NS Donates $1.5M to 611 Restoration Fund

With a $1.5 million donation from Norfolk Southern on its way, the restoration of Norfolk & Western class J steam locomotive No. 611 is close to being assured.

However, Trains magazine reported on Friday that the 611 will remain at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Va., until the remainder of the funding has been raised.

NS announced at 6:11 a.m. on Friday that it has sold a well-known abstract expressionist painting and will donate the proceeds to the fund for restoration and long-term maintenance of the locomotive.

NS Chairman and CEO Wick Moorman said in a news release that the railroad sold its untitled 1959 Mark Rothko painting through an auction in New York City on Nov. 14 for $1.5 million.

“No. 611 is an American classic, a reflection of a time and a people who put the country on their backs and carried it into to the modern age of railroading,” Moorman said. “611 is not an NS, N&W, Virginia, or Roanoke locomotive. It belongs to everyone and every generation. In that spirit, and on behalf of NS employees everywhere, I announce our strong support for bringing back a true national marvel.”

NS President Jim Squires said that “with railroads as the backbone of the country’s transportation system – today as during 611’s time – we all can look forward to the brightest days of America’s future. No. 611 represents not just past glory but infinite possibilities for the future.”

Bev Fitzpatrick, the executive director of the Virginia museum, hailed the NS donation.

“People from 15 countries have contributed their time and resources to bring back the ‘Queen of Steam,’” Fitzpatrick said in a news release. “NS’ generous and timely support gives us the best opportunity to reach the $5 million needed to put this icon back on the rails and keep her moving for decades.”

Fitzpatrick said the Fireup 611! Fund now has about $2.1 million. It needs $3.5 million. “So we are now over halfway there. This is the most significant cash gift that the Virginia Museum of Transportation has ever received,” he said.

The $3.5 million figure is enough to pay for restoration and construction of a shop to be used to maintain the locomotive. The museum wants to raise a total of $5 million to be used to create an endowment and pay other related expenses.

Plans are for the 611 to be moved to Spencer, N.C., so restoration work can be performed at the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

“We feel comfortable if we can get to $3.5 million we can move 611 to Spencer” [for restoration]. So we are more than halfway to our goal, and the end is in sight.” Fitzpatrick said

Fitzpartick said the museum would like to have the 611 running sometime in 2014.

He expects that the NS gift will prompt other donors to chip in funds to the Fireup 611! fund, saying that the museum has made many requests for funding from several sources that have yet to come in.

“Our hope is that with the incredible support of Norfolk Southern, that folks will understand that we have momentum, that we are over halfway there, and the engine could be running next year if they help,” Fitzpatrick said.

Previously, the had raised $500,000 through individual donations. Thus museum fell short of its original goal of raising enough money by Oct. 31 to allow the engine to be make its first trip in spring 2014.

The museum now hopes to reach the $3.5 million objective by Dec. 31, which would allow the engine to be running by fall 2014.

“If we can garner the amount of support we need by the end of the calendar year, we would be very close to enabling that to happen,” Fitzpatrick says, adding that the Dec. 31 date is not a “drop dead” mark where “we are going to do it or not going to do it. But it does mean we can have it running in 2014. Our hope is to have it [the funding] to bed by Dec. 31 if people want it to run next year.”

No. 611 was built by N&W’s Roanoke shops in 1950. With its sister Class A and Y6 locomotives, it made up the “Magnificent Three” that pulled passenger and freight trains through the late 1950s.

Retired in 1959, the 611 was restored in 1982 and spent more than a decade in excursion service. It was retired again in 1994 and put on display at the Virginia Museum.
The Rothko painting that NS sold was created in 1959. Rothko (1903-1970) was a Latvian émigré who resisted having his works labeled. But art critics said he wanted people to have spiritual experiences when viewing them.

The Rothko painting that NS sold was an “oil on paper laid down on canvas” image measuring 29.5-by-21.5 inches and featuring amorphous forms that float on top of each other, “. . . wonderfully capable of moving the viewer to extreme states of feeling…” according to Sotheby’s, the auction house.

NS bought the painting in 1996. It was part of the railroad’s collection of public area visual art and historical artifacts that include train models, tools, clocks, safety and service awards, and maps. Some pieces – including the Rothko – have been loaned to museums in the U.S. and abroad for exhibitions.

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