Roanoke Shops

The Roanoke Shops of the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W) in Roanoke, Virginia were founded in 1881, and acquired by the railroad in 1883. Before 1881, the "Magic City" of Roanoke had been the sleepy farming community of Big Lick and a small stop on the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (A,M & O). All that changed when the owners of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad building up the valley purchased the A,M & O, renamed it Norfolk and Western, and selected Big Lick as the new junction.

The town grew rapidly as the new center of the combined railroads and changed its name, becoming a city in just a short time. The massive Roanoke Shops were built there and became the major employer in the Roanoke Valley for approximately 100 years.

At the Roanoke Shops, the N&W developed facilities and workers learned the skills needed to build its own steam locomotives in-house. During the 1930s, they employed over 6,000 workers, who were producing 4 steam locomotives each day, as well as 20 freight cars. Products included locomotives of all sizes, and of increasingly better technology, from switching engines to the famed streamlined J-class passenger locomotives, the huge articulated Y-class for low speed coal drags, and the A-class for fast freight service. A total of 447 locomotives were manufactured at Roanoke during a 70 year time span.

After the end of steam motive power on the N&W in 1960, J-class # 611 and A-class # 1218 were used in excursion train service from the early 1980s lasting until the early 1990s. They are now exhibited near their birthplace in a specially constructed pavilion at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in downtown Roanoke.


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