Norfolk & Western 1218
Norfolk and Western Railway 1218 in railfan service in 1987
Norfolk & Western 1218 is a steam locomotive that at one time was the strongest-pulling operational steam locomotive in the world. It is a four-cylinder simple articulated locomotive with a 2-6-6-4 (Whyte system) wheel arrangement. The Norfolk & Western Railway built it in 1943 at its Roanoke Shops in Roanoke, Virginia, and was part of the Norfolk & Western's class A fleet of fast freight locomotives. It was retired from regular revenue service in 1959, but Norfolk & Western successor Norfolk Southern Railway operated it in excursion service from 1987 to 1992. Today it is on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke.
Norfolk & Western 1218 is the sole survivor of the railroad's class A locomotives, and the only surviving 2-6-6-4 steam locomotive in the world. While smaller than Union Pacific's famous and more numerous "Challenger" Class of 4-6-6-4 locomotives, Norfolk and Western's design racked up unmatched records of performance in service.
During 1218's excursion career, it was the most powerful operational steam locomotive in the world, with a tractive effort of 125,897 pounds-force (560.02 kN), well above the next-strongest-pulling operational steam locomotive (Union Pacific 3985, with a tractive effort of 97,350 lbf (433.0 kN)). Unlike diesel-electric locomotives of similar high tractive effort (for starting heavy trains) but typical for a steam locomotive, it could easily run at 70 miles per hour (113 km/h) and more.
Famed railroad photographer O. Winston Link's most famous photograph, "Hotshot Eastbound", was of one of 1218's sister engines at speed, passing a drive in theater in Ieager, WV in August 1956.
Norfolk & Western used 1218 and the other class A locomotives primarily for fast freight trains, but they also pulled heavy coal trains on the flatter districts of the Norfolk & Western system, and reportedly even pulled heavy passenger trains at times.
After Norfolk & Western retired 1218 in 1959, Union Carbide bought it to use as a backup boiler in an industrial plant. In 1965 steam preservationist F. Nelson Blount bought 1218 for his Steamtown collection, which today the National Park Service operates. According to Steam Over Scranton: The Locomotives of Steamtown by Gordon Chappell, "Eventually, the transportation museum at Roanoke, Virginia, had obtained 1218 on loan from the Steamtown Foundation in Vermont for temporary exhibit. Over a period of years that museum came to regard the locomotive as its property, not a loan, and the Norfolk and Western (Norfolk Southern) eventually got into the matter when it desired to overhaul the locomotive for operation for publicity purposes, railfan excursions, and other special events. While the Steamtown Foundation apparently had a clear title to the locomotive and the Roanoke museum did not, the N&W put further pressure on the Steamtown group by indicating it would never allow the locomotive to move over its rails out of Roanoke, effectively the only way Steamtown could get it back. Since Steamtown had no answer to this stand, and was by then in the process of moving to Scranton, Pennsylvania, the Steamtown Board decided to accept two diesel- electric locomotives from the Norfolk and Western, which by then had come under the corporate umbrella of the Norfolk Southern, in exchange for giving the Norfolk Southern clear title to No. 1218."
Norfolk Southern offered two diesel locomotives - Nickel Plate GP-9, No. 514, and former Wabash SW-8, No. 132 - in exchange for 1218.
Chappell continues, "In 1982, Norfolk & Western merged with Southern Railway to become today's Norfolk Southern Railway, and Norfolk & Western president Robert B. Claytor became the first president of Norfolk Southern. Bob Claytor's brother W. Graham Claytor, Jr. had started a steam excursion program at Southern Railway when he had been an executive, and then its president, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Both Claytor brothers were great rail preservationists and champions of maintaining some historic steam operations. Bob Claytor had Norfolk Southern restore 1218 for its steam program. On May 10, 1985, Norfolk Southern pulled 1218 from its park display for restoration, on January 16, 1987 it was fired up, and on March 26, 1987, 1218 ran a break-in run from the steam shops at Irondale, Alabama to Wilton, Alabama. It entered excursion service and pulled many excursion trains until the end of the 1991 season, when it went for an overhaul. This overhaul was in progress when Norfolk Southern canceled its steam program in late 1994."
After the cancellation of the Norfolk Southern steam program in 1994, 1218 was stored in the former steam shops in Irondale, AL. In 1996, 1218 was towed back to Roanoke and stored at the Norfolk Southern's East End Shops. Then, in 2001, Norfolk Southern donated the 1218 to the City of Roanoke, clearing the way for the engine to once again be put on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. In June 2003, the museum completed its new Claytor Pavilion and along with it, the 1218 was ready to put back on display. After a cosmetic restoration by Norfolk Southern, the 1218 was towed to the Virginia Museum of Transportation on June 11, 2003, and pushed into place in her new home next to Norfolk & Western 611. On April 2, 2012, the City of Roanoke officially donated both the 1218 & 611 to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
Today, 1218 is owned by the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia, and is displayed alongside former stable-mate Norfolk & Western 611,(611 now moved to Spencer for restoration) where they are the star attractions in the museum's Claytor Pavilion. It has been cosmetically restored, though not operational, since the overhaul started in 1992 was never completed. Although the undertaking would be considerable, she is very capable of being returned to operation, with the uncompleted boiler and firebox repairs being the primary scope of work remaining from her aborted overhaul. The 1218 is, on rare occasions, moved outside the museum grounds for special events. In 2007, Norfolk Southern pulled it (cold), with 611, to its Roanoke Shops for the shops' 125th anniversary celebration.
In Popular Culture
In MSTS, the locomotive is part of the N&W Steam Pack mod.
- Jeffries, Lewis I., N&W: Giant of Steam (Rev. ed. 2005).
- Wrinn, Jim, Steam's Camelot: Southern and Norfolk Southern Excursions in Color (2000).
- Chappell, Gordon, Steam Over Scranton: The Locomotives of Steamtown (1991)