Photos by Brian Hoffman
Salem residents recently turned out to experience the power of the Norfolk & Western Class J 611 rolling by on its way to Walton, Virginia. The engine pulled excursions through Salem over Memorial Day weekend, likely the last time 611 will travel through town.
611 is a renowned steam passenger engine built by the Norfolk & Western Railway in its famed Roanoke Shops, and the only one of its type that still exists today. In the 1940s and 1950s, the J Class locomotives were a common sight thundering across Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio at speeds up to 110 miles per hour.
The N&W Class J 611 was donated to the Virginia Museum of Transportation by Norfolk Southern. Donors from around the world contributed over $3 million to return 611 to operating condition after sitting static for two decades. The Museum completed the restoration in 2015, and 2017 marked the engine’s third year of active excursion service since.
The 611 is on view at the Virginia Museum of Transportation next to the N&W Class A 1218 freight locomotive and the N&W Class Y6 2156 coal hauling engine. Both are the last of their respective classes. Together, the three are known as the N&W Big Three, the last examples of the finest steam locomotives built anywhere in the world.
-Submitted by Fran Ferguson