In Anticipation of a Steamy Summer

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I know, I know, a train guy talking about trains again, but I was looking at Robert Lyndall's fantastic shots of the Norfolk & Western steam engines and got excited.

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The interesting thing is that this shot looks like it was taken a long time ago. The two cars on the road below were no doubt placed there to give the shot a vintage feel. And I guess it was a long time ago if you think it was a was a long time ago that Tom Petty's "Full Moon Fever" was released. The 611 is a 4-8-4 J Class locomotive, the only one remaining out of fourteen that were built in the 1940s at the N&W rail shops in Roanoke. The J class series were used daily to pull noted passenger trains such as the Powhatan Arrow, the Pocohantas, and the Cavalier between Cincinnati, OH and Norfolk, VA. Between Monroe, NC and Bristol, TN, the J's also pulled the Tenesseean, the Pelican and the Birmingham Special between Monroe, VA and Bristol TN/VA. When passenger service on the Norfolk & Western was fully diselized, the J's were retired.

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The story goes that the N&W decided to run a steam-powered railfan trip in 1959 after the J Class was retired and it just so happened that the #611 was the first one in the line of stored locomotives, so they chose it. It had been involved in a derailment in the mid-50s and had gone through some repairs already, so it made a natural choice on two counts. The railroad took it out of retirement briefly and did some restoration work for the 1959 fan trip.

By 1982, Norfolk & Western had merged with Southern Railway to become Norfolk Southern. The same year, the NW 611 was brought out of retirement once again to run steam trips. Mr. Lyndall shot this one over the Southern viaduct just outside of Toccoa, Georgia.

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Mr. Lyndall is well known in railroading and railfanning for his fine selection of photography from the hey day of steam excursions on the east coast, most notably the Norfolk & Western's two iconic steam locomotives. In addition to the N&W streamlined J-Class 611, there is also the behemoth 2-6-6-4 N&W #1218.

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A word about steam engine designations. The numbers refer to the wheels. 2-6-6-4 means there are 18 total wheels on the 1218 one of the biggest steam locomotives ever built. The 1218 had a relatively short life as a revenue engine on the N&W. Built in June 1943, she was retired in 1959. Her class of steam engine regularitly pulled troops during World War 2. In 1969, the egnine wound up in Roanoke, Virginia

She was brought out of retirement in 1985 and sent to Alabama for a full restoration. She served Norfolk Southern's 1980s and 90s steam trips along with the #611 until both were retired in 1994 and eventually found their way to their new home, the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke.

I was 19 then and while interested in trains, didn't keep up on them as I do now. So I missed all kinds of steam excursions through the Carolinas back then. Norfolk Southern ended them in 1994... and by the time I caught this steam engine sittingon static display, I thought my chances of seeing her run steam again were on the same line as, I don't know, seeing David Lee Roth sing in Van Halen again.

But what do you know? The 611 is currently in Spencer, NC getting ready to return to steam again this summer! She had just arrived on property in anticipation of the restoration work that has been going on for the last six months. After missing out on the steam trips of the 1980s and 90s, I'm getting a second chance as are many others!

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I've seen steam trains run, but none as big as the #611. NS brought out the former Southern Railway 2-8-0 #630 and ran here and that was cool

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I've seen the former Lancaster and Chester Railway #40 run on her new home in Pennsylvania

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and I've seen the Washington & Lincolnton run on the Knoxville & Holton River

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but seeing the 611 is going to be a different kind of awesome!

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