Sounds of the N&W

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Norfolk & Western Steam Locomotives in Sound

by Ryan Hoover

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N&W hooter whistle (left) and 3-chime whistle.
         The following three series of recordings are mostly of N&W steam. The N&W used very distinctive whistles. Their standard freight whistle was a Roanoke Shops-made single note "hooter" made of brass or cast steel. It usually blew a musical note of "F" at normal steam pressure. It was unusual in that a creative engineer could make it squeal, shriek, tweet and chirp as you will hear. The class Y, A, S, K1, M, and Z were all equipped with the hooter. The standard N&W passenger whistle was a Hancock 3-chime long bell "steamboat" whistle which sounds a mellow musical chord of "B-D-F#" at normal pressure. Classes J and streamlined K2 always had the Hancock. Older E class engines sometimes had it although, in earlier years, the Pacifics often sported the freight hooter, judging from photographs.

Set I

         In this first series, 1) Streamlined "J Junior" K2 122 makes a flag stop with Train 7 at Blue Ridge Summit Station then accelerates rapidly downhill with only a baggage car and coach and talking it up with its Hancock passenger chime. 2) K2 123 takes the same train past the same spot on a different day. 3) A J 4-8-4 charges upgrade with the Powhatan Arrow over Blue Ridge Summit. 4) Three Y6 pushers back light downgrade in turn with whistles hooting after helping trains up Blue Ridge. Note the distinctive clanking of rods that was characteristic of the Y classes. 5) Another Y6 with a merchandise freight on the Shenandoah Valley line lets out a shriek when steam skips across its hooter bell. This tended to happen the higher the steam pressure. Steam turbine Jawn Henry was fitted with a standard hooter hidden in the sheet metal housing on boiler top but at steam pressure of 600 psi, all you got were muted high-pitched shrieks. Jawn was soon fitted with an air horn.

        Recording 1 - K2 122 with local Train 7 at Blue Ridge Summit Station - 1957, RW&W-2:24
        Recording 2 - K2 123 with Train 7 at the same place on another day - 1957, RW&W-0:39
        Recording 3 - J charges upgrade on Blue Ridge with the Powhatan Arrow - 1957, RW&W-0:37
        Recording 4 - Three Y6 class pushers backing light downhill - 1955 or 56, RW&W-1:55
        Recording 5 - Y6 on fast freight blowing for a grade crossing - 1957, OWL1-0:39

Set II

         Here are more recordings of N&W steam. 1) At Roanoke station, train caller Buck Stewart announces the departure of Train 3, The Pocahontas for “Cuh-LUM-bus, CIN-suh-NAH-tuh, Chi-CAH-guh” in 1957. 2) Diesels are invading the N&W in 1959 as EMD GP9’s work alongside the steam locomotives they are beginning to replace on Blue Ridge. 3) In 1960, 1910 E2a Pacific 578, in retirement at the Ohio Railway Museum, works its Hancock chime to good effect. Its last N&W assignment was working with sister 563 on local passenger runs on the Clinch Valley line between Bluefield, WV, and Norton, VA. 4) Y6a 2157 departs with a caboose after dropping empties on a mine spur. The groaning sound is from the engine brakes which are not fully released yet before cracking the throttle. 5) Y6 2149 rumbles past with hooter chirping and squealing.

        Recording 1 - Buck Stewart announces Train No. 3, The Pocahontas - 1957, OWL1-:40
        Recording 2 - A–class 1202 storms upgrade on Blue Ridge with GP9's pushing - 1959, AS1-1:50
        Recording 3 - E2a Pacific 578 starts its Sunday–only train at the ORM - 1960, AR-0:49
        Recording 4 - Y6a 2157 departs with engineer working his hooter in classic fashion - 1956, SSL5-1:23
        Recording 5 - Y6 2149 rumbles by on a fast freight with classic hooting - 1956, MF10-0:46


         This final set of recordings features restored A 1218 and J 611 during the 1985-1994 N&W Steam Program on excursions and fantrips. Both engines are currently on display at the Virginia Transportation Museum in Roanoke. There is an effort, well along, to bring 611 back to life again. Fund raising for the restoration of 611 and acquisition of a shop facility is under way as of 2013.

         1) 1218 and 611 exchange whistling while running side-by-side on an N&W steam event. 2) We hear 1218 again with its hooter being well exercised by the engineer on an NHRS fantrip. 3) During the Cass Scenic Railway Railfan Days in 1999, a Y6 hooter is blown by its owner as it echoes mournfully in the night mountain air. 4) 611 sounds its classic Hancock chime on another fantrip at Farnham, NY. 5) An N&W hooter has made its way onto a Nacional de Mexico (NdeM) 4-8-0 and the mechanista (engineer) gives it a workout as he manages to get underway with a little slipping. Another hooter is being blown at the 1999 annual Railfan Days Whistle Blow on the Cass Scenic Railway. 6) Not to be silenced in the 21st century, a classic N&W freight hooter gets a workout on NKP 2-8-4 765 at Matewan, WV, on the old N&W mainline along the Tug Fork River in August 2012 on an NS employee special.

        Recording 1 - Running parallel, A 1218 & J 611 exchange contrasting whistles - 1992, IHS1-0:18
        Recording 2 - N&W class A 1218 again on an NRHS fantrip - 1989, YT-0:45
        Recording 3 - An N&W hooter whistle from a Y6 at a Cass, WV, whistle blow - 1999, SR45-0:33
        Recording 4 - The 611 on a fantrip at Farnham, NY - 1992, IHS1-:43
        Recording 5 - NdeM 4–8–0 3000 sounds an N&W hooter as it gets underway at Tula, Mexico -
                              1963, MF14-3:18
        Recording 6 - NKP 2–8–4 765 with N&W hooter at Matewan, WV, on an NS Employee Special -
                              2012, YT-0:32

N&W Steam Locomotive Classes

        N&W steam locomotives on these recordings, showing the earliest class build year and the final year the class was in service. In parentheses are the numbers of locos of the class that were rebuilt and the dates they were operated after revenue service ceased.

        Class A 2-6-6-4 simple articulated, 1936-1959 (1218 - 1985-1994)
        Class E2a 4-6-2 Pacific, 1910-1958 (578 - 1960-1970)
        Class J 4-8-4 Northern, 1941-1959 (611 - 1985-1994)
        Class K2 4-8-2 USRA Heavy Mountain, 1919-1958
        Class Y5, Y6, Y6a, Y6b 2-8-8-2 mallet compound articulated, 1930-1960

Key to the Recording Attributions

        AR – 10" 33rpm album, Sounds of the Ohio Railway Museum, Action Records,
                Columbus, [196? – no date given]
        AS1 – 12" 33rpm album, Extra 1235 East, Alan Sherry Recordings, 1960
        IHS1 – CD album, Iron Horse Symphony [vol. 1], Sam Botts Recordings, 1999
        MF10 – 12" 33rpm album, Ghost Train, Mobile Fidelity Records MF10, 1962
        MF14 – 12" 33rpm 2-disc album, Valle de Locomotura de Vapor, Mobile Fidelity Records MF14, 1965
        OWL1 – 12" 33rpm album, Sounds of Steam Railroading, O. Winston Link, 1957
        RW&W – 12" 33rpm album, Rods Wheels and Whistles, North Jersey Recordings, 1958
        SR45 – 7" 45rpm album, Ghost Whistles at Cass, Semaphore Records SR-102, 1979
        SSL5 – 12" 33rpm album, Sounds of Steam Locomotives No. 5, The Stack Talk Spectacular,
                Folkways Records, 1976
        YT – From a video capture on YouTube

N&W slides from 1957, including 578 in last years of service on the Clinch Valley line, plus a double-headed fantrip with 563 in 1957. Click here