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LH&W Railroad
The Mason Family’s Backyard Train

Text and photographs by Carl E. Feather
(Originally published in the Winter 2007 issue)

The LH&W RR crew from the left are, onboard, Bill Brady, Mark Ware, Keith Mason (seated), Tammy Mason Molina, and Tre Roach. Standing in front are Worthy Hall, Tom Proud, and Kevin Snyder. Photograph by Carl E. Feather.

The Locust Heights & Western Railroad hasn’t turned a profit in more than three decades, as long as it has been running. Owners Keith and Jean Mason have never taken a salary from the venture, and their workers have never drawn a paycheck.

Nevertheless, every Wednesday from June through October, the LH&W makes its scheduled run from the depot in the Masons’ backyard at 7 p.m. From there, the tracks parallel Spence Drive (the little street that runs through this Harrison County subdivision), cross a trestle, and ascend a 5% grade. They terminate at the far reaches of the Masons’ property, at a reclaimed strip mine.

The excursion lasts 20 to 30 minutes and is but one mile, round trip. The Masons don’t charge a fare, although donations are gladly accepted. Nor do they advertise. As one first‑time rider noted, he’s lived in Harrison County all his life and didn’t know this hobby excursion train existed until a friend told him about it.

Most people who ride it come back again and again to enjoy the novelty of the excursion, the genuine steam-railroading experience, and camaraderie of the owners and volunteer crew.

“We have a lot of faithful people who come and ride it every year,” says Tammy Roach, the Masons’ daughter and a trackside resident of Locust Heights. “We do it because we love it.”

For at least 20 years, Bill and Norma Smith of Morgantown have been making the 30‑mile trip virtually every night the train runs. They discovered the train while their son, Jeff, was a teenager. Norma says Jeff’s interest in railroading is what initially drew them to the mini‑excursion.

“We just started coming up on Wednesday nights, and that’s the way it’s been ever since,” Norma says. “It’s our lifestyle.”

Railroading is a lifestyle for Keith and Jean, as well. Their home is surrounded by evidence of Keith’s passion for all things mechanical and historical, from the antique gasoline engines he enjoys restoring and showing to the life‑size locomotive and cars he built for his narrow‑gauge railroad.

A retired machine shop owner – his shop is next to their home – Keith learned the trade from his late father, Kenneth, and four years of mechanical engineering classes at West Virginia University.

He’s never worked for a railroad, and there are no railroaders in his family. Nevertheless, Keith has always been fascinated with trains and what makes them run. When he was in junior high school, he built a working stationary steam engine. It was then just a matter of time and real estate before he built a steam locomotive and the railroad on which to run it.

Jean and Keith have three daughters: Michele, Tammy, and Kristi. When one of them asked for a playhouse, Keith instilled a bit of his railroading interest in the project.

“We started by building a caboose when my daughter Michele was six or seven years old,” he says.

That was in the late 1960's. After his father died and the responsibility of the family business fell upon Keith in 1972, he decided to build a locomotive as a pastime.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.