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N&W 611 and Southern 4501 back on mainline

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  • N&W 611 and Southern 4501 back on mainline

    "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated"

    The past Three months have been a whirlwind of windshield time for me, with over 3000 miles driven since the First of May in pursuit of steam back on the NS mainline. Most notably has been the return of the Southern 4501 and N&W 611, not to mention the NKP 765. I have been able to capture these magnificent machines in several states, and all kinds of weather (except snow...sadly) and its been well worth the time and effort.

    Below are a few samples of my results from all this traveling, and I invite you to check out the entire set (close to 70 new images at this link >>>> Norfolk Southern Steam 2015 Photo Gallery by E.M. & Carmon Bell at

    Southern 4501 break-in run... Back on the mainline after 21 years! 05/01/15

    May 1st 2015, Southern 4501 returned to the mainline for the First time in 21 years for a test run from Chattanooga to Cleveland, TN and return. After a lengthy restoration, the engine returned to steam last year, and operated on TVRM's local and made several trips on the C&C to Summerville, GA, but had not operated anywhere near sustained mainline speeds until Friday . The TVRM crew needed to make sure the engines bearings and other systems worked as intended before a few public trips on the NS later this year, and from what we saw and heard, there were no major issues!

    "21 Years" Sometimes its worth getting up early and driving 300 miles before daylight to witness something special, and this was One of those days. After a brief inspection stop during her break in run at Ooltewah, Tennessee, Southern 4501 makes a jaw dropping departure towards Cleveland...Two shorts blast on the whistle, then an eruption of smoke and sound from the stack as she walked those 7 cars right up to 40mph...and before she was ever out of sight! Its been 21 years since the best looking steam locomotive I have ever seen has graced the mainline, and THIS was worth that 600 mile round trip! Welcome back old friend

    N&W 611 goes home to Roanoke, and I almost dont make it back home. 05/29/15

    After hearing what the confirmed date was for the N&W 611 to make her triumphed trip home to Roanoke, I him-hawed around for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out if I wanted to go or not. It had been 21 years since I had seen her hot and on the move, but I knew the crowds would be big (but I had NO idea how big) and that had me on the fence, as I don't really like crowds. I finally decided to go at the last minute, and it would turn out to be a rough trip....but well worth the trouble.

    After making some plans to meet up with some buddies in Spencer Friday evening (May 29th), I headed out early that morning from home. About 4 hours into my trip, I was headed down the East side of Black Mountain in North Carolina when the explorer started handling bad and there was suddenly a horrific noise coming from somewhere underneath. I fought it to stay on the road and finally got down to the Old Fort Exit and pulled off to take a look. After seeing no appearant cause of the problem, I decided to find a mechanic, who quickly diagnosed a burnt out wheel bearing. About 30 mins later as he raised the explorer up on the lift to take a look, the bad wheel feel off....right in the floor...with only the brake lines holding it....I just about passed out right there. The bearing had failed with NO prior warning, and took the spindle with it. I must have had someone looking out for me that morning..I shudder to think what might have happened if that wheel had come off on the side of that mountain.

    Anyway..about 3 hours later I was back on the road a few hundred dollars poorer, but alive. After a nice evening hanging out with a good group of folks around Spencer , it was off to the main event on Saturday. I had expected crowds...but wow. I have not seen that many folks out to watch a train since the UP 3985 ran the Santa Train on the CRR years ago. Every place we went...crowds..Thousands of people out to watch, and the vast majority not railfans either, just local folks. By the time the train neared Roanoke, it was almost overwhelming with every crossing, road and spot that you could see the tracks through the trees occupied.

    When it was all over and done with, I had come away with 4 shots (3 of which had been planned in advance) in the bag for the 1900 miles I drove, but was worth it!

    Back in December of 1994 I never thought I would have the chance to ever see a hot steam locomotive on NS rails again...the fires had been dropped, upper management had changed and that seemed to be the end...but the fat gal had not yet sang her tune. Fast forward 21 years and we have the Southern 630 and 4501 back on the mainline, and now the N&W 611. It seemed almost like a dream to stand alongside the old Southern mainline in Ruffin, NC as the 611 pounded by us, hell bent for Roanoke. Its a great time to enjoy the sounds and the cinders, but dont forget the lessons of the past...DONT take what we have for granite this second time around, because nothing last forever, and that portly lady will be singing at some point in the future. 611 comes through downtown Ruffin, NC

    "Home" My last shot of the 611 from this trip tells the story of the day, although I must admit I did not plan it that way. After searching and searching for a place not already populated by large crowds for One more shot, I found myself in the little town of Bonsack, Va just outside of Roanoke. It was not the most photogenic of places, and the crowd of local folks was thick (but I was the only One there that I knew!)..I was hot, tired, aggravated and decided to just park and watch the train go by before I started the long drive home...I had a few keepers anyway. It wasn't long before the crowd got thicker and thicker...young, old...from all walks of life, and not a railfan to be seen. I soon found my self in a polite "howdy do" conversation with a elderly gentleman. That Gentleman (a Mr. Purvis if I recall) told me that he had lived in the big white house there by the tracks for over 50 years, and that he had been employed as a pattern maker in the N&W Roanoke shops, and then had moved on to other RR shop jobs after "Those Dam Diesels put a lot of us out of work".. I spent over an hour talking (more listening on my part) to him and his wife and somewhere in there I realized I had found THE spot to be to watch the 611 come home. He was proud of his time with the N&W, proud of his family (some of which still work for NS). He and his wife stood up out of the lawn chairs as we heard the whistle, and the crowd started cheering and waving as the train passed, just as a few thousand other soon would be down in Roanoke. We often strive to keep those pesky crowds out of our shots, just focusing on the machine...but it took people to make the machine, to run it, to maintain it, and even mourn its passing. It took forward looking and hard working, dedicated people to make it live again..... Those were some mighty proud people to see the 611 back alive again and rolling through town....Mr. Purvis probably the proudest. I had no intention of even taking a picture when I got there....but I am sure glad I was the best shot of the day. Bonsack, Va 05/30/15

    Southern 4501 on the mainline in Va * TN ....worth the wait!

    While all the hype seems to have been over the return of the 611 (which is great!), I have been waiting for my favorite to return to the mainline...Southern 4501! There is nothing wrong with 765 or 611, but I have always been partial to the 4501 (and 630), and it sure is nice to have been able to now shoot both of them on the mainline again.

    As soon as the Spring schedule came out, I KNEW that if I only made One trip this year, it would have have to be to Virgina to see the 4501 running across the Pulaski district (but luckily I am making way more than one trip this year).. I left Kentucky around 0100 that Friday morning 06/26 and headed East for the 5 hour drive to Brisol. After fighting the rain and storms almost the whole way, we arrived in Bristol about daylight and then it was time to get our day started. The rest of Friday was spend following the train to Radofrd, Va. and back, then to Bulls Gap TN on Saturday, and then back to Radofrd on Sunday. The weather ran the gamut from sun to clouds and frog stranglers (and a couple of gully washers!) but we pressed on.

    The 4501 put on a almost flawless performance, and at times was hard to keep up with. Besides a couple of stops to inspect, they just kept on going and pretty much stayed on schedule. After all of the hard work the folks at TVRM have put in, it was great to see her out pulling passengers again, and well worth the time on the road to witness.

    "Moody Morning Delight" SOUTHERN 4501 brings her train by the N&W CPL's at CP Washington. . The clouds are thick and a light rain was falling (soon to be joined by a heavy dose of cinders)...perfect weather for steam! NS is in the process of lengthening the siding here, and these old signals are on short time...sure to be replaced when the project is completed. Glade Spring, VA 06/26/15

    4501 dusted the tin roof of the Lick Creek Baptist Church with cinders as she rushed down the valley Saturday morning. There is just something about an old church and steam that compliment each other...both offering religious experiences ..One for the Spirit and One for the Soul. Piney Flats, TN 06/27/15

    N&W 611 romping & stopming around Roanoke 07/03 & 07/04/15

    The weekend of July 3rd, 4th & 5th saw N&W 611 running a series of trips out of Roanoke, Va. Each morning they ran Roanoke to Lynchburg and back, and then in the afternoon they ran West to the Wye at Walton, Va and back to Roanoke. With 6 trips, this gave us plenty of chances to shoot a lot of the classic (and not so classic) locations and not have to pick and choose so much.

    The weather was less than ideal, but that was OK in my book. All of the clouds and rain made me a happy campers, as I am One of the few that actually LIKE shooting in bad weather, and steam just makes it that much better!

    Down to a crawl, walking her train up Christiansburg Mountain in a light rain at Shawsville, Va. The sound of the struggle was awesome, One of those "you had to be there" moments that no video can ever do justice to. 07/03/15

    Passing under the CPL's at Webster, Va and already digging in for the long climb up and over Blue Ridge. 07/04/15

    "Railroad Town" N&W 611 passes by the front door of the former N&W Headquarters building in downtown Roanoke Saturday afternoon, recreating a scene played out countless times in the past. Take away the modern cars, safety vest and a few other modern changes in this view, and it could almost be the 1950's again. Its not hard to imagine N&W president Robert H. Smith peering down from his office window, keeping an eye on the arrival and departure of the Pocahontas. You can see East End shops where the mighty A, J and Y were born, The N&W passenger station (now the LINK museum), The Hotel Roanoke, The N&W offices, and just a mile or so away are the shops and yard at Schaffers Crossing.
    Last edited by EM Bell; 07-24-2015, 08:49 PM.
    E.M. Bell, KD4JSL
    Salvisa, KY

  • #2
    I've been wondering where you were! Excellent write up and photos! Thank you for sharing these with us. Hellofa story about the wheel bearing, geez!
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    • #3
      Ford wheel bearings are pretty sturdy, but when they are gone, they are GONE.
      sigpic ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ "Come and get them" Leonidas I to Xerxes, at Battle of Thermopylae