Among the stars of the Streamliner’s at Spencer event was Norfolk & Western 611, one of only a handful of preserved American streamlined steam locomotives. Here’s a sampling of the many images I made, and an excerpt of the text from my book Super Steam published by MBI (out of print), where I detailed the J class. Today the locomotive catches attention for its streamlined shrouds, but there’s a lot more to the N&W J than just good looks:
“Among the most impressive products of N&W’s Roanoke Shops were its 14 Class J 4-8-4s. These spectacular machines defied convention while settting record for performance and reliability. The first five J’s were built during 1941 and 1942, with N&W’s distinctive streamlined shrouds, and featured 27×32 inch cylinders, 70-inch drivers, 107.7 square foot firebox grate, and a huge boiler set for 275 lb. psi operation. As built these locomotives delivered 73,300 lbs. tractive effort. (N&W later increased the boiler pressure to 300 psi, and as result tractive effort was increased to 80,000 lbs.) The J class exhibited all of the trappings of modern locomotive, featuring roller bearings on all axles and reciprocating parts, one-piece cast steel frame, mechanical lubrication and light weight alloy-steel rods . . .”
I grew up seeing the Electroliner projected on our slide screen; my father had photographed these classic trains on several occasions between 1958 and 1963 on the North Shore, and later on Philadelphia’s Red Arrow Lines.
Many years ago, I saw an advertisement on the back cover of Trains Magazine asking for donations to help save one of the trains. I sent $15, which wasn’t much money, but it was every penny I had. I was only about 13 or 14 at the time.
Happily both streamlined sets have been preserved: one is at the Illinois Railway Museum at Union; the other at the Rockhilll Trolley Museum in Pennsylvania.
On June 19, 2010, Hank Koshollek, John Gruber and I traveled from Madison, Wisconsin to the Illinois Railway Museum. Among the trains on display was the Electroliner.
It was the first time I’d seen the train outdoors since catching a fleeting glimpse of it at SEPTA’s 69th street shops in the late 1970s.
I wanted to make a distinctive image of the train, so I used my Lumix LX3 to make a dramatic close up. I also made several more conventional views.
This is relevant because IRM is now hoping to restore the train to service. IRM’s Tom Sharratt contacted me via Tracking the Light, and detailed their plan along with a plea to get the word out:
IRM is pleased that we are finally working on completing the restoration of our [Electroliner] set (801-802), hopefully in time for its 75th Anniversary (Jan 2016.) All eight motors need to be removed and inspected and repaired as necessary, the air conditioning needs to be replaced, and the interior worked on (we have the fabric and a volunteer who is working on that now.) We only (!) need to raise $500K. We have right around $100K now, and need $150K before we drop the motors and take them to a contract shop. We have a Facebook page– http://www.facebook.com/Electroliner