The Virginia Scenic Railway began operations in 2022. In the fall of 2023, it offered an excursion in conjunction with the N&W 611 J class steam engine. The excursion left from nearby Goshen to travel to Staunton and back. Even though we grew up in the diesel era and escaped much of the romance of steam, we had to sign up.
The week after our trip, we followed the route of the train to take some pictures of the engine underway.
There are a couple of ways to follow us on our trip. I've tried to make the narrative a complete summary, but I've used many links to other web sites to provide additional details and sometimes pictures. You can either stick with the basic narrative or explore the various links. At the time this album was created the links were all valid, but the WWW is in constant flux and that can change. If you encounter broken links, please send us some email.
The Virginia Museum of Transportation owns the 611, which is the last of its kind. The engine makes its home in Roanoke, but is loaned out for excursions and festivals. A few years ago I happened upon it as it was stopped on a siding in Buena Vista on its way to a festival in Strasburg, PA. At that time it was being towed rather than traveling under its own steam.
In addition to trains, the museum also has an exhibit on cross-country bus travel. We visited some years ago, and I had a delightful chat with the bus docent about my college "99 days for $99" trip with a classmate from Virginia to California and back. We visited classmates & relatives on the way as well as Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, the San Diego Zoo, and other attractions.
Unfortunately there were no train connections to my home town while I was in college. I spent a a fair amount of time on buses between Virginia and Mississippi too. Give me a train any day!
The people illustrate the size of the huge engine.
The man standing underneath the engine by the ladder was busily cranking something that puffed and wheezed. I wondered if there was some malfunction, but we got underway on schedule.
The train backs along the Goshen spur until it meets the main line. Then it's off to the races! We don't know how fast the train traveled, but at some points it was out-running cars on the 55mph adjacent road.
The fastest recorded time for a steam locomotive was a UK engine named Mallard, which was clocked at 126mph. I found an assertion online that the N&W J-class engines had been documented to achieve 110 mph. We weren't aspiring to those numbers today!
You know this is his dream job!
As we left Goshen, there were spectators with cameras watching us steam away.
Throughout the excursion, wherever there was a spot reachable by car close to the tracks -- and there were many of them -- we saw a gaggle of photographers with every style of camera and tripod.
That's what gave me the idea to come back the following week for more pictures.
None of the pictures I took from the train were very interesting. This one is from our turnaround stop at the train station in Staunton. Lady Justice crowns the Augusta County Courthouse.
In Staunton we picked up a couple of diesel locomotives that assisted us back to Goshen. Jim and I pondered the need for diesel assists. Searching on the WWW turns up lots of speculation: insurance (those steam engines are untried technology after all), saved wear & tear on the vintage equipment, lack of availability of water for the boilers, additional "head-end power" needed to run the A/C, etc.
Returning to Goshen after a very satisfactory ride.
The two diesel tag-alongs we picked up in Staunton.
For information on the various railcars, visit this second page. Every car has a story!
The following week we drove over to Goshen and up VA 42 alongside the tracks. I had planned to scout good places to get a picture, but when we passed the train on the way up, I realized that we could get ahead of it.
By following a line of cars that seemed to be on the same mission, we found a good spot. "She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes!"
We were puzzled to see that the diesels were in place for the leg UP to Staunton on this day. I wonder who was pulling whom. The following weekend, the 611 was out of service one day due to a problem with a "flexible staybolt," but it was quickly repaired and came steaming back. There are more technical details on the 611 Facebook page, but a brief summary is: "On Friday, as the crew banked the engine for the night, they realized there was a problem with one of the flexible staybolts. The 611 is 73 years old and if a problem is not handled correctly and with the utmost care, it could jeopardize the operation of the engine for years to come."
Unfortunately my camera's auto-focus wasn't able to cope with the speed of the engine as it got closer so the more dramatic shots were blurred.
Instead of following the train into Staunton, we headed back to Goshen.
The main settlement along the excursion route was Craigsville in Augusta County. The old "downtown" was right along the tracks. The Craigsville Presbyterian Church was founded in 1894.
On the way out of town we passed the veterans' memorial next to the town cemetery.
Fall colors were at their height. It was hard to drive safely while oohing and aahing as we passed through the sunlit woods.
Between a train excursion and an afternoon of "trainspotting," we were happy to get out and about in our beautiful area.
When we returned to Goshen, I stopped to take a picture of the local "bridge to nowhere." There are several communities in Rockbridge County, e.g., Goshen and Glasgow, that dreamed of becoming major industrial centers. It was not to be. This bridge was to have connected two parts of the planned town on either side of the Calfpasture River. At present it leads to some private properties and a dead end.
Click your "back" button to return to the previous page or click for our picture album.