Purely on looks the Northern Type, in general, was one of the most beautiful steam
locomotive designs ever developed. While some of these handsome
locomotives would receive streamlining even without such enhancements
they were still a fine looking piece of machinery with a “streamlined”
tender and centered headlight. This steam locomotive gained its name from the Northern Pacific
due to the fact that to burn the low-grade coal found along the
railroad the steamer needed a larger firebox. However, it received many
other names as well from “Greenbriers” on the C&O to
“Westerns” on the Denver & Rio Grande Western. One particular feature that made the 4-8-4 wheel arrangement so
successful was its versatility where it was just as capable of pulling a
time-sensitive passenger train clipping along at 70+ mph as it was at lugging a heavy freight train
over stiff grades.
This versatility, along with the locomotive being
equipped with some of the latest technology, made the Northern Type one
of the most successful designs of all time with over 1,000 built for 36
different railroads. Perhaps the most well known Northerns to ever
operate including the Norfolk & Western’s handsome J Class, Southern
Pacific’s Golden States, and New York Central’s Niagaras just to name a
few (there were many others).
The Chesapeake & Ohio's use for the 4-8-4 was in passenger service,
where it intended to use the locomotive pulling high priority trains
like its flagship the George Washington. In 1935 the railroad
took delivery of its first five, numbered 600-604, which were built by
the Lima Locomotive Works and classed J3. The C&O's Greenbriers (named after the resort
in which the railroad owned in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia)
were as good as advertised. Weighing in at 477,000 pounds they could
produce over 68,000 pounds of tractive effort and had little trouble
hauling passenger trains at speed over the C&O's stiff grades
through West Virginia and western Virginia.
C&O 614 was the final Greenbrier built and
delivered by Lima in 1948, giving the railroad a total of 12 such units.
Unfortunately for C&O 614 and her other four J3a siblings (the
final batch numbered 610-614) they saw just 5 years of service life
before being retired in 1952. Luckily, #614 was saved from the scrappers torch
(unlike her 11 other sisters), and eventually went to the B&O
Railroad Museum in Baltimore to be placed on static display in 1975. It
remained there for only four years when Ross Rowland approached the
museum about trading his damaged Reading 4-8-4 #2101 (Class T-1) for the 614, which they agreed to do.
The C&O's Fleet Of "Greenbriers"
After the locomotive's swift restoration she operated for two years as part of the Chessie System's Chessie Safety Express
in 1980 and 1981. However, her most famous jaunt was ACE 3000 test
project in 1985, funded by American Coal Enterprise which was attempting
to develop a highly efficient new steam locomotive to combat rising oil
prices at the time. The test took place between between Huntington and
Hinton, West Virginia in the winter of 1985 and while successful (save
for issues with her firebox and booster that occurred), the new
locomotive project never developed further than the planning stages. During the 1990s #614 completed a series of
successful excursion trips, notably in New Jersey and New York.
Rowland has attempted to continue operating C&O 614 as much as
possible but with CSX holding a very stubborn outlook of steam
locomotives ever operating on its property and Norfolk Southern just
recently announcing it would resume a limited steam program, the
locomotive has mostly sat dormant for the last decade. She continues to
be maintained, operational, by Rowland and his
Iron Horse Enterprises with hopes that one day she will again find a use
either in excursion service or perhaps pulling a new train like the Greenbrier Express, which is to serve the Greenbrier Resort. Unfortunately, until CSX, in particular, changes its stance towards steam
locomotives on its property C&O 614's services will be limited.
Currently, you can see her at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in
Roanoke as part of their Thoroughbreds of Steam exhibit.
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Chesapeake & Ohio #614