Back Lot Bath #15277

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The Story

On a sunny summer day, N&W #611 steam locomotive gets a back lot bath behind the shops at the Strasburg Railroad. It comes to Strasburg from home base in Roanoke periodically to run tourist trains along the old Strasburg Railroad steam engines, along with some maintenance and mechanical work at the shops when needed. Strasburg Railroad regularly performs a lot of work for other steam train operations and has the experts and machine tools to do so.

To keep the stylish streamlined seventy-year-old locomotive looking good, she gets washed down regularly by the crew that came with her from Roanoke. Not wanting to interfere, I kept my distance to make a series of photographs as the men worked to get these unusual views of the locomotive. But as they talked, a definitely southern Virginia accent was easily heard.

N&W 611 J Class was built in the main Norfolk and Western Railroad shops at Roanoke VA in 1950, with the J Class considered the height of steam locomotive technology at the time. It is one of the last passenger steam locomotives built in the country and did regular passenger train service until 1959. The locomotive was then used to generate steam for the Roanoke shops after retirement for a few years.

Of the fourteen 4-8-4 J Class steam locomotives built, only N&W 611 survived the scrapyard because of being in such good condition having been rebuilt after a wreck in 1956. It was donated to the Virginia Transportation Museum in the 1960s.

N&W 611 has been deactivated and brought back to service a few times over the years, spending some of her static time at the Virginia Transportation Museum. It was there I took the picture called Three Drivers #10525, a close-up of three of the main driving wheels among others. The driving wheels on this locomotive are rather large at 70 inches in diameter, almost six feet.

The locomotive is so large at 109 feet in length that it was impossible to back up enough to make a full portrait with the other large steam locomotives parked on adjacent tracks, so the wheels alone would have to do that day. Finally at Strasburg, I was able to get a shot of the streamlined nose of N&W #611.

Go to the Strasburg Railroad gallery on this website to see more of the interesting pictures taken there. To learn more about this unique tourist railroad that runs steam trains through the scenic Pennsylvania Amish country in Lancaster County, visit

Location: the railroad shops at the Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Picture and story © Andrew Dierks

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