Two other railroads, including the Erie and P&WV, were already operating similar designs although the N&W's first two models, #1200 and #1201 were much more powerful. The Norfolk & Western was quite impressed with the 2-6-6-4s its Roanoke shops constructed, which featured a boiler pressure of 315 pounds-per-square-inch and a tractive effort nearing 126,000 pounds! Comparable six-axle (referring to driving axles), articulated steam locomotives such as Union Pacific's 4-6-6-4 Challengers could not even produce a tractive effort of 100,000 pounds. The locomotives also featured the latest in steam technology such as roller bearings on rods and axles. Following the N&W's original two 2-6-6-4s it had its shops construct eight more in the late 1930s. By the time the railroad was finished with Roanoke building these locomotives, with the final order of eight arriving around 1950, it owned some 43 2-6-6-4s.
Norfolk & Western's Class A 2-6-6-4s
The Norfolk and Western 1218 was part of twenty-five built during World War II and all of the Class A models featured comparable boiler pressures, driver sizes, and tractive efforts. For more information about N&W's Class As please refer to the chart below. Ironically, Norfolk and Western 1218 probably would not have been saved had it not been for the locomotive being purchased by Union Carbide for use as a static boiler in one of its plants in 1960. However, five years later it arrived a better fate when it was purchased by Nelson Blount for part of his steam collection at his new railroad museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania known as Steamtown. Here it remained for several years before being pulled, cold back to Roanoke for use in a temporary exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
As the story goes, the museum came to believe it had rightful ownership of Norfolk and Western 1218. In 1985 Norfolk Southern entered the fray when it wanted to overhaul the locomtoive for use in excursion service as part of its steam program. As such the railroad essentially refused to return the locomotive to Steamtown even though the organization held title to it. With no way to get back it back, Steamtown settled on a trade, receiving Nickel Plate Road GP9 #514 and Wabash SW8 #132. Despite N&W #1218 returning under its own power in 1987 its excursion service with sister #611 lasted just four years. It went in for an overhaul in 1992 and before the work could be completed Norfolk Southern management cancelled the steam program in late 1994.
Interestingly, Norfolk Southern again decided to restart its steam program in the summer of 2010 using locomotives from the Tennessee Valley Railroad (two Southern steamers, a 2-8-2 and 2-8-0, and a former Army 2-8-0). In any event, with this renewed program and #611 being in such excellent condition one cannot help but wonder if it will also be part of the program at some point in the future. The hope of returning #1218 under steam, however, is a far more daunting task. Despite its excellent physical condition the locomotive is missing many parts from the partial rebuild. While not impossible such a restoration could happen its chances are slim for this reason.
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Norfolk & Western
Class A 2-6-6-4 #1218