An afternoon aboard the New Tygart Flyer
An opportunity unique to our area is a ride on one of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad's passenger trains. Their Mountain Rail Adventure excursions travel deep into the Monongahela National Forest to locations inaccessible by automobiles. The nearest of their three stations is in downtown Elkins, approximately a 30 minute trip from our cabins.
They have a variety of trips available ranging from a 1.5 hour jaunt up Bald Knob to a 2 day trip on the Cheat Mountain Salamander going from Elkins to Old Spruce then Cass and back (15 hours on trains in total!). On our particular trip, Jamie and I brought my mother Emma Lue with us on a 4 hour round trip to the High Falls of Cheat aboard the New Tygart Flyer, their vintage diesel-powered streamliner train.
A Train from the Golden Age
The streamliner train concept came late in the "Golden Age" of rail travel. Trains had fallen out of favor to the general public as the automobile gained popularity over the uncomfortable boxy locomotives and rail cars of the 20s. That all began to change in the 30s when the sleek streamliner style began showing up on the railroads. Inspired by the Art Deco movement of the 20s, the streamliner style focused more on the comfort and relaxation of their passengers. The style also provided reduced air resistance hailing in the term high-speed rail and was eventually succeeded by the bullet trains of the 60s.
We met at the Elkins Depot at 10:30 to take a peek in their Welcome Center before departing. They have a comprehensive information kiosk that showcases much of what the region has to offer and a great gift shop where you can get the typical tourist merchandise. Though we purchased our tickets on their website, you also have the option to buy your tickets at the Depot.
As this was a Mother's Day present, we splurged and opted for the Parlor Car seat upgrade. Though it seemed that the seats throughout the train were clean and comfortable, upon boarding the Parlor Car we quickly decided that the extra money was well-spent. The beautifully restored 1929 Pullman Car had tables arranged specific to each party, had its own private staff, its own facilities and buffet, and offered the best views on the train. You can't help but feel the romance and sense the nostalgia from this 1920s era setting brought to life.
I stumbled upon some really cool Pullman Car advertisements from the era while researching this article and thought it was worth sharing.
Riding the Rails
The first leg of the trip took us back through Elkins traveling east occasionally crossing paths with Rt 33, the same road we'd just traveled to get there. We passed the time watching out the window for one landmark after another. "Here's where they're building the new Smoke on the Water restaurant!", we'd say. And "There's the fish hatchery! Man, it's weird seeing it from this side of the mountain."
But after traveling through the RV campground town of Bowden we quickly lost all sense of direction as we headed south into the National Forest; partly because no road travels this part of the country and partly because that was the last time we had cell phone service on the trip (bye bye Google).
The tracks took us over mountains, through an unusual and VERY snug "S" curve tunnel and across bridges that spanned roaring waters. While the train's staff prepared the buffet we listened to a history of the area and function of the railroads that originally ran this track. The meal consisting of lunch meats and pasta salad was fresh and satisfying. Just as we finished our desserts and the plates were cleared we arrived at the final destination of the journey: The High Falls.
Besides the most hard-core backpackers, The High Falls of Cheat are exclusively accessible to the passengers of Durbin & Greenbrier. These falls are 18' high and a panoramic 150' wide. The location is remote and breathtaking. A waterfall cherry on top of the rail road sundae if you will. We spent around 45 minutes exploring these photogenic falls. Jamie also found what she decided was an official "path" that I saw absolutely no one else taking. None the less we followed it to the top side of the river where we shared a few minutes daring each other to dip our toes in the chilly water. The location has several great observation decks allowing guests to enjoy the falls from many angles.
Once everyone had sufficiently stretched their legs at the falls, we got back on board for the return trip. We retraced our route through the mountains and railroad towns. The combination of the comfortable seats in the Parlor Car and the rocking motion of the train quickly claimed a number of the passengers on the return trip as one by one heads nodded off.
The most memorable part of the trip back was when we entered the "S" curve for the 2nd time. This time they turned on the outside lights allowing those of us in the rear of the train to see the tunnel as we traveled through it.
Even for locals like us, this train ride left us with a new sense of appreciation for the natural beauty of West Virginia. This 4 hour trip is a great way to spend an afternoon and a once in a lifetime opportunity for many as these tourist trains are few and far between. The Mountain Rail Adventures should be on your list!
visit their site & book your seats at