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Virginia Museum of Transportation
The Virginia Museum of Transportation is studying the feasibility of returning the iconic Norfolk & Western Class J 611 Steam locomotive to excursion service.
The Norfolk & Western Class J Locomotives were a marriage of beauty and power. The teardrop nose, modern lines, graceful curves and deep baritone whistle combined with unbridled power to make the engine the iconic symbol of modern steam locomotives.
The Class J Locomotives came to life in the era of war by the steel and guts of our forefathers. Our No. 611, the last of her kind, is known as the Spirit of Roanoke. She holds the sweat and blood of the men and women who molded her, who created her low rumbling whistle and who stoked her fire.
The Norfolk & Western Class J Locomotives were designed, constructed and maintained in Roanoke, Virginia. These streamlined locomotives have captivated the hearts of rail fans worldwide since they first rolled out of the N&W Roanoke Shops, beginning in 1941.
The Class J 611 Steam Locomotive was built in 1950, a time when men wore hats and ladies wore gloves and smartly dressed porters served lunch on real china in the dining car. The 611 Locomotive pulled the Powhatan Arrow, the famed passenger train, from Norfolk to Cincinnati. Her whistle woke sleepy towns. The rumble of her wheels made people wonder what was around the next bend or over the next mountain. She helped unite families long separated by war, took freshly minted high school graduates out into the world and brought long lost sons home again.
The Class J 611 retired from passenger rail service in 1959. In 1962, she was moved to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia.
In 1981, Norfolk Southern pulled her out of retirement and restored her to her original glory. Once again, she blew her whistle to sleepy towns and thundered across the landscape.
She was retired from excursions in 1994 and moved back into the Virginia Museum of Transportation, where she sits today, greeting tens of thousands of her fans who visit from across the globe every year.
Since her retirement, rail fans have clamored, hoped and dreamed that she return to the rails, to blow her whistle and steam over the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains once again.
For many of us, the 611 doesn’t rumble, she breathes.
We long to hear her breathe again. With your help, it may be possible to bring her back to life.
Click here to learn about our plan to bring the 611 back to life.