Classic coal-fired locomotive will steam again - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Classic coal-fired locomotive will steam again

Posted: Updated:
Photo courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. N&W’s Class J 611 locomotive pulled the famed Powhatan Arrow passenger train. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. N&W’s Class J 611 locomotive pulled the famed Powhatan Arrow passenger train.
  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • Tazewell County Man Busted for Growing Marijuana

    Tazewell County Man Busted for Growing Marijuana

    Monday, September 1 2014 8:04 PM EDT2014-09-02 00:04:51 GMT
    Roger Lee Sparks, Jr.Roger Lee Sparks, Jr.
    A Richlands man is in custody after Tazewell County Deputies find $350,000 worth of pot, including 115 plants and more than a pound of harvested marijuana, and guns in his home.
    A Richlands man is in custody after Tazewell County Deputies find $350,000 worth of pot, including 115 plants and more than a pound of harvested marijuana, and guns in his home.
  • Officers In Tazewell County Work To Keep Your Holiday Travel Safe

    Officers In Tazewell County Work To Keep Your Holiday Travel Safe

    Monday, September 1 2014 6:50 PM EDT2014-09-01 22:50:12 GMT
    Police patrolling the roads this Labor DayPolice patrolling the roads this Labor Day
    According to AAA, 34.7 million people are expected to hit the road this Labor Day. Many police officers are out in force to keep you safe.
    According to AAA, 34.7 million people are expected to hit the road this Labor Day. Many police officers are out in force to keep you safe.
  • After fatal McDowell County crash, Troopers caution against drinking and driving over Holiday Weekend

    After fatal McDowell County crash, Troopers caution against drinking and driving over Holiday Weekend

    Monday, September 1 2014 6:00 PM EDT2014-09-01 22:00:38 GMT
    While many are safely celebrating Labor Day, State Troopers want to caution everyone about the dangers of drinking and driving.The West Virginia Department of Transportation says over the last 5 years in the Mountain State, almost 800 people have been killed in a drink driving crash just during Labor Day Weekend. Troopers released these pictures from Sunday morning's fatal crash to show the consequences drinking and driving can have.Read full story on Sunday morning's fatal crash in McDowell ...
    While many are safely celebrating Labor Day, State Troopers want to caution everyone about the dangers of drinking and driving.The West Virginia Department of Transportation says over the last 5 years in the Mountain State, almost 800 people have been killed in a drink driving crash just during Labor Day Weekend. Troopers released these pictures from Sunday morning's fatal crash to show the consequences drinking and driving can have.Read full story on Sunday morning's fatal crash in McDowell ...
  • BusinessBusinessMore>>

  • Union workers at Frontier OK 3-year contract

    Union workers at Frontier OK 3-year contract

    Monday, September 1 2014 12:17 PM EDT2014-09-01 16:17:18 GMT
    The new contract will expire in August 2017. It covers about 1,500 employees in 42 West Virginia counties.
    The new contract will expire in August 2017. It covers about 1,500 employees in 42 West Virginia counties.
  • Shale activity spurs WesBanco growth

    Shale activity spurs WesBanco growth

    Monday, September 1 2014 10:00 AM EDT2014-09-01 14:00:29 GMT
    Managing growth has been a problem for some companies in the shale gas region of West Virginia, leading WesBanco to provide services to help them.
    Managing growth has been a problem for some companies in the shale gas region of West Virginia, leading WesBanco to provide services to help them.
  • WV workforce lacks oil and gas expertise — for now

    WV workforce lacks oil and gas expertise — for now

    Sunday, August 31 2014 5:00 PM EDT2014-08-31 21:00:19 GMT
    Despite the relatively high amount of natural gas production in West Virginia, less than 3 percent of employees in some of the major occupations that make up the sector's workforce live in the Mountain State.
    Despite the relatively high amount of natural gas production in West Virginia, less than 3 percent of employees in some of the major occupations that make up the sector's workforce live in the Mountain State.

By JAMES E. CASTO
For The State Journal

One of the last coal-fired locomotives built in this country, the Norfolk & Western Railway's Class J 611, soon will be steaming down the track again.

Built in 1950, the iconic steam locomotive pulled the famed Powhatan Arrow passenger train that linked Norfolk and Cincinnati, traveling the N&W mainline through Bluefield, Williamson, Kenova and other southern West Virginia communities.

Noted rail historian Thomas W. Dixon has hailed the N&W's Class J locomotives as "certainly among the best looking of the streamlined locomotives that graced the rails of the United States between the 1930s and the 1950s." 

Dixon is the author of "Norfolk & Western's Powhatan Arrow," a book chronicling the famed streamliner.

Retired in 1959, as new diesel locomotives wrote an end to the steam era, the 611 was moved to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke. Now a plan is progressing to restore the locomotive to operating condition and employ it to haul steam excursion trains.

Dixon notes that N&W's Class J locomotives, with their distinctive bullet noses and sleek black and red paint scheme, long have been revered by rail fans. 

"They hold a special place not only in the hearts and minds of N&W enthusiasts, but for those interested in the aesthetics of railroading, as well as those who appreciate their mechanical capabilities," he said. 

The Class J locomotives were among the most powerful ever built. They were capable of pulling a 1,000-ton, 15-car passenger train at better than 100 miles an hour, though they normally didn't operate at that speed. The 611 is the last Class J locomotive in existence, and it went on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in 1962.

In 1981, the Norfolk Southern Corp., the corporate successor to the old N&W, pulled the 611 out of retirement and restored it to its original glory for use in excursion service. The locomotive was retired again in 1994 and moved back to the museum. 

Now the museum is spearheading an effort, dubbed the "Fire Up 611!" campaign, to again restore the engine and return it to excursion service. The campaign was launched in June 2013, with a goal of raising $5 million — including $500,000 to $750,000 to mechanically restore the locomotive, $2 million to $2.5 million to build a maintenance facility for it, $500,000 for business operations and $1.5 million for an endowment to guarantee the 611's future operations.

In October, the campaign announced it had raised enough donations to restore the locomotive and was now switching its focus to finding funding for the maintenance facility. 

"It's no longer a matter of ‘if' the Class J 611 will run again, but ‘when' she'll return to excursion service," a campaign spokesman said.

The maintenance facility is to be built on the grounds of the Roanoke museum. The building also will house an educational center that can teach science, technology, engineering, math and social sciences to students of all ages. 

In November, the campaign received a significant shot in the arm when Norfolk Southern announced a $1.5 million donation. Norfolk Southern said funding for its gift came from the sale of a painting by abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, which had been part of the railroad's extensive art collection. 

More information about the 611 campaign can be found at www.fireup611.org.