Norfolk and Western's J Class

Discussion related to the Norfolk & Western, up to 1982. Also includes discussion of the Virginian Railway (1959); Wabash; Nickel Plate; Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway; Akron, Canton & Youngstown Raiload (all 1964); and the Illinois Terminal (1981).

Norfolk and Western's J Class

Postby Lehigh Valley Railroad » Sat Mar 12, 2005 4:55 pm

The N&W continuously rebuilt and refined its home-built power. It rarely updated the published specifications. The best of the Js, 611, 612 and 613, were not even built until 1950, so the 1946 comments by C.E. Pond cannot be construed to apply.

Case in point are the class A and class Y locomotives that were tested head-to head against ABBA sets of EMD F7s. Those locos are called "ringers" by some, but in fact, between 1948 and 1954, N&W remanufactured all of the Y5, Y6, and Y6a mallets to Y6b specs. The locomotives had 22 tons of ballast added to the front engine, and the hand operated "booster" valve, and a home-made reducing vale and receiver installed, so the engineer could divert high pressure steam to the front engine anytime he wanted to, at any speed. The actual power increase was significant, but those locos went to the torch 8-12 years later with published TE of 156,000 pounds, same as when originally built.

With the A and the Y we have dynamometer car plots to verify the significant increase in power at speed N&W built into those locomotives after 1948. Alas, we have nothing on the J. If it was tested, those results were never published or leaked to the public. The same three men, Smith, Pilcher and Pond, presided over these events with shameless personal pride. It would be so unlike them to say, "Aw, the J will do fine as is, let's just build 3 more 15-year old locomotives."

The 1950 graduating class of J's were specifically built for "Powhattan Arrow" service. N&W was in the passenger business only incidentally compared to NYC or PRR, with no New York or Chicago to link, no "Broadway" or "Century" to run, but the "Arrow" was N&W's premier train.

Tractive effort: 80,000 lbs. No other 4-8-4 in the US is higher. One had a trailing truck booster installed for testing, with a 12,000 lb TE boost at low speed. It was removed as unneeded and not worth the bother.

Some sources cite 604 having a booster applied for testing. Number 602 was built with a booster, but it was removed at a subsequent major shopping as problematical and unnecessary.

Max Speed on N&W: 100 mph with a full 12-14 car train, every day, but only for short distances. N&W was not known for level, tangent track.

Max Test Speed: 110 mph with a full train on the PRR in their tests.

N&W used lightweight compound rods and dynamic augment to balance the J in spite of having a short wheel. This enabled J to start heavy trains unassisted even on hills, curves, or both, and still safely run at 100 mph the few places that speed was permitted. The design safety limit of the rotational and reciprocating mechanism was over 140 mph.

Roller and needle bearings vitually everywhere throughout, with highpressure lubrication, and quick and easy servicing with Alemite grease guns on a few dozen zirks when turned. N&W built its own "Qwik-E-Lube" in-line service facilites for this where the locos were turned. More like a "pit stop" than a trip to the roundhouse.

N&W was not primarily a passenger road, but did have one schedule that required a J to be turned in 70 minutes each trip, including terminal time. (Turning = coal, water, sand, clean fire/dump ash, lube oil, lube grease, inspection, minor adjustments, and a trip through the wash rack.) Can anyone document the turning of any other US steam passenger loco on an "every trip" basis in less time?

N&W's one long passenger route connected Norfolk with Cincinnati. The longest run without an engine change on that route was Roanoke to Cincinnati, a distance of only 423 miles. I believe the second longest run was the 212 miles of run-though with the Southern, from Lynchburg to Bristol. In spite of not having a New York to Chicago multi-track raceway at water level, the 14 J's ran up 15,000 miles of service a month each, and one of them ran over 1,200,000 miles in its first eight years of service. To obtain these high miles would require availability that would rival any steam locomotive of that time. To have done it on N&W's roller coaster profile, and all on short runs with many stops, makes the number even more impressive. No, 15,000 is not as high as Niagara's 16,000, but Niagara was running at speed on relatively flat ground with fewer stops and restrictions. I sincerely doubt Niagara could have beaten J's numbers on the trains the J pulled, on the railroad the J pulled them. I wonder if it could have even equalled them?

From N&W magazine, June 1950, talking about the 611, 612, 613: "At normal passenger train operating speeds of from 40 to 60 miles an hour, these coal-burning, steam locomotives develop more tractive power than even giant 6,000 horsepower diesels, a great advantage on the Norfolk and Western which traverses mountainous territory." A shiny new #611 is shown. Is it possible these locos were dynoed against passenger diesels while testing on the Pennsy? Is "tractive power" really "TE at speed" or "DBHP at speed"? In the prior diesel tests, N&W charted such things. If so, then we have a clue to those numbers for J. Anyone have TE and DBHP charts for E7s?

In any case, NYC quickly found out the 4,000 hp 2 diesel sets the car salesmen from GM used to show how diesels were more economical, did not have a prayer of keeping schedules a single Niagara kept. NYC didn't do their own tests like N&W did, and had to go back for more diesels. It is obvious that both Niagara and J were the equal of the 6,000 hp diesel sets of the day. (ABBA Fs or ABA Es)

Point is, J had his "sweet spot" at 40-60 mph. I forget where Niagara's was at the moment, but I would expect it to be shifted higher to reflect a need to still be able to accelerate smartly at higher speeds, as when exiting a curve, a crossing at grade or other speed restriction. Not better. Not worse.

Tenders: J had 35 tons of coal and 20,000 gallons of water. Stops were frequent enough to avoid the need of service stops. Plugs and chutes were provided at regular stops. If there were unexpected delays, J could fuel or water at any of many on-line service points provided for freight use.

The thought of track pans and picking up water on the fly on the N&W amuses me. First of all, track pans only work well on tangent track. Secondly, track pans only work on level track, or else the water all runs out one end. N&W didn't have a lot of tangent, level track, and what it did have, was unlikely to be where you might need to take water.

The whole idea of "big tenders" swept the industry post WWII. In a few cases (Niagara is a good one) the time saved picking up water on the fly with a speed restriction for the track pan made up for the other costs. A pedestal type 4-10-0 tender was proposed for one of the versions of the L&N's Big Emma Berk. What a joke. L&N was using Berks because of weight restrictions and turntable lengths. The advantage of a pedistal tender is the tank end can hang out 8-10 feet past the end of the turntable rails, but you have to remember that when you swing one around. All tenders are dead weight, and it takes water and fuel to haul every pound of weight. When you go up hill, like the L&N and N&W did, the power required increases at more than a linear rate. Like N&W, L&N was heavily into the coal business, with plenty of convenient places to "coal up" so its just a joke. A loco salesman not doing his homework, or trying to sell an expensive add-on, or both. Any coal or water beyond what is required to make the next scheduled stop is waste.

Old story: (Super) "Say, Hostler says your engine was out of water when he pulled if off the Limited!" (Cocky Engineer) "Hmm...there was still some showing in the glass when I climbed down!"

Have Fun-Chris
Lehigh Valley Railroad

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