The committee studying whether to return Norfolk & Western steam locomotive No. 611 to service announced Friday that it has given a high green to a $3.5 million fund-raising campaign to restore the famed J class 4-8-4 to operating condition.
“We are pleased to say that we can Fire Up 611! But the time is now and it will take 611 fans around the world to stoke her fire,” said Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr., executive director of the Virginia Museum of Transportation. “Today we are kicking off the official capital campaign.” The 611 needs a complete mechanical restoration, a maintenance facility and support to develop an excursion program.
The Fire Up 611! Committee will seek to raise $5 million to create an endowment that will keep the 611 operating for several years. Fitzpatrick said the fund raising campaign is needed because the museum based in Roanoke, Va., lacks the resources to fund the restoration and operations of the 611.
“We are asking her fans across the globe who want to see her run again to be a part of this important capital campaign. Her appeal extends to people everywhere who value heritage, craftsmanship and the thrill of bringing an American icon to life,” Fitzpatrick said. If the fund-raising campaign is successful, the 611is expected to be moved to the roundhouse at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C., for an inspection and restoration.
A combination of paid contractors and experienced volunteer labor will carry out the work. Many of them did similar work in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Virginia museum said it must raise the $3.5 million by Oct. 31 in order for the 611 to be able to join NS’s 21st Century steam program in 2014.
The NS steam program is current using Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s Southern Railway 2-8-0 No. 630, and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765.
Preston Claytor, chairman of the Fire Up 611! Committee expressed optimism that the six-month fund raising time frame can be met. “We feel very confident, especially with the work that was done in the late 80s and early 90s, about what we will have to do and what we won’t have to do,” he said. “Realistically it needs some engine truck work, and it needs the form 4 (federally mandated inspection), and of course all the other things that must be done after this much time has passed, such as air brake work. But with the right amount of volunteers and labor and some good luck, six months is very realistic.” Claytor said the wheels of the locomotive are approaching the end of their useful life and are not longer FRA compliant.
The wheels would have been replaced during the winter of 1994-1995, but that work was canceled after NS scrapped its steam program.
The shop for the 611 will be built at the Virginia museum, but it will be a year to 18 months before it opens. It will include one track with a drop pit, while another will be just rails and concrete. The building will be designed to handle other purposes such as special events, where tables and displays could be set up as needed. The museum plans to continue to display the 611 during times when it isn’t undergoing maintenance.
The 611 was built in Roanoke in 1950 and served in the N&W until being retired in 1959. It was placed for display in Wasena Park in 1962. In preparation for use in the NS steam program, the 611 was overhauled in 1981 and it began pulling excursions in 1982.
NS halted the steam program in late 1984, but resumed hosting steam excursions in 2011.
To donate to the 611 campaign, visit fireup611.org. Fans can also visit the Fire Up 611 Facebook page, YouTube, and Twitter feed (#fireup611).