marshall


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Tue Jan 19, 2016 11:53 pm 

Joined: Thu Sep 22, 2011 4:29 pm
Posts: 1043
Location: Youngstown, OH
Perhaps the Climax restoration was on a timeline that was longer than what the D&GV needs in order to return the locomotive to service. A project led by volunteers working limited hours would take longer to complete than one being performed by a crew working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Perhaps there was too much shop space being tied up by the MSL&RA, space needed for the work that the D&GV needs to do.

Since the MSL&RA has been suffering from "inadequate volunteers", perhaps their ability to complete the Climax in a timely manner has waned? Maybe the people freed up from thje Climax project can now work on the railfan weekends?

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Steel Industry Preservationist, Narrow Gauge Railroader and ALCOhaulic


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Wed Jan 20, 2016 7:09 am 

Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 10:08 am
Posts: 90
Location: Johnstown, PA
When I was down there a couple of years ago, the Climax was in its own building and the group had its own tools and shop equipment, and at least on the "before the run morning tour" was not taking up any shop space or resources from the Cass railroad proper. Seemed to be a nice set-up. Everytime I visited there was substantial progress and the work was high quality.


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 Post subject: Re: Sad news for Cass climax restorers
PostPosted: Wed Jan 20, 2016 11:00 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 3:26 am
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When news of privatization came out, anyone with remote knowledge of what was happening with Cass, MSRLHA and the State Park knew that this spelled the end for the organization as we had known it. The 'pushers and shovers' in the group belonged to a group whom planned and lived for the annual Railfan Weekend. They often criticized the Climax group for 'taking forever' on the project. After all, the project has been ongoing for 14 years. It is done with volunteer work by railfans, machinists, and good old fashioned labor on every other weekend, all year. This takes time.

The often overlooked issue is that Cass, itself as a town and community, has often looked upon MSRLHA with an evil eye. There are a few supporters of the group, but, as a majority, most had never been supportive of the group's members, their projects, nor their goals. The community is very small. Everyone knows each other, and have lived there for several generations. MSRLHA lead a few failed efforts into the preservation of the town...the most significant being the Doctor's House on Cass Hill behind the Company Store. Funds were raised, work was performed, but interest was lost. MSRLHA is, at it's heart, a railroad group, and the house sits decaying and vacant. Whose fault is this? MSRLHA, for trying to restore the most architecturally important structure in town? The membership, for being railfans and not town historians? Regardless, if you were to sit on the porch of the Company Store and chat with the locals till this very day, a mention of MSRLHA can often bring it up. The town merely blamed MSRLHA for their lack of work, and not what they had done.

As well, most CSRR employees are not railfans, historians, or true lovers of history. They are people there for a job. Most had grown up within earshot of the town, and have known nothing more. The only difference to them between the logging days and the tourist days, is that they haul people instead of logs. Tourists are oddities to them, and the railroad is not their hobby...it is their job. MSRLHA restoration of the Climax was viewed as a threat to their jobs. Volunteers could do it for 'free'. Cass employees are paid. Any criticism that MSRLHA gave to the park employees was taken as a threat. This included, most recently, commentary on the new operations of the railroad. After privatization, several members commented to owner John Smith about the new operation of the park, critiquing several of the new arrangements and policies, one of which included a reservation system, preventing many last minute customers from obtaining a ride.

To put it politically correct, D&GV wanted to run Railfan Weekend themselves, with no MSRLHA involvement. D&GV is a business and not a museum, whether you want to argue that fact or not. Why charter the group a train and let them make money, when you can do it yourselves? This was made clear to the group, and shortly afterwards, the majority of the Railfan Weekend crowd packed and left, resigning. This left the Climax group to fight for themselves to continue on with their project.

Cass Shop management is skeptical of the Climax, and often made comments about how the locomotive, when operational, would sit on the deadline unused because no train crew would ever operate it. Cass likes it's Shays. The Heisler and the Climax were, and always will be, oddities. The Climax is just as much of an outsider to the park as the volunteers. Because of this, virtually no one in the shop is anticipating the locomotive's return to service, and would rather see it sit in parts. Go ask them.

Every 2015 employee I have talked to, and I mean EVERY one, has commented on the extremely low numbers of people that rode this year. Empty trains abound, more so than recent years. As MSRLHA has always done, they had their opinions on what was happening in the park, as it affects everyone. Now that the park is a business, this type of commentary was unwanted by D&GV. This banter eventually became the torch that John Smith used to criticize and force the group out.

After a small restructure of MSRLHA, they continued to press forward on the locomotive. However, D&GV no longer allowed MSRLHA volunteers to park next to the shop...they had to park in the main parking lot which is 1/2 mile away from the shop. D&GV shop crews don't work on the weekends during the off season, Because of this, work weekends could no longer exist, as D&GV now has to provide access to the shop. For those unfamiliar, almost all of the volunteers work full time jobs, and travel on average from 2-4 hours to Cass on Friday, and stay the weekend in one of the park's houses. Weekends were planned in advance to make the most of production. D&GV changed the locks on MSRLHA's shop building, allowing controlled access, and no longer let the few volunteers whom lived close by (whom worked on projects during the week) work on the locomotive. MSRLHA's private shop, which they constructed, equipped, and donated to the state park, was no longer 'theirs'. The 2-8-0 was placed inside of the restoration shop, tight against the Climax and the shop door, prohibiting ease of work on the locomotive or access to bring material inside or outside of the shop. After a request to use the shop's overhead crane and a D&GV employee to operate the shop crane to lift the boiler from the frame, which is something that in previous years has happened without question or incident, e-mails written by D&GV Owner John Smith to MSRLHA board members encouraged MSRLHA to abandon the shop and the Climax project, in lieu of other smaller projects at the park.

When Cass was a State Park, volunteers and employees could work side by side in the shop buildings. MSRLHA and the WVDNR management got along quite well, even though shop employees were not fond of these 'outsiders interfering' with their normal work. Now that D&GV is in control, they have forced the volunteers out. To quote John Smith in a e-mail dated December 15, 2015,

Quote:
Your friendly moderator removed email content that may not have been approved for distribution, dissemination or disclosure.


The environment of the Cass Shop is toxic to the preservation of historic and unique equipment, as much as it is toxic to maintaining quality help and good workers. Many, many good employees with knowledge of steam railroading and rebuilding have come and gone, forced out by the same people who are leading the charge of failure. Most recently, Earl Knoob has resigned from his position with the D&GV--one in a line of good, knowledgeable workers who are now has-beens.

The bottom line is that Cass is loosing its force of free labor that were restoring a locomotive to like new standards. They were a competent crew of volunteers who were dedicated to helping Cass succeed in the long run. They were not there to undermine the integrity of the shop's work or criticize their every move. If you feel that your business or organization is perfect and could not benefit from criticism concerning your operations, then it may be time to pull your head out of the sand.

With the regular operation of the railroad, the maintenance of D&GV's diesels being performed in the Cass Shop, and now the BC&G 2-8-0 on property, I find it hard to believe that unless something changes or they make the Climax a priority, it will sit in pieces for many more years to come. Please prove me wrong.


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