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Photograph: J.A. Craft


The most powerful working steam locomotive in the world today, the Norfolk & Western 'A' Class 2-6-6-4 Mallet articulated No. 1218, returned to service in 1987.

Highlights include a cab ride on this giant of steam, a dramatic side-by-side runpast with the Class 'J' passenger 4-8-4 No. 611, and two double-headed trips, all set in the fine Appalachian scenery of southern Virginia.

Rusting N. & W. locos smothered in Virginia creeper in a Roanoke scrapyard symbolise the end of main line steam in the fifties. A brief glimpse of preserved short lines in 1970 takes us to the real thing, the atmosphere of steam superpower on shed during 1218's first visit to its home town of Roanoke, attended by veteran photographer 0. Winston Link, whose photos made the old N. & W. famous. 1218 is seen on its proving run after overhaul, passing through North Carolina up the Southern main line to join the N. & W. tracks in the Blue Ridge

First Public Excursions, April 25/26, 1987
Torrential rain and mudslides threatened the first trip but it ran as scheduled & 1218 is seen climbing the East River Valley on its way to Bluefield. Spring sunshine the next day showed her off perfectly as she stormed up the Blue Ridge grade with a 21-coach train, returning later to climb the Christiansburg Mountain through Montgomery Tunnel.

Articulation of the Mallet
The unique sideways displacement of the front unit is seen at Bluefield while 1218 is turned on the 'wye'. The front wheels appear to part company with the engine as the boiler hangs over to one side of the tight curve, showing the versatility of this remarkable locomotive.

Double Headed & Side-By-Side: The N.R.H.S 1987 Convention, July 29 - Aug 2
One of the finest railfan events ever staged; first a trip with 1218 along the New River & East River to Bluefield, returning with the 'J' Class 4-8-4 on the former Virginian Railway. After a brilliantly lit night-time pose with both locos on shed, August 1st saw a magnificently orchestrated double runpast, with the A' on freight and the 'J' on passenger, running on parallel tracks. Our cameras rode behind the 'J' as the two N. & W. stablemates steamed side by side up the Christiansburg grade, providing a unique opportunity for pacing shots. The two locos then ran double-headed Radford to Roanoke, and again next day up the Blue Ridge.

Through the Appalachians to West Virginia

With fifty empty coal hoppers and fifteen passenger coaches, a total load of over three thousand tons; en route to Ohio for further excursion service, the 'A' marched up the East River grade, as steep as 1.6% in places, as if its train was hardly there, as fine a tribute as any to one of the USA's most successful locomotive designs.

Duration: 52 minutes