Thursday, September 27, 2007

They're back!

It took all day, but #611 and #1218 came back to the museum yesterday. After what seemed an eternity waiting for freight trains to go by, we finally saw this coming down the main line.

#1218 rolled through our gates first, shortly before lunch time. We would not see #611 until just before 7:00 pm, but it was worth the wait to see these engines come home. Once again, we offer our thanks to Norfolk Southern for their help, and for their understanding about our sense of urgency. We also want to thank Phil McFarland and Connor Doornbos, two VMT volunteers who stayed all day to help us get this done.

We've got plenty more video that we'll put up. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


They're coming back!

Norfolk Southern has a crew scheduled to begin operations around 7:00 am down at the Roanoke Shops. We're approximating a return of #1218 around 10:00 am. They'll be re-arranging some of our rolling stock to make room for #611 after that, so expect the J to return some time after lunch.

NS is giving us about a 99% likelihood that this will take place, however there is still a chance that there may be a delay. Once again, please call ahead to make sure we're rolling (pun absolutely intended).

NS Update

On Saturday, a rail car carrying a load of calcium chloride overturned underneath the Fifth Street bridge, just outside the museum's gates. Clean-up operations have been on-going since that time. This has meant that work on the track leading into our property -- the reason #611 and #1218 have not returned yet -- has not been completed.

Today, we received word that our two engines MIGHT be returned tomorrow. No time has yet been set for that event. Neither have we heard whether Norfolk Southern will help us re-arrange our rolling stock or not

And so, once again, if you're planning to come to the museum tomorrow, either to see our the engines or to see them moving around, please call ahead to make sure it's happening.

For your patience, here's a photo of #1218 at the shops at night. This photo was taken by Wayne McKinney, a Norfolk Southern employee. Enjoy.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Romance of Disaster

There's an intriguing double standard that exists in the realm of the rail fan. To illustrate the point, ask yourself the following question: Would you purchase an item with a picture of a traffic accident on it? What about an airplane crash? A sunken boat? While we remain fascinated by these things (as evidenced by the slow-down of traffic passing an accident on the highway), we would feel uneasy about owning a reminder of these tragedies and disasters.

So why is it different with train wrecks?

In our gift shop, we sold a mug with a picture of a wrecked train bearing the words, "I'm a wreck without my coffee." Commercialization is one thing, but this blurs the line between tacky and tasteless. And yet, for some reason, it's ok. It was one of the gift shop's best sellers. A mug with an airliner crash or a car wrapped around a telephone couldn't possibly do as well. Right?

Is the sentimentality of John the Rail Fan so powerful that he doesn't perceive this? Is he so enamored with a niche of history that even its most somber tragedies can't escape reproduction?

Maybe it's easier to remove or ignore the human element. Fatalities aren't so in-your-face when a 600,000 pound locomotive folds in on itself, spilling a mile-long swath of cargo and equipment. Maybe the carnage to injury ratio is low enough to make things palatable. Sure the wreck covered more than a mile, took out a bridge, and will require weeks to clean up, but there were only seven people killed. Only seven people killed. Please don't let that be the thing.

There is a romance attached to this way of life. It speaks of a time gone by. The quaint, simpler, slower days when the day's activity died as the sun set were the era of the locomotive. Trucks and planes rule the industry now, but there are beasts of steel that still traverse the hills, the second, third, and fourth generations of iron horses, each calling up the past with whistles and rumbles. The good comes with the bad. Those trains would jump the tracks. People would die. The railroads took enormous safety measures because of the dangers involved, and they took responsibility when even a single man was injured.

Is this what we want to remember? Between the Scylla of overwrought memorials and the Charybdis of unhealthy obsession lies the path of tasteful remembrance.

If we learned from those experiences, we're better for them, but if they become entertainment, what are we?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

All quiet

Still no word yet from Norfolk Southern on the return of our engines. We've seen some NS folks near the track outside our gates, so we're happily assuming that they're working on the tracks.

It seems that the rail ties underneath the switch leading into our property (but still just barely on their side of the property line) have eroded and rotted to the point that the switch no longer functions, being stuck in a position that doesn't permit any of the equipment to pass safely. Until that's repaired, we're similarly stuck. We'll post more updates as we have them.

In the meantime, our volunteer Yardmaster has started his own, unofficial blog. You can check it out here. There are some great photos there you won't find anywhere else as he has access to items that the public doesn't usually have. Enjoy!


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

611 & 1218 Update

As of today, #611 and #1218 are still down at Roanoke's East End Shops. However, Norfolk Southern will be attempting to move them back this week. As soon as we get a date and time for that event, we'll post it here.

Our thanks go to those of you who wrote to us offering your support. It's been a rough couple of weeks, but we're near the end of it now. Our thanks also go to Norfolk Southern for understanding about our plight and working to get the engines back to us as soon as possible. The track has not been totally repaired yet, but they think they've got a way around it. Regardless, we're optimistic that we'll have them back soon, and that is to Norfolk Southern's credit.

Here's a photo of #611 sitting just yards from where it was built. More photos coming soon. This photo was taken by VMT's own Phil McFarland.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

We're down. Go ahead, start kicking.

#1218 and #611 left the museum last week to go to Norfolk Southern's 125th anniversary shindig. (Look for a post later this week with some exclusive pictures from that event.) They were supposed to come back to us this week. However, Norfolk Southern is now claiming that there are some problems with the track leading into our rail yard and that they won't move the engines over that track until it is repaired. While the track in question is on their property and while they will take care of it, their time line for returning our bread and butter to us is somewhere around two or three WEEKS.

Our admission rates are reduced whenever those engines leave the premises, and with them gone for three weeks, the impact on our finances is significant. We lent those engines to Norfolk Southern for nothing. It was a goodwill gesture. We asked nothing for them, and took the hit to our admissions income for a week without complaint in the spirit of cooperation and gratitude. Now we're being asked to take that hit for two or three more weeks. This is unacceptable to us, but that isn't the purpose of this post.

This isn't supposed to be a rant about this situation, despite the tone of these first two paragraphs. This post is an apology to our patrons for what remains a terrible inconvenience. We are not so naive to think that people come to this museum to see anything other than those two steamers. So, if you're planning a trip to the museum this month, please call ahead to see if our glory girls are back.

For those of you who came to see them and were disappointed, please accept our apology. We posted the information on our website and on our front door, but the short notice most likely left a lot of people ill-informed about it until it was too late. We won't make excuses about that; that's not our style. We simply offer our understanding and humility.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The farmer and his sons

There is an old story about a farmer and his sons. On his death bed, he called his sons to him and told them that there was a great fortune buried beneath his fields. After his death, the sons took up their shovels and spades and dug over the farmer's fields looking for the buried fortune. They found nothing. They did not understand what their father had told them until the fields rewarded the sons' labor with an abundant crop later that year.

This week, the prizes of our collection -- N&W's #611 and #1218 -- are down at Norfolk Southern's East End Shops for the 125th anniversary celebration of Norfolk Southern/Norfolk & Western. Further, your Virginia Museum of Transportation is co-sponsoring and hosting a lecture and book signing by Rush Loving, Jr., author of The Men Who Loved Trains in November. Our co-sponsors include the O. Winston Link Museum, the C&O Historical Society, the N&W Historical Society, and the Roanoke and Blue Ridge Chapters of the National Railroad Historical Society. These two things couldn't be less related, save for one important element. -- collaboration.

Will we see any money or additional foot traffic from having our two most famous locomotives off-site? No, quite the contrary, really. Will the book signing be a profitable experience for us or any of our co-sponsors? At least not monetarily, no.

Wick Moorman, Chairman of Norfolk Southern said not once, not twice, but thrice in a speech that the N&W Class Y6 #2156 which currently resides in St. Louis, Missouri should be brought home to Roanoke to stand next to its cousins, #611 and #1218. Think a bit of the sight that yet may be, those three steam engines -- A, and J, and Y -- all in one place again.

What greater fortune could there be beneath this field? And who better to work the field than we, the sons of the railroad?

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