Harry Cupper’s Steam Engine of the Week: Norfolk and Western 1218

By | June 16, 2015


This week we take a look at the second of the big N&W trio. The one time strongest pulling operational steam locomotive in the world. Norfolk and Western Class A 1218. A 2-6-6-4 capable of 114,000 pounds-force of tractive effort. Famed railroad photographer O. Winston Link’s most famous photo was of another Class A sister passing a drive-in theater in Leager, WV in August of 1956.

The Class A was primarily a fast freight engine but was also used to haul heavy coal trains and even the occasional heavy passenger train.


Norfolk and Western was one of the last to dieselize. 1218 was retired in 1959 long after most. The engine and two sisters were bought by Union Carbide to use as a backup boiler alongside for an industrial plant. Thanks to F. Nelson Bount who bought the big articulated engine for his Steamtown collection N&W 1218 live on and the only example of the Class A. The Virginia Museum of Transportation obtained 12818 on load from the Steamtown foundation for temporary exhibit but felt like she belonged to them so never returned her.

Eventually, Norfolk and Western (Norfolk Southern) after a scuffle with steamtown Norfolk Southern got the title to 1218. In 1982, Robert B. Claytor a champion of preservation who maintained a program of historic steam operations on the railroad, had 1218 restored for the program. In 1987, she moved for the first time under her own steam since being retired and from then on pulled many excursions until the end of 1991. 1218 was in the middle of an overhaul when the Norfolk Southern steam program was canceled in 1994.


Today 1218 is on display at the Claytor Pavilion at the Virginia Museum of Transportation where she was displayed beside N&W 611 and now Y6a 2156. 1218 is cosmetically restored and capable of being returned to service although the work would be considerable since the overhaul was never completed.

Let’s sit back and enjoy 611. Please donate to the Virginia Museum of Transportation to see a new roof put over N&W 611 (which will secure her future as an operational steam icon), 1218, and 2156. www.fireup611.org. Perhaps some new door will open in the future.

The infamous N&W Hooter Whistle.

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