Norfolk And Western Railway's Magnificent Mallets, By William Warden

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Norfolk And Western Railway's Magnificent Mallets is written by William Warden and released by TLC Publishing of Virginia in the early 1990s. Although the book is not a particularly large book it offers an incredible amount of information and background on the company's large, articulated 2-8-8-2 Class Y steam locomotives found in daily use to pull heavy coal drags and other trains over and through the Appalachian Mountains in western Virginia and southern West Virginia. Throughout the book the author highlights the various details of this locomotive class from its specifications to construction. The N&W was a master builder of steam locomotives and knew precisely how to obtain the most horsepower and tractive effort from each through its Roanoke shop forces located in Virginia. Overall, if you enjoy the history of the N&W and its steam locomotives this is a good piece to have in your collection.

In general, to understand the Norfolk & Western is to realize that it was a breed apart from most large, Class I systems of its day. The N&W was not convinced of the superiority of diesels and continued to design and develop its steam fleet well into the 1950s. No other railroad built such efficient and powerful steamers as the N&W so in many ways it really did have a strong argument against switching to diesels. Not only were these locomotives superbly engineered but their facilities were just as well engineered. For instance, the major yard at Williamson, West Virginia could refuel, clean, and perform light maintenance on the large steamers so fast that they usually were ready to continue their journey eastward or westward in just an hour! In any event, Mr. Warden begins his book with an introduction giving the reader a brief history of what the N&W referred to as its workhorse locomotive.

While many railroads utilized wheel arrangements like the 2-8-2 Mikado and 4-6-2 Pacific as their standard power during the steam era the N&W was quite different rostering large motive power like the 2-8-8-2 (Class Y), 2-6-6-2 (Class Z), and 2-6-6-4 (Class A). You will also learn in this section why the railroad decided to fleet Mallets and where they could typically be found in regular use. From an operations standpoint, the author notes that after the N&W relocated its main line in West Virginia that discontinued the remainder of its electrics in 1950 the Y Class 2-8-8-2s were used throughout the Appalachians. The rest of the introduction looks at other various aspects of the 2-8-8-2s and some of their more notable specifications.

In the proceeding section Norfolk And Western Railway's Magnificent Malletshighlights the development of the Y Class steam locomotives (of note, the book does not really have chapters just different sections covering the topics mentioned). Much of the detailed information regarding the creation of the 2-8-8-2 I will not include here. The locomotive's earliest predecessor was the N&W first Mallets it received in 1910, the X-1 Class 0-8-8-0s. Up until this time the railroad typically used standard steam power of the day such as 2-8-0 Consolidations and 4-6-0 Ten Wheelers. Thanks to successful test of the early Mallets and the railroad's own studies it felt the 2-8-8-2 wheel arrangement would be quite proficient by reducing the number of units needed to move heavy trains over the mountainous grades. Eight years after the first 0-8-8-0s saw service, the Roanoke shops unveiled its first 2-8-8-2 Class Y in March, 1918.

The rest of the section goes into further detail about the development, design, and construction of Class Ys. One particularly interesting note about the 2-8-8-2s; early examples of the wheel arrangement look far different from the last units built in the late 1940s and were much more powerful (the latter models often receive the most attention). Page ten and eleven offer specifications of all Y Class 2-8-8-2s the Norfolk & Western owned. In total there were eleven different classes or subclasses included the Y-1, Y-2, Y-2a, Y-3, Y-3a, Y-4, Y-5, Y-6, Y-6a, and Y-6b. In this informationNorfolk And Western Railway's Magnificent Mallets describes details such as cylinder size, driver diameters, boiler pressure, weight on drivers/total weight, tractive effort, date built, manufacturer, and tender size/weight.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect here is simply the manufacturer. Except for the Class Y-3, Y-3a, and Y-4 all of the 2-8-8-2s were home built in Roanoke with those locomotives mentioned, constructed by the American Locomotive Company (Alco) between 1919 and 1927. Also, you might be surprised of the shear number of 2-8-8-2s the N&W owned. Many lines that operated large, articulated steam locomotives only fleeted perhaps a few dozen (sometimes a bit more) of these behemoths. As the standard power for the railroad, the N&W in contrast owned 227 2-8-8-2s alone, not counting its other articulateds such as the 2-6-6-4s and 2-6-6-2s. Beginning on page thirteen you can read about where some of the Ys found uses or test on other lines such as the Santa Fe, Rio Grande, Union Pacific, Virginian and Pennsylvania.

The last major reading section of the Norfolk And Western Railway's Magnificent Mallets focuses squarely on the most efficient and technologically advanced 2-8-8-2, the Class Y-6. Here, Mr. Warden offers several pages of history and background on the locomotive as well as wonderful photography. And in regards to pictures, the book is filled with fabulous images of Ys, especially during the second half which is really nothing more than images and captions (with a small section of color photos as well). Again, if you enjoy the N&W and its steam fleet you will like Mr. Warden's book on the history of 2-8-8-2s.