|Southern 722; Linden, Va.; March 29, 1980|
The Southern Railway Steam Specials operated all over the southern U.S. in the 1970s until the 1990s with trips almost every weekend except for the winter months. Living in New Jersey, however, most of the trips were not within an easy drive from home. The closest starting point for steam trips was Alexandria, Va., where trips either headed down the Southern main line to Charlottesville or over the lightly-used branch to Front Royal. The main line trips were a pain to chase, so the branch trips became favorites. One of the first trips I chased to Front Royal was on March 29, 1980, when 2-8-0 No. 722, decked out in Southern green and gold, made the trip (above
). Diesels were not used as helpers on these trips, so when the chunky Consolidation hit the steep grade of Linden Hill, it went to a crawl with plenty of noise from the stack.
The Southern was still the Southern in June 1981 when steam once again ran to Front Royal. Finding itself power short (2-8-2 No. 4501, the primary locomotive in the program, seemed to be perpetually down when the Alexandria trips rolled around each year), Southern leased a former Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 from the Allegheny Central tourist operation. No. 1238 ran a few trips on the branch, including a "photographers" trip that had most of the planned photo stops cancelled when the engine ran short of coal.
|Allegheny Central 1238; Delaplaine, Va.; June 1981|
The 1982 merger of the Southern Railway and Norfolk & Western to create Norfolk Southern only expanded the steam program. New engines were brought into the fold in the form of two N&W locomotives -- 4-8-4 No. 611 and 2-6-6-4 No. 1218. Interestingly, despite being a larger locomotive, No. 1218 could run on the Front Royal Branch while 611 could not due to weight restrictions; 1218 had its weight spread out over more wheels and thus could run on the branch. The photo below required keeping one eye on the track and one eye on a temperamental bull that didn't like strangers in his field.
|Norfolk & Western 1218; Marshall, Va.; October 1989|
The Norfolk Southern merger meant an increase in traffic on the Front Royal Branch, as it became a through route for trains bypassing the Washington, D.C., area. NS trains would come down the Shenandoah Line from Harrisburg, Penn., and Hagerstown, Md., to Riverton Junction near Front Royal, then traverse the branch over to the former Southern main line near Manassas to continue south. The upgrading meant that No. 611 could now use the line; it also meant the days of laid back charters were coming to a close as the steam trains had to dodge the new parade of stack trains.
|Norfolk & Western 611; Rectortown, Va.|
The Norfolk Southern steam program came to a close in 1994, but has seen a bit of a comeback since the advent of the 21st Century Steam program a few years ago. Maybe one day I'll get back down to Alexandria and chase another steam special to Front Royal.
I liked the shot of the 722 at Linden [3/29/80]. The man at the throttle is Road Foreman of Engines Billy Payne. He liked to operate the steam engines whenever they ran, while the other division road foreman, who was also from the steam engine days, never touched the throttle that I can recall.
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