The Virginia Museum of Transportation announces its intention to return America’s iconic Norfolk & Western Class J 611 Steam Locomotive to excursion service
The “Fire Up 611!” Study researched the mechanical and business operations of excursion service and determines the all-American icon can return to the rails
ROANOKE, Va., June 28, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — The Virginia Museum of Transportation announced today its intention to return the iconic Norfolk & Western Class J 611 Steam Locomotive to excursion service if her supporters will fund the project.
“We are pleased to say that we can Fire Up 611! But the time is now and it will take fans of the 611 around the world to stoke her fire,” says Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr., executive director of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. “Today we are kicking off the official Fire Up 611! Capital Campaign.”
The Fire Up 611! Committee determines that $3.5 million will be needed to return the locomotive to the rails. The costs include a complete mechanical restoration of the locomotive, a shop maintenance facility, and support to develop the excursion program. Ultimately, the goal is to raise $5 million so that the 611 has an endowment to keep her running for years.
“The Virginia Museum of Transportation does not have the resources to fund this project alone,” Fitzpatrick says. “We are asking her fans across the globe who want to see her run again to be a part of this important capital campaign. Her appeal extends to people everywhere who value heritage, craftsmanship, and the thrill of bringing an American icon to life.”
The N&W Class J 611 has been invited to participate in the Norfolk Southern’s 21(st) Century Steam Excursion Program in 2014. This exciting program provides steam rail excursions throughout the Norfolk Southern’s operating territory. To participate in the program in 2014, the Museum needs to raise the necessary funds by Oct. 31, 2013.
“If her supporters bring No. 611 back to life, NS will be eager and excited for this incredible part of rail history to join the 21st Century Steam Program,” says Norfolk Southern spokesman Frank Brown. “The return of 611 would represent a great opportunity to celebrate our heritage while educating a new generation about the critical role railroads play in today’s economy.”
611′s fans are invited to visit fireup611.org to learn more and to donate to the Fire Up 611 Capital Campaign. They can also visit the Fire Up 611 Facebook page, YouTube, and Twitter feed (#fireup611).
The Fire Up 611! Study
The study – called Fire Up 611! – was commissioned by the Virginia Museum of Transportation to evaluate the feasibility of returning the 611 to excursion service. The Fire Up 611! Committee was made up of experts in rail, excursions, steam locomotives, and business operations.
Fire Up 611! Committee Chairman Preston Claytor reports that the following will be needed for the 611 to ride the high iron once again:
Complete Mechanical Restoration: The restoration includes a complete overhaul to meet current Federal Railroad Administration and strict safety guidelines. Before the shop is completed, the 611 will possibly be restored through a partnership with the North Carolina Transportation Foundation in Spencer, N.C.
A New Mechanical Shop: The Committee found that the Virginia Museum of Transportation would need a facility to maintain the 611. There are only a few facilities in North America large enough to accommodate a steam locomotive the size of 611. The facility will be built on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Va. “With a Roanoke-based shop facility, she can remain on the high iron and on display for her fans,” says Claytor.
Business Operations: To be successful, personnel and tools are necessary to complete the restoration and operate the excursions. Included in these costs are marketing, human resources, and business operations.
About the N&W Class J 611 Steam Locomotive
The Norfolk & Western Class J 611 Steam Locomotive is the one of the finest American passenger steam locomotive ever built. She is a marriage of beauty and power. Simple lines, a bullet nose, a midnight black facade, a Tuscan stripe and a baritone whistle make her one of the most distinguished steam locomotives left in the world. She’s an engineering powerhouse of steam, technology, and near mechanical perfection.
The Norfolk & Western Class J Locomotives were designed, constructed, and maintained in Roanoke. These streamlined locomotives captivated the hearts of rail fans worldwide since they first rolled out of the N&W Roanoke Shops, beginning in 1941.
“The Class J Locomotives were the most technically advanced steam locomotive design of any type that was ever in service anywhere in the world,” says William Withuhn, curator emeritus, History of Technology and Transportation, Smithsonian Institution and editor and co-author of Rails Across America: a History of Railroads in North America (Smithmark, 1993). “The J was – and is now – under its graceful skin the apex and epitome of its era of design, helping to make Americans the most mobile people on the planet.”
The Class J Locomotives were built using American ingenuity, design, and engineering. Even today, she is the pinnacle of steam locomotive technology known to man. “The J class was the final fruit of more than 120 years of engineering development,” says Withuhn. “A Class J could hit more than 5,000 net horsepower and reach 110 miles per hour. There was nothing like it.”
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.
The Class J 611 retired from passenger rail service in 1959. In 1962, she was moved to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke.
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.
In 1984, the Class J 611 was named a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
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.
The Fire Up 611! Committee
Preston Claytor: Chairman of the Fire Up 611 Committee and Safety consultant.
Mr. Claytor was on the 611 locomotive crew during its last excursion runs. Boynton Beach, Fla.
Cheri George: Owner of a software consulting company. Ms. George was a volunteer fireman for the 611 and was part of the crew during its last excursion runs. Atlanta.
Ron Davis: President of the Norfolk & Western Historical Society. Roanoke.
Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr.: Executive Director, Virginia Museum of Transportation. Roanoke.
Will Harris: A board member of the Virginia Museum of Transportation and president of North Fork Lumber Company. Goshen, Va.
Bill Honeycutt: Consultant, President of the Historical Society of Western Virginia, representing the O. Winston Link Museum. Roanoke.
Ken Lanford: President, Board of Directors of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Roanoke.
Scott Lindsay: President, Steam Operations Corporation. Steam Operations Corporation specializes in the restoration of historic rail equipment. Mr. Lindsay was also on the 611 locomotive crew during its last excursion runs. Birmingham.
Jeff Sanders: President of the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Roanoke.
Jim Stump: An executive search consultant, a Roanoke native and railroad enthusiast. Charlotte.
Jim Wrinn: Editor of Kalmbach Publishing’s TRAINS Magazine. Waukesha, Wis.
SOURCE Virginia Museum of Transportation