Two questions for the N&W Pros

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Thu Sep 3 19:57:24 EDT 2015

I have been geezerring thru my enormous vault of priceless, ah ... stuff. Amongst a fresh cache I explored this weekend was a box of RR books, some unread, still in the author’s original Saran Wrap. About 90% of the books will be sold, some after a careful review.

[Side note here: First, is it OK to sell my half dozen or so N&W books on this list? If N&W books are OK, is it OK to include my entire list (maybe 20 or so) of RR books for sale?] 

Back to my real purpose ... 

One such book I’ve been thumbing thru which holds particular interest for me is Tom Dixon’s Powhatan Arrow, which so far is the only book in my “undecided, sell it or not?” category. While I am more familiar with much of the N&W territory, have thoroughly enjoyed the steam excursions, love to chase the Poky, and live in an area with more N&W fans, I remain hooked on my birthright B&O, of which a few of those books also are headed out. 

However, “to sell” or “not to sell” is not why I’m writing this note. I have two N&W questions that the Powhatan Arrow book has brought to light and not answered (tho I acknowledge I have not read every page … yet).

Here goes … 

Numero Uno – I always love the photos of the passenger trains loading and unloading at the Roanoke station. Considering the typical load of front end cargo, these stops could not have been fast. Also, while many photos show two trains in the station at once (possibly scheduled that way), I am sure there had to be times that one train ran late and blocked the station as long as its meet-partner already had. 

Pages 80 & 81 show a terrific example photo with two passenger trains in the Roanoke station … virtually totally blocking the N&W from any other mainline movements until those passenger trains had moved on. Yes, I guessed at ways a long coal train could have slithered thru, but I doubt N&W did that with so many people – passengers and workers – milling around. Of course, maybe it did?

My hands-on experiences for passenger operations at Roanoke are limited to excursion trains of the 80s and 90s, so, I have no “being there” experience with N&W’s real varnish perusing the station.

Taking 1950 as an example, the N&W ran three featured daily passenger trains and other varnish (most or all times a matched pair) thru Roanoke, which must have blocked the station for a cumulative several hours each day. I am curious how in the heck did the railroad find time to run its daily gaggle of coal, other freight, and executive trains? Was there another route thru town (south side?) with which I am not well familiar or were the money-making freight trains simply more patient than I would guess?

Numero Dos – The answer to this question strikes me as simple, but then I simply am not sure. It has to do with the J locos pulling passenger trains. Here goes:

Did a single J locomotive from Norfolk run all the way to Cincinnati or was it changed out at Roanoke, or elsewhere? Was the engine serviced en route or was it simply replaced by a freshly serviced J? Were all of the J’s route legs of a length that all of the change outs or servicings were accomplished in Roanoke, Bluefield or Williamson? I assume there were legs where the J’s needed to stop for water, but not coal? 

There were station-track water stands in a Bluefield photo, as I recall, that – by pumping the water while passengers boarded – might have alleviated the need for an engine change or full servicing. So, when and where did N&W change lead passenger locos or simply service them and keep them running?

Perhaps not succinct, but those are my two questions.

Incidentally, pointers to great N&W references (books, historic societies, etc.) would be nice for some, but not everyone will have easy, quick access to those sources or want to dig down in serious research (a nasty trait of other lists). I am hoping for another great discussion on here that begins with something relatively simple and soon becomes an authoritative recap of the subject … and, of course, lots more.

Thanks for all the great info over the years … Bob

Bob Loehne
7028 Tallent Court
Sherrill's Ford, NC 28673
oezbob at 

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