Norfolk & Western No. 611 in Pennsylvania: The thought makes me smile... and dig out old pictures

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Norfolk & Western No. 611 arrives today at a new venue: Pennsylvania’s hallowed Strasburg Rail Road. This will be a nice change of pace for the Class J, and it will allow it to spend time with another N&W veteran, M Class 4-8-0 No. 475. I expect those two have some tales to tell each other about how life has been for the last 60 years or so. 


While having No. 611 on the mainline is preferable, conditions in 2019 beyond the control of just about any railroad CEO (at the top of the list: focus on the operating ratio, Wall Street demanding Precision Scheduled Railroading, traffic is off) make it improbably that the engine would run at all. That Norfolk Southern would see fit to ferry the engine behind a diesel from Roanoke to Strasburg is at least a nod to the engine’s importance to the company’s history and a desire to keep it going for the future. 


My schedule will likely keep me away from Pennsylvania this fall, so I won’t get to see No. 611 at Groff’s Grove, or saluting a passing Amtrak train at Lehman Place. So, I’ll revel in some favorite photos from recent years. 



I’ve photographed No. 611 thousands of times since 1982 when my pal Jim King and I left my dorm room at UNC-Chapel Hill at 2 a.m. and drove to Salisbury, N.C., to make night photos of it on its inaugural run. But this may be one of my favorites. The engine is on a Spencer-Lynchburg excursion in April 2016. The curve at Sycamore, Va., just north of Gretna, is well lit. The main rod is down. The smoke is high. All is right. 






We posed this shot at N.C. Transportation Museum, where I’ve been a volunteer since 1986, for a group of photographers. The crossing, the REA truck, the car, and the engine all spoke to me. 



I liked this image of N&W GP9 No. 620, standing in for one of its passenger Geep sisters in the 500-class, in Tuscan red. The late Robert Claytor, NS chairman, had donated the paint back in 1986 and we were happy to give the engine a fresh look at Spencer. Today, it’s been returned to its traditional black garb. But it sure did look good in red next to No. 611


The term, “in the dog house” got new meaning when we placed a genuine N&W tender brakeman’s shack on the tender of the J for a few photos of her hauling a freight consist as Js did at the end of their careers. It was rare the day we did that in April 2016. It’s even more rare today. 












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