With the souls of artisans and the hands of craftsmen, the men of the Norfolk & Western Railway designed, engineered and built the most beautiful and powerful steam passenger steam locomotive in the world.
Her bullet nose, modern lines, graceful curves and baritone whistle combined with unbridled power to make the Spirit of Roanoke a symbol of Roanoke around the world.
The Virginia Museum of Transportation welcomes visitors from around the globe who come to see their beloved Class J 611 in person.
Humble beginnings: Big Lick to Roanoke
In 1881, Big Lick was nothing more than a sleepy farming community nestled in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A small stop on the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio (AMO) Railroad provided just enough economic activity to keep the small community alive.
That changed when the Shenandoah Valley Railroad merged with the AMO and formed the Norfolk & Western Railway. Big Lick became the new junction and, in quick order, became Roanoke, a city that would dominate rail technology, design and craftsmanship for generations to come.
The Roanoke Shops: the center of ingenuity and design
At the heart of the Norfolk & Western Railway operation was the Roanoke Shops. Located on the east end of the city, the men of the Norfolk & Western built extraordinary machines that helped to transform a nation. At one time, the Roanoke Shops employed over 6,000 workers, often worked around the clock building and maintaining locomotives and rolling rail stock.
With every locomotive design, the Roanoke Shops managed to one-up themselves. Using increasingly better technology that met high wartime demands of passengers and heavy freight, the Norfolk & Western Railway often set the standard for excellence in railroading.
The Class J 611 is an enduring survivor, destined to break fee and thunder once again. In her day, she represented hard work and prosperity – America on the move, growing and strong. That day is here again, and the Spirit of Roanoke will lead the way – just like she did back in 1950.