GOSHEN, Va. — Norfolk & Western steam locomotive No. 611 was sidelined during the Saturday, Oct. 28, Shenandoah Valley Limited with diesels of the Buckingham Branch Railroad serving as substitutes for the round trips between Goshen and Staunton, Va. The J-class 4-8-4 returned to service the following day to wrap up the fourth weekend of fall excursions along the short line, a partnership between Roanoke’s Virginia Museum of Transportation and the Virginia Scenic Railway – the owner of the locomotive and excursion operator for the railroad, respectively.
In an Oct. 31 post on the Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611 Facebook page, the crew discovered a problem with a flexible staybolt inside the firebox when banking the locomotive late Friday night. “Some of the staybolts are flexible and some are not,” as explained in the post. “One end is threaded and attached rigidly to the inside of the firebox, while the other end of the bolt contains a ball head which fits into a bowl sleeve and welded to the other firebox sheet.
“When a fire is built in the firebox, the inner sheet tends to expand more than the outer sheet. The ‘ball and socket’ arrangement to the staybolts permits the bolts to move slightly, taking care of this expansion — and contraction when the firebox cools. And sometimes staybolts crack or break unexpectedly.”
The initial plan was to sideline No. 611 for the remainder of the weekend to let it cool off before the crew could access the firebox. According to the post, the locomotive was cool enough by Saturday morning for Chief Mechanical Officer Scott Lindsay and his team to have a replacement at the ready. The fire was lit again in the evening, less than 24 hours after the discovery. “Many of the crew members were around for the restoration in the 1980s and in 2014-2015,” the post states. “Others have worked on some of the most storied steam locomotives in the United States.
“Their skills aren’t miraculous; they are hard-earned.”
No. 611 concluded the weekend on a strong note as it operated flawlessly on Sunday, as reported by Zac McGinnis, social media coordinator and member of the engine crew for the locomotive. The final [sold-out] Shenandoah Valley Limited excursions for the 2023 season will take place Nov. 3–5, with the locomotive and train receiving routine inspections and servicing during the week.