Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bethlehem to Roanoke

As I mentioned yesterday, things have been pretty busy these past few weeks. Good News: lots of blog fodder; Bad News: no time to do blog posts. There's usually an inverse proportion of writing to topics to write about, and this blog is no exception. While these "trip" posts will be mostly for my own interest and a way of memorializing the railroad parts of my trip, you too may find some interesting things along the way. So, without further ado, let's head Way Down South....

Our first stop was Bethlehem, PA. I'd never been there before and had always just seen photos. Trust me - the photos don't do it justice. The steel-making industry was MASSIVE - even in its diminished and abandoned state. Very impressive infrastructure and a testament to our country's (one-time) industrial might.

We next stopped in Winchester, VA. I'd first heard of this town in conjunction with an old Railfan & Railroad article on the Winchester & Western (once famous for its roster of Alco RS-11s). I didn't have time to explore, and saw no trains here, but was able at least to find the station.

Finally, after HOURS AND HOURS of driving (who knew Virginia was SO large?!), we finally arrived at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. I was there for the trains (of course), but as a true transportation museum, all modes of transportation were included: Planes and automobiles, as well as trains (and even some space travel).

They even had a VERY large O-scale operating layout - this is just a portion of it, shot from the mezzanine.

And HERE is the main attraction - for me, anyway. Three Roanoke-built super steamers - Class A #1218, Class J #611, Class Y #2156. These things are MASSIVE - certainly not what I'm used to seeing in person given my experience on the Valley RR.

The 611 had been doing mainline excursions over the summer, but its fires had recently been dropped for the season. Thankfully, they were allowing folks up into the cab - where I got this shot of the engineer's side.

And here's the fireman's side - very different than what I'm used to. Those valves at the lower right, in the V formation, control the stoker and associated jets.

But the VMT isn't just about steam - there were some interesting diesel locos on display as well . . .

But of course steam was the obvious attraction, for me anyway.
New Haven "brick" painted for the Virginian Rwy (ok, this unit was originally VGN, but whatever).

As we were heading out, we saw this beast - Norfolk & Western 4-8-0 #1151, famous not only for its rare wheel arrangement, but for its use on the N&W's Abingdon Branch, made famous through the photography of O. Winston Link. I heard that this locomotive, retired for scrap in the summer of 1950, sat in that scrap line until rescued in the summer of 2009. An amazing survivor!

After seeing the 1151 and driving through town to get back to the highway, we looked to the right as we were going over the overpass and saw the Roanoke engine facility. That's the turntable and many large engines being worked on.

Panning just a bit to the left, you see the famous Roanoke Shops, still very active.
Before leaving town, I wanted to be sure to see the railroad station, but couldn't figure out where it was. The Missus, in her inimitable way, worked the Google on the internet machine and discovered that the station was - literally - just across the street. . .

Not quite what I was expecting, but I later learned that the more "typical" Virginia-type station of red brick and white columns was replaced in the late 1940s using a design by none other than Raymond Loewy, who was also responsible not only for designing the famous Pennsy RR GG-1, but a few New Haven engines as well (H-16-44 and DL-109, to mention a couple).

Alas, the station had just closed and we then discovered that there was a museum here too(!) Actually, two museums: O. Winston Link and Raymond Loewy both have extensive collections here.
With it getting quite late and still needing to travel to Davidson, NC, we got out of town, grabbed a quick bite, and continued our journey promising ourselves an-even-more-thorough visit on the way back.

Clearly, if you're a railroad buff and you have a chance to visit Roanoke, VA by all means do! I haven't even gotten into how many Norfolk Southern freight trains went by in the few hours I was there. So it has something for the modern-day railfan as well as the historian. Well worth the trip!


  1. Thanks forr this spotlight on Roanoke. Gotta get there sometime myself. George

    1. Glad you enjoyed the little "field trip" - yes, it's definitely worth a visit. Hope you're enjoying the blog - and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!