Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Virginia Museum of Transportation – Trains #2

Continuing with our exploration of Virginia’s Museum of Transportation… This final segment is again focused on trains and railroading, which in this case forms the heart and soul of this museum.

This is former Norfolk and Western #1135, an ALCO, (American Locomotive Company), model #C630.  This 16-cylinder 3,000 horsepower diesel-electric locomotive was built in 1967.  They   Norfolk and Western purchased 10 of them for regular freight service but in the 1970’s, after trying to sell them, 4 of them were assigned to 4 different ‘hump yards’ as hump yard slug masters… Apparently although they were originally used in regular freight service, they were too expensive to maintain.


·       While I knew that a ‘hump yard’ was a rail yard where freight cars are sorted into trains via a hump or hill feeding the cars onto a number of tracks and hence into trains, I had no idea what a ‘slug’ was.  It turns out that a railroad slug is an accessory to a diesel-electric locomotive. It has trucks with traction motors but it is unable to move about under its own power.  There is no cab or operator but instead it’s connected to a locomotive, called the ‘mother’, which provides the motor controls as well as the electrical power to operate the traction motors. 

This bulbous black locomotive is a Fireless Steam Engine.  It was manufactured in 1943 by the H.K. Porter Company.  While it has all of the functions of a steam engine, it doesn’t have its own boiler but rather stores steam from an external source, returning to that source for more steam pressure as needed.

These types of locomotives were designed to work in industries where sparks or flames were a major hazard.  Examples would be places like mines or munitions plants.  This engine was last used by the Celanese Corporation in 1966.

This little diesel-mechanical ‘engine that could’ is a switch engine that was built by the Whitcomb Locomotive Works in Illinois. (That company was a subsidiary of the Baldwin Locomotive Works) This Model 30DM31 engine was built in 1941.  It was used to shuttle hopper cars at a quarry just a bit east of Roanoke. 

This beautiful big railcar was built by the Pullman Manufacturing Company in 1925.  That company specialized in building passenger rail cars.  This particular Pullman creation, (Pullman #2483/Southern Railroad R-21), ended its active services as Norfolk Southern Research Car #31.  In the mid-1960s, Southern Railroad had converted it to a track geometry car, also known as a track recording car.

These specialized rail cars are important to safety on the railroad.  They research and monitor track strength and stability via onboard computers.  Half of the car is devoted to research and the other half is used for crew quarters.  Crew quarters include bunks, a kitchen and a dining area.  This car had been out of service for a while but in 2007, Norfolk Southern updated it with new technology including lasers and computers.  It returned to service for another 2 years before retiring to the museum. 

The Virginian Railroad was acquired by Norfolk and Western (now Norfolk Southern) in 1959.  This cupola style steel caboose was manufactured in 1949 by the St. Louis Car Company.  It weighs in at 53,600 lbs. and as the home of the train’s conductor and his crew such as brakemen and a flagman, it originally had 4 bunks and it was heated with a coal stove. 

As us ‘older folks’ know, back in the day every freight train used to have a caboose attached to the end of the train.  It was the conductor’s job to ensure the safety of the train, keep it on schedule, etc.  As railroad safety improved in the 1980s, the caboose and most of the crew were put out to pasture.  Conductors now right up front in the locomotive.  Virginia was one of the last states requiring cabooses on all freight trains…

The preceding photos are of Steam Locomotive - Virginian Class SA #4.  This type was manufactured by the American Locomotive Company (3 of them) and the Baldwin Locomotive Works. (2 of them)  Only 5 of these 8-wheel switchers were ever built.  They had a top speed of about 10 mph, which is all they needed in a switch yard.

Old #4 was built in August 1910 for the Virginian Railway.  She was retired in 1957 and was exhibited in front of the Mercer County Courthouse in Princeton West Virginia but vandalism took a toll on her.  She was traded to Norfolk and Western for a caboose in 1960.  Then the Norfolk and Western Shops refurbished her and she was placed in the museum in 1963.


·       Old #4 is the last remaining steam engine from the Virginian Railway.

These 2 photos are of Norfolk and Western #6, a Class G-1 steam locomotive.   This freight engine was 1 of 14 built for Norfolk and Western in 1897 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, PA.  She was hand fired…coal was shoveled into the boiler by hand and she could pull up to 50 wooden cars at a speed of 35 mph.

Old #6 originally cost $10,800 to build.  In 1917 she was sold to the Virginia Carolina Railroad.  Norfolk and Western re-acquired her in 1920 when they purchased the Virginia Carolina Line.  Norfolk and Western used #6 on the Abingdon Branch of the railroad which ran from Abingdon Virginia to West Jefferson North Carolina.  Her last use was pulling stock cars in 1955…a long life indeed!  This is the oldest locomotive in the Virginia Museum of Transportation’s collection.

This is the locomotive that I really wanted to see…but she was absent during our visit!  This is steam locomotive Norfolk and Western Class J #611.  These sleek beauties were manufactured in Norfolk and Western’s Roanoke Shops from 1941 – 1950.  A total of 14 of these passenger engines were built.  They could pull 15 cars at up to 110 mph!

These J class locomotives averaged 15,000 miles per month and some of the locomotives traveled nearly 3 million miles before they were retired.  A few were used in freight service after passenger service was dieselized in 1958.
Class J #611 entered service on May 29, 1950.  She was the last J to operate and she made her ‘final’ run on a Norfolk and Western fan trip in the fall of 1959.  But #611, the only Class J in existence, was returned to excursion service in 1982 and then was finally retired in 1994…or was she? 

She was not!  In February of this year she underwent inspection and was slated to operate a busy steam excursion and travel schedule in 2016… To learn more, go to  To see her in action, you can go to

We really enjoyed our visit to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.  Check it out if you have a chance!  The museum is located at 303 Norfolk Avenue Southwest in Roanoke.  Phone: 540-342-5670.  Website:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to check out a bit of railroad nostalgia and history!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Love all about trains David :) :)

  2. Lots of good info here. I've never heard of a slug and had to ask Bill, the RR man about it. He has been to many hump yards around the country, but he said he is not familiar with the term slug.
    You know we see mostly commuter trains here, not so many freight trains, and I understand no need for the caboose today, but I sort of miss them anyway, with their bright red color.
    Thanks for this post, I enjoyed it! Take care