Spencer's 611 Trips

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Tue Apr 12 03:24:15 EDT 2016

Lynchburg, Spencer, Asheville… What a day for trainride!

I was fortunate to be able to ride both of Spencer's 611 excursions this past weekend ... as a volunteer working stiff … Car Host. The trips were nothing short of absolutely terrific ... so sez this guy who loves just about any kind of a train ride.

While not necessarily bad, both trips ran a good two hours longer than scheduled. A few of those inconveniences were caused by (or so the "passed along" info went) ... 

1 – a one-time failure of locomotive radios (no radio, no moving train!),

2 – failure of many, many toilet room moving parts (had to stop the train to reset exterior buttons?),

3 – lots of competitive rail traffic, especially on the Lynchburg route (we were up against both southbound container trains in Greensboro, and we saw a variety of coal trains, one of which made us wait while he ran to a power plant,

4 – at least one faulty trackside temperature sensor (so, we had to stop and check to see if the boiler was too hot ... hummmmm), 

5 – The seats on coaches number 43 and 44 plus 2 other coaches were the most uncomfortable seats I've ever encountered on a train… Absolutely horrific! Each and every passenger I talked to about it was in absolute agreement. My recommendation is that you be sure to take a butt pillow with you if you're going to ride in one of those lowest-class coaches. Oh yeah, lousy or not, our seats in no way delayed the trains.

Among the highlights, where the incredible number of train chasers and creative photographic shot selectors.

I was worried last year on the 611's first run by what I thought were far fewer chasers than I had expected. This weekend's non-stop battalion of chasers were way more than I expected … just incredible. 

Many folks on the trains were amazed to see anybody at all chasing the trains, photographing it everyplace they could and then seeing many of the same chasers at another spot just five or 10 miles down the road. As a railfan I was glad to see such a grand return of the vim & vigor of the chases of the 1980s and 90s.

Many communities along the route showed up in semi-organized groups. Of the many churches along the rails, perhaps half of them were out in force cheering the train along its way. All along the way we marveled that these people somehow knew the train was coming and, as late as the train was running, these crowds stayed in place and went crazy when we came by.

There were four Asheville route train chaser aspects of special merit that I want to salute.

First, as we departed the Catawba area westbound, we began to see a most enthusiastic and energetic group carrying signs of one sort or another promoting the Hickory Train Show this Saturday (9 a.m. at the Hickory Convention Center facing interstate-40 ... one of North Carolina's very few, really good Train Shows). The signs were great, there was one vehicle with show advertising all over it, and then these wild and crazy promoters continually leapfrogged each other such that we probably saw each sign a half-a-dozen times in each direction of the round-trip. Three cheers for these guys! This is one of the ways that all train shows should be promoted. Great job!  

Secondly, I am always amazed at the new and original sites railfans often create for themselves when posting up for shots on the Southern Loops between old Fort and the top of Blue Ridge Mountain. The train's slow drag to the top of the mountain (and later just as slow back down) easily showed off hundreds of railfans all over the place. While many shooters aggressively leapfroged each other for multiple shots up and down the mountain, many photographers and videographers found incredible spots to get that ONE shot for either the up or down leg. Three cheers for these guys … I can't wait to see the finished products.

Thirdly, I envy locomotive engineers for many reasons, but especially for those persons who get to run trains up-and-down the Southern Loops. WOW! The curves are tight, the grades are steep, the seven jagged-rock tunnels are each a little bit daunting, and Sunday's train was 25 cars long! Including the heavy iron upfront, the actual train was about 2,400 feet long which is almost a half-a-mile of fabulous American passenger train. The pace was slow both up-and-down the Loops, for many the feeling was chilling and/or exciting, and the steep, rugged scenery was fabulously nonstop.

Fourth, I could not complete this without saluting the 611. Sure, she had the help (if called upon) of Spencer's next-to-ancient EMD FP-7 and Norfolk Southern's Heritage GE loco -- and I have no idea just how often either of those two great green Southern Railway locomotives were called upon for extra horsepower -- but there's no question that the 611 provided the lion's share of the punch that took her over the top of Blue Ridge Mountain two times in one day. 

With the sealed windows I can't say I heard her whistle very often and being 22 cars back I didn't get to see her in the curves very often (and then more than a quarter mile away), but it was great riding behind the Queen of Norfork & Western's fabulous locomotive fleet.

One trip drawback that definitely needs to be handled by next weekend is that the passengers on the Lynchburg train never got an opportunity to take reasonably close up, daylight shots of the 611. At Lynchburg the train was well longer than the passenger boarding platforms, such that when the train unloaded passengers, the 611 was way up the line with lots of mud and green water on each side of the rails ... virtually unaccessible. Being so far back I can't say for sure, but I don't believe any of the passengers were within 200 feet of the 611 and the engine was facing away from them. And sure, when the train backed out of the station to turn around it would've been easy for the passengers to take their pictures with J going backward … How cool! Besides, by then, most of the passengers were on the buses for downtown Lynchburg. After the train was turned around and backed into the station, the 611 was in roughly an equal but opposite position with virtually no access available for the passengers to get up there and take pictures of the Fantastic J. Oh yes, there were plenty of opportunities for 611 photos on the grounds at Spencer, but unfortunately the lights were out both before departure and after arrival … No Sun for the train at the Spencer on Saturday.

There was lots more great stuff, but that's it for now.  

The best … Bob

Bob Loehne
7028 Tallent Court
Sherrills Ford, NC 28673
oezbob at aol.com
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