Stinky is super excited for today’s adventure, especially as he and Periwinkle didn’t have one last week. He’s bouncing around the foyer waiting for Periwinkle’s arrival when she comes tumbling out of the teleportation tunnel. Before she can say a word, Stinky grabs her paw and leads her back into the tunnel for a quick trip to downtown Roanoke. When they arrive, Periwinkle is breathless from the quick turn-around. She is finally able to ask Stinky, “Where are we?”
The Virginia Museum of Transportation
“This is The Virginia Museum of Transportation, and we are going to visit the Queen of Steam,” Stinky replies.
Periwinkle gives him a quizzical look, to which Stinky does not respond. He just takes her paw and leads her through the building to the railroad tracks behind. That is when Periwinkle sees what he is referring to, and her mouth falls open in awe. ”Holy cow, Stinky, I think that is the biggest thing I have ever seen.”
The Queen of Steam
“That is the Norfolk & Western (N&W) Class J 611 Steam Locomotive, which was built here in the N&Ws East End Shops 73 years ago. It originally carried passenger cars between Norfolk, Virginia, and Cincinnati, Ohio, and also ferried the Southern Railway’s (SOU) passenger trains between Lynchburg, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee. The 611 has been in Pennsylvania for the past four years. It arrived back in Roanoke just 10 days ago,” Stinky explains.
A Tour & a Few Facts
As they walk toward the locomotive, Stinky tells Periwinkle that of the 14 J Class locomotives built between 1940 and 1950, the 611 is the only one still in existence. It was first retired from service in 1959. All the others were taken out of service in 1958 and 1959, as the railroad began to experiment with diesel-fueled locomotives. Upon retirement, the 611 was donated to the Museum.
In 1982, J611 was restored to operation by the Norfolk Southern Railway (NS), N&W’s successor. It became the main line star of the NS steam program. It pulled excursion trains throughout the eastern United States.
“Wow, Stinky, these wheels are huge. How much do you think the locomotive weighs? It must be a lot if it needs such huge wheels.”
“Just the locomotive weighs 494,000 pounds which is equivalent to 224.1 tons,” Stinky tells Periwinkle.
“That number is so big, I find it incomprehensible,” replies Periwinkle
“Come on, Periwinkle, let’s check out the front.”
“Stinky, do you really think it is okay for us to climb up here?”
“These are actually steps behind us, and I don’t see any signs telling us we can’t,” Stinky tells Periwinkle. He also tells here that the streamlined appearance was designed by N&W Tool Supervisor, Franklin C. Noel.
The tabbies hop down after a few minutes to check out the inside of the locomotive.
Periwinkle starts to get nervous when she sees Stinky eyeing the controls. “Don’t you dare touch those. You do not know how to drive a train, and I am certain that would get us in trouble,” Periwinkle admonishes Stinky. She then asks him how fast the locomotive can go? Stinky tells her that the maximum speed is 80 to 110 miles per hour.
Restoration & Excursions
Stinky explains that the 611 was retired again in late 1994, when NS ended its steam program. But, in early 2013, the Museum helped raise $3.5 million from 3,000 donors to once again restore J611 to operating condition. After a year of restoration work at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina, the locomotive returned to excursion service in mid-2015.
In 2017, the Virginia General Assembly designated the 611, also known as the Spirit of Virginia, as the official state steam locomotive. In 2019 and 2021-2023, No. 611 visited the Strasburg Rail Road (SRC) in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, running short tourist excursion trains in the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside.
“I don’t know if the 611 is now back in Roanoke permanently, but the plan is to begin offering excursions again later this summer. If that happens, I know my parents would want to take one,” Stinky tells Periwinkle.
“Oh, so would I,” replies Periwinkle.
“Okay, I promise to watch for news of any scheduled trips,” Stinky tells her.
Other Railway Cars at the Museum
“Stinky, can we check out a few of these other train cars?” asks Periwinkle.
“Sure, where do you want to start?”
Periwinkle points to a green passenger car.
“Periwinkle, did you know that politicians used to take trains when they were campaigning. These trips were called ‘whistle stop tours.’ The politician would make a series of quick appearances or speeches at small town railway stations over a short period of time. They would stand on the platform above us and give their campaign speech.”
“That is super interesting, Stinky. Let’s go check out that caboose next,” suggests Periwinkle.
“Stinky, why don’t most trains have cabooses anymore?”
“There are a few reasons. Trains became really long and the conductor could no longer see the entire train from the caboose. Also, ends of freight trains now are monitored by remote radio equipment called ‘End of Train’ devices, or EOTs. The small boxes fit over the rear coupler and are coupled into the train’s air brake line.”
“That sounds very technical, but I think I understand,” replies Periwinkle.
A Final Memory Photo
“Periwinkle, I am not exactly sure what this sign means, but I think it would be a fun place for a memory photo.”
“That sounds cool. Let’s do it.”
After their photo, the tabbies hop down and head to the teleportation tunnel for the return trip to Stinky’s house.
At Stinky’s House
When Periwinkle and Stinky arrive at his house, they tell his parents and fursibs all about their adventure. Then, Stinky’s mom fixes them a snack, which they enjoy on the front porch. Finally it is time for Periwinkle. to return home. The tabbies share lots of whisker kisses and paw hugs before Periwinkle enters the teleportation tunnel. Finally, with one last wave, she enters and is gone in a whoosh.
Stinky heads to the catio for a nap and dreams of Periwinkle.
Stinky and Periwinkle are joining the Happy Tuesday blog hop at Comedy Plus.