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
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 cap20,000 US gal (76,000 l; 17,000 imp gal)
25,000 US gal (95,000 l; 21,000 imp gal) in auxiliary tender
 • Firegrate area
107.7 sq ft (10.01 m2)
Boiler pressure275 lbf/in2 (1.90 MPa) (as built)
300 lbf/in2 (2.07 MPa)
Heating surface:
 • Tubes and flues
4,693 sq ft (436.0 m2)
 • Firebox578 sq ft (53.7 m2)
 • Heating area2,177 sq ft (202.2 m2)
Cylinder size27 in × 32 in (686 mm × 813 mm)
Valve gearBaker
Valve typePiston valves
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 RailwayNorfolk Southern Railway
Virginia Museum of Transportation (Fire Up 611! Campaign)
ClassJ (3rd)
Number in class14
Retired1959 (revenue service)
No. 611; 1994 (1st excursion service)
PreservedOne (No. 611) preserved, remainder scrapped
RestoredNo. 611; 1981–1982 (1st restoration)
2014–2015 (2nd restoration)
Current ownerVirginia Museum of Transportation (No. 611)
DispositionNo. 611 operational in excursion service, based in Roanoke, Virginia

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

These locomotives were built to run on the N&W main line between Norfolk, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio, pulling the Powhatan Arrow, the Pocahontas and the Cavalier passenger trains as well as ferrying the Southern Railway's the Birmingham Special, the Pelican and the Tennessean between Monroe, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee. The class Js along with the class As and Ys freight locomotives, became the Norfolk and Western's "Big Three" considered to be at the pinnacle of steam technology.

Only one class J locomotive, No. 611, survives. It 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.



No. 611's builder plate

The first class J locomotives (nos. 600–610) had 275 pounds per square inch (psi) boilers, 70-inch (1,778 mm) driving wheels, 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] The Js' distinctive streamlining was designed by N&W Tool Supervisor, Franklin C. Noel and were painted black with a Tuscan red stripe and golden yellow linings and letterings.[3][4]

As delivered, the class J locomotives had duplex (two) coupling rods between the main (second) and third drivers (tandem rods), but in the 1950s Norfolk and Western's engineers deemed them unnecessary a single coupling rod was substituted between the main and third drivers.[1] The negative effect of the J's highly engineered powertrain was that it made the locomotives sensitive to substandard track.[1]

While on loan in 1945, no. 610 hauled a 1015-ton passenger train with 15 cars at speeds of more than 110 mph (180 km/h) over a section of flat, straight track on the Pennsylvania Railroad, known as the "racetrack", in the Fort Wayne Division.[3]

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.[5]


The first five locomotives (nos. 600–604) were outshopped between October 1941 and January 1942, costing the railroad US$167,000 apiece.[3] The second batch of six locomotives was delivered in 1943 without either shrouding or lightweight side rods, due to the limitations on the use of certain materials during the war; they were classified J1.[6] When N&W showed the War Production Board the reduced availability numbers because of this, the Board allowed the J1s to be re-fitted in 1945 as Js with the lightweight rods and shrouding. The last batch of three locomotives, rolled out in summer 1950, were marked as the last steam passenger locomotives built in the United States.[7][8]

Table of orders and numbers[9][10]
Quantity Serial Nos. Year built N&W No. Notes
5 311–315 1941–1942 600–604 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 pilot wheels in the 1950s.
6 347–352 1943 605–610 Built with alligator crossheads and originally built with spoke pilot wheels and without streamlining shrouds. Re-equipped with solid pilot wheels in the 1950s.
3 388–390 1950 611–613 Built with alligator crossheads and solid pilot wheels. No. 611 in excursion service.[11]

Revenue service[edit]

The class Js pulled the network'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 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]

In the late 1950s, N&W began purchasing first-generation diesel locomotives, experimenting with fuel and maintenance cost. They leased several sets of EMD E6s, E7s, E8s from the Atlantic Coast Line and Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroads.[8][12] As a result, the class Js were retired from passenger service.[8] Doghouses were installed on their tenders to accommodate the head-end brakemen when the class Js were reassigned to freight service until they were all retired between 1958 and 1959.[8]

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, Virginia.[13] But at 3:18 P.M., the locomotive derailed 4 miles west of Powhatan, West Virginia due to excessive speed at 56 mph. killing engineer Grover C. “Nap” Roberts and fireman Beecher Lawson.[13] In addition, twenty-three passengers, three dining car employees, and one train service employee were injured.[13] The engine was later rebuilt.
  • On February 20, 1948, no. 607 was also hauling the Powhatan Arrow. At milepost 592, near Franklin Furnace, Ohio, 607 overturned, killing the fireman. The cause of the accident was failure to obey an automatic block-signal and entering a turnout at an excessive speed of 77 mph. The loco was rebuilt and remained in service until 1958. [14]
  • 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.[15][16]
  • On January 23, 1956, no. 611 derailed along the Tug River near Cedar, Mingo County, West Virginia while pulling The Pocahontas.[1] It was determined that 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, Virginia, 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 1000 employees and their family members were injured; some of the more seriously injured had to be airlifted to hospitals in nearby Norfolk for treatment.[17]


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 preserve the 611 rather than seeing it scrapped.[18] The locomotive was donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum in 1962, where it sat dormant for two decades.[19] Since then, it has had two excursion careers: from 1982 to 1994, after Norfolk Southern Railway restored the locomotive, and in 2015 (by Norfolk Southern) and afterwards by the VMT.[20]

See also[edit]


  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". ASME. 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 Young (2017), p. 207
  4. ^ Rosenburg & Archer (1973), p. 71.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Rosenburg & Archer (1973), p. 73.
  7. ^ Drury (2015), p. 259.
  8. ^ a b c d Young (2017), p. 209
  9. ^ Drury (2015), p. 261.
  10. ^ Rosenburg & Archer (1973), p. 68.
  11. ^ "N&W Class J 611". Trains. Archived from the original on May 7, 2019. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  12. ^ Solomon (2017), p. 207.
  13. ^ a b c "The 1946 Wreck of N&W's Pride & Joy – The Powhatan Arrow". The Railroader's Daughter. August 17, 2013. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  14. ^ "RailPictures.Net Photo: N&W 607 Norfolk & Western Steam 4-8-4 at Franklin Furnace, Ohio by Larry Fellure".
  15. ^ "Plane and Train Crashes!".
  16. ^ "NWHS NW05899-Photo".
  17. ^ "Derailment of Steam Excursion Train Norfolk and Western Railway Company Train Extra 611". National Transportation Safety Board. May 18, 1986.
  18. ^ Miller (2000), p. 121.
  19. ^ Allen, Mike (May 31, 2015). "History of the Norfolk & Western Class J 611". The Roanoke Times.
  20. ^ "Our Story". Virginia Museum Of Transportation. Retrieved 2019-11-22.


  • Drury, George H. (2015). Guide to North American Steam Locomotives (2nd ed.). Kalmbach Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62700-259-2.
  • 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.
  • Solomon, Brian (2017). North American Locomotives: A Railroad-by-Railroad Photohistory (3rd ed.). Crestline. ISBN 978-0-7858-3533-2.
  • Young, Jan (2017). Fashion in Steel: Streamlined Steam Locomotives in North America (1st ed.). ISBN 978-1-387-40861-0.

External links[edit]