Steam Giants of the Norfolk & Western Railway

I hope you, our dear readers, will allow me to indulge myself once again as write about my own LEGO® train building. Today I finally bring you my two most recent articulated steam locomotive models, the Norfolk & Western A class and Y6b. Those of you who have seen a PennLUG display in person over the past year, or read issue 46 of Brickjournal have probably already seen these, but it’s taken me a little while to finally upload photos and write an article on them for Brick Model Railroader. In my defense, I’ve been busy.

The Last Great Steam Railroad in America: Modeling its Finest Work Horses

My A class and Y6b milling about in PennLUG’s rail yard.

The story of these two locomotive builds dates way back to my first attempt at articulated steam in LEGO in 2007, my original version of the N&W Y6b.  At the time the state of the art in LEGO steam building was still a bit crude. Big Ben Bricks‘ steam drivers had been out for a few years and were coming into wide use, but proper scaling, and fine detailing were still sparse. This isn’t to say there weren’t any good and or innovative models, for there certainly were, but the art of LEGO steam itself was still in a bit of an infancy, parts were not available like we have today, and basic techniques were still being discovered.

In particular I felt that the articulated style locomotive was lacking in LEGO form. There were articulated models out there from several builders, but none, save for Holger Matthes’s Big Boy, I felt were as good as could be done in brick. I want to build a better articulated. My choice of locomotive to model was the Norfolk & Western Y6b class.

Locomotive 2190 is a shining example of the N&W’s Y6b class.

The Norfolk & Western, often referred to as “The Last Great Steam Railroad in America” was famous for manufacturing its own steam locomotives in their Roanoke Shops, and advancing steam technology and steam railroading to a level no other North American railroad had . In 1960, N&W became the last major US class one railroad to retire steam.

It was the N&W’s Y6b class that had caught my eye after seeing an HO scale model by Broadway Limited Imports. I loved the N&W steam story, and I was impressed with the Y6b design. It was also a locomotive no one had modeled in LEGO before. It was the right locomotive for me to build. While dated by today’s standards, it was a good model in it’s day and even won the first, Best Train award, given at BrickWorld in 2008. It was the first time I applied my brand of LEGO scale modeling to an articulated engine. I originally built the model with 9v power, but that quickly proved inadequate. So my Y6b model became the second locomotive in my fleet, and first successful one, to use the then new Power Functions system for drive. Using 2 PF XL motors in the tender, each driving one of the tender trucks, the model could pull anything thrown at it with power to spare.

My original Y6b model on display at Brickworld 2008.

As the years went on though, my Y6b model had started showing it’s age. The boiler was a rough design from a time when cheese and curve slopes were unheard of. The front and rear locomotive trucks we’re oversized to be proportional accurate. The side rods were clunky and not as nice looking as the 3D printed rods we have available today. And the detailing was not as nice as could be achieved with todays better part selection. So when I was was approached by a gentleman wanting to buy a copy of my Y6b, and commission a model of the N&W’s A class, I decided that it was time to build a brand new Y6b. Once again the Y along with the A would be the best articulated locomotives I could build. The whole story on my sale of my N&W models can be found in Brickjournal issue 46.

Seeing double. My new Y6b an A class, along with their twins which were sold on commission, at BrickFair 2016.

A class: “The Norfolk & Western’s Mercedes of Steam”

A class no. 1218 at the Virginia Museum of Transportation

The Norfolk and Western’s A class 2-6-6-4 locomotive is often called the “Mercedes of Steam”. Powerful, fast, and highly advanced in their day, they were were one of the pinnacles of steam locomotive development in North America. The A class, unlike the Y6b and other Mallet type locomotives, was a simple articulated. They did not recycle steam between front and rear cylinders, instead both pairs of cylinders received steam straight from the boiler trading some economy for greater power and speed. According to the men who knew and operated them, the N&W Class A’s were the finest steam engines ever built. Capable of 125,897 pounds of tractive effort, and able to pull passenger trains at 70 mph, the A class is one of the all time great steam locomotives with a total of 43 built by the N&W’s own shops in Roanoke, Virginia between 1936 and 1950.

My model of 1218 won Best Locomotive at BrickFair 2016.

In 1943 at the N&W’s Shops, A class no. 1218 was completed and entered service.  After a successful career 1218 was retired in 1959,  and was purchased by the Union Carbide Co. in Charleston, West Virginia, where it was used as a stationary boiler. In 1965, the 1218 was repurchased by F. Nelson Blount for his locomotive collection at Steamtown, U.S.A. in Bellows Falls, Vermont. Three years later, the Norfolk & Western did a cosmetic restoration of 1218 at their East End Shops in Roanoke, Virginia (where the 1218 was originally built). After that, it was put on display at Wasena Park in 1971. On May 10, 1985, The Norfolk Southern (successor to the N&W) moved 1218 out of the park and was overhauled at the Irondale Steam Shop in Irondale, Alabama. In 1987, the 1218 was moved under its power for the first time in 28 years and operated NS’ steam program.

Norfolk & Western 1218 in the brick.

After several years of the 1218 in operation, the Norfolk Southern steam program came to a close in 1994. The 1218 was reassembled,  it was in the middle of a rebuild at the time, and towed back to Roanoke to be stored at the East End Shops. In 2001, the Norfolk Southern donated the 1218 to the City of Roanoke, clearing the way for the engine to once again be put on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. In June 2003, the museum completed its new Claytor Pavilion and along with it, the 1218 was ready to put back on display. After a cosmetic restoration by Norfolk Southern, the 1218 was towed to the Virginia Museum of Transportation on June 11, 2003, and pushed into place in her new home next to Norfolk & Western 611. On April 2, 2012, the City of Roanoke officially donated both the 1218 & 611 to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

A class front and rear engine assemblies.

The N&W A class had long been on my to build list. Finally getting to build it, along with my new version of the Y6b, was a wonderful opportunity. The model uses the same basic PF drive that I developed for my original Y6b consisting of two XL motors, each driving through one of the tender trucks, with only some minor modifications and a change in gearing to gain a little more speed from the locomotive. The locomotive uses rods and valve gear by Trained Bricks, and chromed parts by Chrome Block City. One of the highlights of building the 1218 was taking a trip down to the Virginia Museum of Transportation to see 1218 in person. It really is one of the most impressive steam locomotives ever assembled.

A class Model Photos

Y6b: The N&W’s Ultimate Mallet

Y6b at the head of a N&W freight train.

The Y6b was known as the “workhorse” of the Norfolk & Western Railway and is arguably the ultimate evolution of the Mallet (Malley) type . The Mallet style of articulated locomotive reused the exhaust steam from the rear cylinders to power the front cylinders. This gave the Mallet type great power while also being very economical to run. Starting with locomotive no. 2120 in 1936, the Y6 class would become the final refinement of the N&W’s 2-8-8-2 design.  With a starting tractive effort in simple configuration of 152,206 pounds, and in compound mode, a tractive effort of 126,838, the Y6b was capable of producing more tractive effort per pound than any other locomotive built including the C&O H-8 “Allegheny” and the Union Pacific “Big Boy”, With the completion of locomotive no. 2200 in 1952, this Y6b would become the last mainline US manufactured steam locomotive produced. While no Y6b has been preserved, a Y6a no. 2156 (predecessor version to the Y6b) was saved and is on loan from the  Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Missouri to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

My new Y6b

As with my model of the A class, my new version of the Y6b uses the same basic PF drive that I developed for my original Y6b consisting of two XL motors, each driving through one of the tender trucks, with only some minor modifications and a change in gearing to gain a little more speed from the locomotive. It’s a simple system, very reliable, and very powerful. The locomotive also uses rods and valve gear by Trained Bricks, and chromed parts by Chrome Block City.

Motorized truck for the Y6b.

Y6B Model Photos

5 thoughts on “Steam Giants of the Norfolk & Western Railway”

  1. Hi Cale,

    thanks for another great article here on BMRR! Interesting to see how “bulky” great MOCs could look like in a few years when personal building skills gets better and the selection of parts grows. And thanks for mention my first attempt of building a Big Boy many years ago. That was long before Big Ben Bricks showed up and the only chance to realise stream drivers were the red or white spoked wheels from the 70s and custom rims. Even not a dream about moving rods … That bulky Big Boy remained a “push along” engine only and seen it from today’s possibilities it’s time to disassemble this MOC.
    Even if it is already a few years old now, but Jason’s Big Boy for me is still the benchmark and I am happy that I was able to rebrick it from his pictures (https://flickr.com/photos/39300972@N08/sets/72157620435979105).

    I also did a total rebuild of one of my steam engines in 2016. After 15 years running my BR 10 I wanted to add moving rods and a better general design. Feel free to get inspired by the instructions of the 2016 version of my BR 10 at
    http://www.holgermatthes.de/bricks/en/br10.php

    Today steam engine MOCs have reached such a high level. I wonder what we will write about them in another 10 years time?

    Best,
    Holger

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