Bachmann Sound Value N&W Class J 4-8-4

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The Norfolk & Western Ry. Class J 4-8-4 was the last new steam locomotive built for passenger service in the United States. And the third-to-last passenger steam locomotive, no. 611, is still running, wowing steam fans old and young in excursion service.

Bachmann’s model of the 611 has been around for a while too, but like its prototype that was restored to steam in 2015, it’s back with a new SoundTraxx Sound Value dual-mode sound decoder.

The prototype. Norfolk & Western was well known for its loyalty to steam power long after other roads had converted to diesels. When the N&W needed new passenger power after World War II, it turned to its Roanoke Shops for three more Class J 4-8-4 locomotives.

The first Js were built in 1941, numbered 600 to 604. A second group, nos. 605 to 610, was built during the war but left unstreamlined, as they were designated as freight locomotives. They received streamlining after the war. The final three, 611 to 613, were built in 1950.

All of the locomotives were equipped with Baker valve gear, and the second two batches had alligator crossheads instead of the multiple-bearing crossheads of the first five locomotives.

Norfolk & Western specified 70-inch drivers for its passenger locomotives, somewhat smaller than typical. But the N&W had a curving, hilly main line, so it needed a locomotive that could start a heavy passenger train on a grade, a curve, or both, and do so quickly. The smaller drivers worked well for N&W’s situation.

The Js soldiered on until the end of 1958, spending their last months pulling secondary passenger trains or freights. Graham Claytor, the president of the Appalachian Coal Co. and a friend of N&W President Stuart Saunders, convinced Saunders to donate the locomotive to a new railroad museum in Roanoke.

Claytor’s son Bob, who worked for N&W, eventually became CEO of N&W successor Norfolk Southern, and arranged the restoration of no. 611 to steam in 1982. The locomotive was an excursion star for 12 years, then went back into storage. In 2015, no. 611 was again making steam, and is now pulling excursion trains across the East.

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