Norfolk and Western Railway class J (1941)

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Norfolk & Western class J of 1941
N&W 611 Linden Afternoon June 2016.jpg
Type and origin
Power typeSteam
DesignerH.W. Reynolds and Franklin C. Noel
BuilderRoanoke Shops
Build date1941–1950
Total produced14
 • Whyte4-8-4
 • UIC2′D2′ h2
Gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Leading dia.36 in (914 mm)
Driver dia.70 in (1,778 mm)
Trailing dia.42 in (1,067 mm)
Length109 ft 2 in (33.27 m)
Width11 ft 2 in (3.40 m)
Height16 ft 0 in (4.88 m)
Axle load72,000 lb (32,658.7 kilograms; 32.7 tonnes) for drivers
Adhesive weight288,000 lb (130.6 tonnes)
Loco weight494,000 lb (224.1 tonnes)
Tender weight378,600 lb (171.7 tonnes)
Total weight872,600 lb (395.8 tonnes)
Fuel typeCoal
Fuel capacity70,000 lb (31,751.5 kilograms; 31.8 tonnes)
Water cap.20,000 US gal (76,000 l; 17,000 imp gal)
25,000 US gal (95,000 l; 21,000 imp gal) in auxiliary tender
Fuel consumption6.5 t (6.4 long tons; 7.2 short tons) of coal per hour
11,975 US gal (45,330 l; 9,971 imp gal) of water per hour
 • Firegrate area
107.7 sq ft (10.01 m2)
Boiler92 in (2,337 mm) (front)
102 in (2,591 mm) (back)
Boiler pressure275 psi (1.90 MPa) (as built)
300 psi (2.07 MPa)
Feedwater heaterWorthington Type G5-A
Heating surface5,271 sq ft (489.7 m2)
 • Tubes2.25 in (57 mm)
 • Flues3.5 in (89 mm)
 • Tubes and flues4,693 sq ft (436.0 m2)
 • Firebox578 sq ft (53.7 m2)
 • TypeElesco Type E
 • Heating area2,177 sq ft (202.2 m2)
Cylinder size27 in × 32 in (686 mm × 813 mm)
Valve gearBaker
Valve typePiston valves 14-inch (356 mm), 8.5-inch (216 mm) travel
Performance figures
Maximum speed110 mph (177 km/h)
Power output5,100 hp (3,800 kW) @ tender drawbar
Tractive effort80,000 lbf (355.86 kN)
Factor of adh.3.6
OperatorsNorfolk & Western Railway
ClassJ (3rd)
Number in class14
DispositionOne preserved, remainder scrapped

The Norfolk and Western class J was a class of fourteen 4-8-4 "Northern" streamlined steam locomotives built by the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W) at its Roanoke Shops in Roanoke, Virginia, from 1941 to 1950. They were operated in revenue service until the late 1950s.

These locomotives were built to pull the Powhatan Arrow, the Pocahontas, and the Cavalier passenger trains on the N&W main line between Norfolk, Virginia, and Cincinnati, Ohio; they also ferried the Southern Railway's Birmingham Special, Pelican, and Tennessean between Monroe, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee. The class Js, along with the class A and Y freight locomotives, formed the N&W's "Big Three": locomotives considered the pinnacles of steam technology.

Only one class J locomotive survives. No. 611 was retired in 1959 from revenue passenger service and moved to the Virginia Museum of Transportation (VMT) in 1962. It has been restored twice: once as part of the Norfolk Southern Railway's steam program in 1982, and again as part of the VMT's Fire up 611! campaign in 2015.


Design and construction[edit]

A drawing design of the N&W class J locomotive

The N&W's aging E class 4-6-2 "Pacifics" and K class 4-8-2 "Mountains" could not handle the rising passenger traffic at the outbreak of World War II, so the railroad sought a more powerful passenger steam locomotive.[3][4] Its Mechanical Department originally considered a class N 4-8-4 type in the mid 1920s, but deemed its 63 in (1,600 mm) driving wheels inadequate for the N&W's railway grades.[3][4] N&W mechanical engineer H.W. Reynolds redesigned the drivers' diameter to a 70 in (1,778 mm) design that could be counterbalanced against wheel slippage and gave more power at the drawbar at 40–50 mph (64–80 km/h).[3][5] N&W Tool Supervisor Franklin C. Noel proposed a streamlined design to give the locomotive smoothness and beauty along with speed, power, and dependability.[3] After experimenting with four or five concepts, Noel developed the bullet-nosed design.[3] His wife Louise suggested painting the Js black with a Tuscan red stripe wrapped with golden yellow linings and letterings.[3][6]

The first 10 class J locomotives (Nos. 600–610) had 275 pounds per square inch (psi) boilers and Timken roller bearings on all axles, rods, pistons, crossheads, valve gear, and wrist pins. After 1945, the boiler pressure was raised to 300 psi (2,100 kPa).[1] Calculated tractive effort was 80,000 pounds (36,000 kg) – the most powerful 4-8-4 without a booster. The driving wheels were small for a locomotive that was able to pull trains at more than 100 mph (160 km/h).[1] To overcome the limitation, the wheelbase was made extremely rigid, lightweight rods were used, and the counterbalancing was precise – so precise that it could theoretically allow the locomotives to reach speeds up to 140 mph (230 km/h) without the rail damage that could have occurred with conventional designs.[1] One drawback of this highly engineered powertrain was sensitivity to substandard track.[1]

A close-up of No. 611's running gear in 1985.[a]

While on loan in 1945, No. 610 hauled a 1,015-ton passenger train with 11 to 15 cars at speeds of more than 110 mph (180 km/h) over a section of flat, straight track known as the "racetrack" in the Pennsylvania Railroad's Fort Wayne Division.[8]

The class J locomotives were built with automatic lubricators at 220 points, allowing them to operate up to 1,300 miles (2,100 km) between refills.[1] Despite their comparatively small driving wheels, they rode very smoothly at all speeds: the Pennsylvania Railroad's inspector stated that it rode better than any of their own steam locomotives except for the 6-4-4-6 class S1. They also steam very well due to the large grate.[8]

The first five locomotives (Nos. 600–604) were outshopped between October 1941 and January 1942, costing the railroad $167,000 apiece.[3] The second batch of six locomotives (Nos. 605-610) was delivered in 1943 at a cost of $168,550 each without streamlined casings and lightweight side rods, due to the limitations on the use of certain materials during the war; classifying them as the J1s.[9][10] When World War II ended in 1945, the N&W were allowed to reclassified the J1s as Js with the lightweight rods and streamlined shrouding added. The last batch of three locomotives (Nos. 611–613), rolled out in summer 1950, were marked as the last steam passenger locomotives built in the United States.[11] In the mid 1950s, N&W engineers replaced the class J's duplex (two) coupling rods between the main (second) and third drivers (tandem rods) with a single coupling rod.[1]

Table of orders and numbers[12][13]
Quantity Serial Nos. Year built N&W No. Tender No. Notes
5 311–315 1941–1942 600–604 220076-220080 Built with multiple-bearing crossheads and originally built with spoke pilot wheels. No. 604 had a booster on its trailing truck. Re-equipped with solid steel pilot wheels in the 1950s.[14]
6 347–352 1943 605–610 220112-220117 Built with alligator crossheads and originally built with spoke pilot wheels and without streamlining shrouds.[10] Re-equipped with solid steel pilot wheels in the 1950s.[14]
3 388–390 1950 611–613 220165-220167 Built with alligator crossheads and solid steel pilot wheels. No. 611 in excursion service.[15]

Revenue service[edit]

The class Js pulled the N&W's prominent passenger trains, such as the Powhatan Arrow, the Pocahontas, and the Cavalier between Norfolk, Virginia, and Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as ferrying Southern Railway's the Birmingham Special, the Pelican, and the Tennessean between Monroe, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee.[1] Because of their power and speed, the class Js were among the most reliable and efficient engines, running as many as 15,000 miles (24,000 km) per month, even on the mountainous and relatively short route of the N&W.[1]

When N&W received a new president name Stuart T. Saunders in the late 1950s, they began purchasing first-generation diesel locomotives, experimenting with fuel and maintenance cost. They leased several sets of EMD E6s, E7s, and E8s from the Atlantic Coast Line and Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroads, before receiving their new fleet of EMD GP9s to replace their class Js from passenger service.[16][17] The class Js were given doghouses on their tenders to accommodate the head-end brakemen when they were reassigned to freight service. They were retired and scrapped in 1958 and 1959, except for No. 611.[16]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On June 12, 1946, No. 604 hauled the eastbound Powhatan Arrow after departing Cincinnati, Ohio, at 8:10 a.m. for Norfolk.[18] At 3:18 p.m., the locomotive derailed four miles west of Powhatan, West Virginia, due to excessive speed at 56 mph, killing the engineer and fireman.[18] These injuries included 23 passengers, three dining car employees, and one train service employee.[18]
  • On February 20, 1948, No. 607 derailed near Franklin Furnace, Ohio, while hauling the Powhatan Arrow, killing its fireman.[18] The cause of the accident was failure to obey an automatic block-signal and entering a turnout at an excessive speed of 77 mph.[18]
  • On October 30, 1953, in Bristol, Virginia, No. 613 rear-ended a timed freight, injuring 56 people. The accident was blamed on the fast passenger train for failing to heed warning signals. The loco was repaired and remained in service until 1959.[19][20]
  • On January 23, 1956, No. 611 derailed along the Tug River near Cedar, Mingo County, West Virginia, while pulling the Pocahontas.[1] The engineer ran the engine at an excessive speed around a curve and its high center of gravity caused it to flip on its side.[1] The loco was repaired and continued revenue passenger service.[1]
  • On May 18, 1986, No. 611 was at the head of a Norfolk Southern employee appreciation train from Norfolk with Robert Claytor at the throttle. One of the passenger cars failed to negotiate a switch on the main line through the Great Dismal Swamp, causing it and 12 other cars of the 23-car train to derail. 177 of nearly 1,000 employees and their family members were injured; some of the more seriously injured had to be airlifted to hospitals in nearby Norfolk for treatment.[21]


One locomotive, No. 611, has been preserved. Its survival was in part due to its excellent condition after its 1956 derailment and subsequent repair, and also in part to the efforts of attorney and railfan W. Graham Claytor Jr., who offered to spare the locomotive from the scrap line.[22] The No. 611 locomotive was donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum in 1962, where it sat on static display for two decades.[23] Since then, it has had two excursion careers: from 1982 to 1994, after Norfolk Southern Railway restored the locomotive, and from 2015 onwards by the VMT.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Most of the running gear's components came from sister locomotive No. 605.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "N&W 611 Class J Steam Locomotive National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark". American Society of Mechanical Engineers. May 1984. Archived from the original on October 3, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2018.
  2. ^ C. B. Peck (ed.). 1950–52 Locomotive Cyclopedia of American Practice. New York: Simmons-Boardman. pp. 530–531.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Hensley & Miller (2021), p. 4.
  4. ^ a b Withuhn (2019), p. 395.
  5. ^ Withuhn (2019), pp. 283–284.
  6. ^ Rosenburg & Archer (1973), p. 71.
  7. ^ Wrinn, Jim (2015). "Bringing back the J". Trains. No. 2. Kalmbach Media. p. 9.
  8. ^ a b Rhodes, John T.; Stephenson, David R. (September 2013). "Steam Locomotive Rail Wheel Dynamics Part 1: Precedent Speed of Steam Locomotives" (PDF). Coalition for Sustainable Rail. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 1, 2021. Retrieved May 14, 2022.
  9. ^ Rosenburg & Archer (1973), p. 73.
  10. ^ a b Hensley & Miller (2021), p. 17.
  11. ^ Drury (2015), p. 259.
  12. ^ Drury (2015), p. 261.
  13. ^ Rosenburg & Archer (1973), p. 68.
  14. ^ a b Hensley & Miller (2021), p. 19.
  15. ^ "N&W Class J 611". Trains. Archived from the original on May 7, 2019. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  16. ^ a b Hensley & Miller (2021), pp. 24–26.
  17. ^ Tillotson Jr. (2000), p. 117.
  18. ^ a b c d e Dixon, Jr. (2009), p. 17
  19. ^ "Plane and Train Crashes!".
  20. ^ "NWHS NW05899-Photo".
  21. ^ "Derailment of Steam Excursion Train Norfolk and Western Railway Company Train Extra 611". National Transportation Safety Board. May 18, 1986.
  22. ^ Miller (2000), p. 121.
  23. ^ Allen, Mike (May 31, 2015). "History of the Norfolk & Western Class J 611". The Roanoke Times.
  24. ^ "Our Story". Virginia Museum Of Transportation. Retrieved 2019-11-22.


  • Dixon, Jr., Thomas W. (2009). Norfolk & Western's Powhatan Arrow (1st ed.). TLC Publishing. ISBN 978-0-939487-91-2.
  • Drury, George H. (2015). Guide to North American Steam Locomotives (2nd ed.). Kalmbach Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62700-259-2.
  • Hensley, Timothy B.; Miller, Kenneth L. (2021). Norfolk and Western Six-Eleven - 3 Times A Lady, Revised Edition (2nd ed.). Pocahontas Productions. ISBN 978-0-9899837-2-3.
  • Miller, Kenneth L. (2000). Norfolk and Western Class J: The Finest Steam Passenger Locomotive (1st ed.). Roanoke Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, Inc. ISBN 0-615-11664-7.
  • Rosenburg, Ron; Archer, Eric H. (1973). Norfolk & Western Steam (The Last 25 Years) (1st ed.). Quadrant Press Inc. ISBN 0-915276-00-3.
  • Tillotson Jr., Curt (2000). Classic Steam Trains of the South (1st ed.). TLC Publishing. ISBN 1-883089-55-7.
  • Withuhn, William L. (2019). American Steam Locomotives: Design and Development, 1880–1960 (1st ed.). Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-03933-0.

External links[edit]