I’ve been trying ahead to a glass of wine in a sublime prepare automotive. I’ve even introduced alongside a bottle of wine in my knapsack, simply in case it’s a must to deliver your individual. Sadly, on the final minute, I uncover that West Virginia’s Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad serves no alcohol on its cocktail-hour tour. Not even BYOB.
Departing from Romney, West Virginia’s oldest city, the Potomac Eagle will get its identify from its route alongside the South Department of the Potomac River and the abundance of eagles there. That’s very true within the high-walled, thickly forested canyon known as the Trough, so named by George Washington on a 1748 surveying expedition. I am on the Sundown Trough journey, a three-hour experience that, in line with my analysis, presents “eagle sightings in a gentle canyon glow.”
The prepare has two engines, one at both finish. Pulling us on the primary leg of the journey by West Virginia’s Trough Canyon is the Potomac Eagle 8250, an ungainly-looking, hard-working diesel street switcher inbuilt 1955 for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Hauling us dwelling on the other finish is the highly effective, photogenic 1755, which was used as a prop within the 2023 Tom Hanks movie “A Man Referred to as Otto.” On each trains are coaches, eating automobiles, and even an open-air gondola, or what railroaders merely name a “gon,” for many who need a vast view of the Trough and its eagles.
Meal service begins shortly after our 5 p.m. departure. Based mostly on ticket class (and value), the meals ranges from snack-bar objects to a four-course dinner ready on the prepare. The railroad has new homeowners, who are usually not solely angling for an alcohol license (anticipated quickly), however have invested closely within the onboard delicacies.
“We do all of the meals preparation and cooking proper right here on the prepare,” says Gretta Ramsey, the road’s meals and beverage supervisor, “which is necessary if you wish to current a excessive stage of meals. We’ve been in a position to improve the menu with extra decisions, extra native meals objects, and usually, higher-quality substances.”
At a short cease simply earlier than coming into the Trough, friends can depart their assigned automobiles and transfer to the open gon. However with rain threatening, not everybody desires to. Too dangerous, as a result of no sooner can we enter the Trough than an eagle dive-bombs from excessive above us to inches over the water’s floor. One other eagle does an Icarus over the canyon till it’s out of sight. Two eaglet siblings, barely fledged, cautiously pump their wings above the river, then return to their nest.
We’re fortunate to have Robert “BJ” Lefever on this prepare. Lefever is an eagle spotter. He is aware of their nests, predation patterns, and methods to discover them in treetops, even surrounded by a whole bunch of an identical treetops. Standing within the open gon, he shouts out the situation of every hen so loudly that his voice usually cracks. In lower than 5 minutes within the Trough, we sight six eagles, with extra to return. And Lefever is at all times the primary to identify them.
“They name me ‘eagle-eye’ round right here,” he says with amusing.
The subsequent day, I sampled a distinct scenic prepare of West Virginia. Within the tiny city of Cass, 110 miles from Romney, Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is holding its annual Parade of Steam after I arrive. The railroad rolls out all 5 of its Shay steam locomotives, tooting their whistles, chuffing black coal smoke, and fuming chutes of white steam by its piston valves and exhaust ports. The Parade of Steam is a veritable Miss America pageant of the Iron Horse.
The scene, after I arrive, is heart-stopping in its magnificence. These locomotives, weighing between 40 and 154 tons, are formidable beasts, loud and oily and reeking of burnt coal. Ash and embers fly by the air, leaving the bystanders blinking and rubbing their eyes. Engine grease soils the tracks. The noise is ungodly, ear-splitting. Water drips from the undersides of the locomotive boilers, leaving muddy paths alongside the wheels.
It’s, in different phrases, spectacular.
Watching all of it is customer Patrick Tabor, a miner in a rock quarry close to Roanoke, Virginia, three hours away.