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Great WV Train Race to be held Saturday

Folks explore the wilderness during a scheduled stop on a Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad's Mountain Rail Adventures excursion. (Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad.)
Photo courtesy of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad The coal-powered Shay engine usually crosses the finish line at the Great West Virginia Train Race in Spruce before the more powerful diesel engine because it was designed to pull heavy loads through mountainous terrain, John Smith president of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad said.

The second-ever Great West Virginia Train Race is scheduled for Saturday, July 19.

It’s a match along dual tracks on top of the mountain at what remains of the old town of Spruce, a turn-of the-century Pocahontas County logging town, still one of the highest points in the eastern United States at an elevation of 3,853 feet.

The Cheat Mountain Salamander, an 1,800 horsepower diesel designed historically for passenger trains, and a restored Shay coal-powered steam locomotive from Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, will be tested one against the other.

Shay engines were built long before horsepower ratings were developed, Danny Seldomridge an engineer from Cass Scenic Railroad State Park said.

The 6,000-pound tractive engines are powerful, designed for logging and geared down for mountainous terrain with steep grades up to 13 percent.

Departure from Elkins for the nine hour adventure on the Salamander is at 8 a.m.

“The first part of the trip is going to the High Falls on Cheat River, and then continuing on to Spruce from the north east,” Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad Group Sales Manager Naida Vonne Simpson said.

The Shay engine departs from Cass at 10:30 a.m. and snakes up the mountain, passing through not one, but two switchbacks where the train backs up in a zig-zag pattern before going forward again. It’s a method used only in extremely steep terrain.

Once you board the train, whether in Elkins or Cass, the real excitement begins!

The Cheat Mountain Salamander pulls a load of about 200 passengers through the wilderness, along rivers, through a deep mountain tunnel and meets up with the Shay.

Boarding the Shay at Cass is an experience unlike any other most of us have ever had.

The engine pulses to life and the wheels begin to slowly turn on the tracks, lurching the locomotive forward as huge billows of thick black smoke shoot into the blue sky.

Once the pressure builds to full steam, the sounds and scents of a by-gone era fill the air.

On top of the mountain, passengers depart and are served a BBQ picnic lunch. The trains are placed into position and the race begins.

“It’s like the NASCAR of train races,” Durbin &Greenbrier Valley Railroad Director for Passenger Services Sandy Burky said.

“The diesel is always ahead at the beginning of the race,” said John Smilth, president of the D&GVR. “But once they go around the curve and up the one mile loop, the Shay is usually ahead crossing the finish line.”

Passengers are cautioned to bring a sweater to keep warm at the higher elevations, a blanket to sit on and an umbrella in case of rain.

“You will be out in the ‘wilds,’ you know,” Mountain Rail Adventures Marketing Manager Bonnie Branciaroli said.

Tickets are selling fast. To check on availability from Elkins or Cass, call (877) 686-7245. You may also purchase tickets online at


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