The Lost Engines of Roanoke

March 9, 2009

Hidden among the trees and creeper vines that line the back edge of the 7 acre former Virginia Scrap Iron & Metal yard is a remarkable collection of historic steam and early diesel locomotives. Popularly known as the "Lost Engines of Roanoke", they are powerful symbols of the railroad that helped to build the fortunes of many in the Roanoke area.

We were surprised to find two tenders here which were modified to serve as water canteens, and also two diesel engines! We thought only two steam engines remained.

The steamers (my favorite!) have been here since 1950 when they were sold to the scrap yard. Sometime during the years after that, the diesels joined them. This starts with the diesels.

Close up of one of the modified tenders that served as water canteens.
Behind these trains you can see part of the huge old flour mill that was due to be torn down last fall. The company using it has already relocated.

Above is the #662 Baldwin diesel switcher. Manufacturer: Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, Class: DS, Type: 4-4-600, Constructed: 1946

The Baldwin-built diesel locomotives are from the Chesapeake Western railroad. These switchers were among the first batch of diesel locomotives ordered by this western Virginia short line.

Today these first generation diesels are historic in their own right, representing not only the technology that displaced steam from America's railroads in the 40's and 50's, but also the last-ditch attempt by steam locomotive builder Baldwin to remain competitive in the diesel era.

The above engine is the #662. The #663 is in front of it.

Brad and John check out the inside the diesel cab - it had been completely stripped.

Brad and John still on the #662

I saw some of the trains for the first time out the window of the trolley we were riding over to Memorial Hospital on a round trip from the Market. A few days later we went to have a closer look at the engines. Brad went with us but Susan was working.

Me and John ~ Yeah!--I climbed up to see inside the cab, too!

Pic of the #663. It's identical to the #662: Manufacturer: Baldwin
Class: DS, Type: 4-4-600, Constructed: 1946

Brad and John heading down the tracks towards the steam engines - the real beauties!

Note: October 2009 - ALL trains have been removed from the scrap yard now, finding their way to new homes and the mill, seen here in the background, has been completely torn down!

The following equipment located here consists of three Norfolk & Western steam locomotives built between 1910 and 1911, and a converted flat car seen above and in the picture below.

The M2's that survive today in the Roanoke scrapyard had been among the first ones sold. M2 #1134 and M2c #1151 both arrived there on June 12, 1950, joined by #1118 a week later. The engine above is the 1118.

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For nearly six decades after their long and hard-working careers came to an end, these locomotives have remained here. They stand today as a forgotten reminder of the industrial effort that forged our great nation.

The numbers on all engines are still clearly visible though the engines and cars have turned brown with rust.

The steam locomotives in the Roanoke scrapyard are the very last surviving examples of two classes of Norfolk & Western heavy freight locomotives, the M2 and M2c class 4-8-0 types. With four pilot wheels, eight drive wheels, and no trailing wheels, the 4-8-0 was an uncommon wheel arrangement, but it found favor with the N&W as the next logical step-up as trains outgrew the smaller 2-8-0 types in the early years of the Twentieth Century.

Here you can see the 1118 with the 1134 directly behind it.

Since the Norfolk & Western was not only still running steam engines, but actually building them at the time these engines were retired, it is likely that a lot of usable items were recycled by the railroad and that's why they are missing.

Here's the 1134 right behind the 1118. Fence and over growth made it impossible to get up to the side of the engine except on the shaded side.

The ultimate development of the N&W 4-8-0 designs, the M2 and M2c classes were the heaviest 4-8-0's ever built. Fifty M2 class engines were built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia in 1910, followed by a group of ten similar engines built by the Roanoke Machine Works in 1911 and designated class M2c.

Today, engines 1118 and 1134 are the last of the original M2's, while of the Roanoke-built engines, the number 1151 is the sole survivor.

The #1151 steam engine. Together these engines are important examples of the evolution of heavy freight locomotives in the pre-World War I era.

Looking into the front end of the 1151.

The cab of the 1151. It had a steep drop off each side of the track it was on with a fence on one side and lots of debris from trees and vines.

Side of the 1151. These trains were all fascinating to see!

Brad and John as we walked back to where our car was parked.
The Jefferson Street bridge and part of Mill Mountain visible in background.

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The following might be of interest only to those who live in Roanoke or are from the area. Such tremendous changes are taking place in this area of our town that I wanted to include some of those old buildings around the Scrap Yard.


The Adams, Payne & Gleaves Inc. Stable No. 2
The stable shown in the old postcard below was part of the property that was originally developed in 1906 as the Adams, Payne and Gleaves Lumber Company. You can see the clearly marked stable below. Horses were an important part of their business during those days of the horse drawn carriage!

By the 1920s this company provided much more than just lumber. It carried a wide range of building materials for the rapidly growing city. They cut their own lumber in their large planing mill and had a huge storage yard; they had their own brick factory here (one of two they owned in Roanoke), and even sold feed, hay and all types of coal. They actually sold "everything but the hardware" for building!

Here's the stable today, the only remaining building which sits next to the old flour mill on Jefferson Street.

During the depression the building supply business downsized and many of the structures were leased to other enterprises. In 1942, the Virginia Scrap Iron and Metal Company purchased the yard and began a 66-year operating period at the site. This building and several smaller buildings remain as part of the former 7 acre scrap yard where the trains are located

Roanoke is hoping someone will purchase this building for a new use now that this area is undergoing a major change. In addition to the biomedical park, plans are also underway to establish a new five-year medical college campus and a 250,000 square foot medical clinic across the Jefferson Street bridge.

The bricks were made by the company's brick factory. Made by hand, you can see the finger indentions across one side of each brick where it was patted into it's forms! We found a few of them below the wire blocked windows. Notice all the small stones in this brick, unlike you'd find today.

A look inside the two story building to it's first floor where horses were kept. The building has been placed on the National Historic Landmark Register so it will remain here in spite of all the building going on around it.

This view of the back of the stable was taken from over by the steam engines. This building is over next to the 90 year old flour mill that has been slated to be torn down since the fall of 2008. There are several other old building to the left in this picture, but they were either part of the mill or part of N&W.

The Virginian Station

Another historic icon slated for refurbishing is The Virginian Railway Passenger Station near the scrap yard constructed in 1909, which was the year that the Virginian Railway completed track and coal transport from Deepwater on the New and Kanawha River in West Virginia to Sewells Point at Hampton Roads.
The opening of the Virginian's Sewells Point piers, along with the Norfolk & Western Railway pier at Lambert Point and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway terminus at Newport News, made Hampton Roads the world's largest shipping point for coal.

Virginian Station served as a passenger station for the Virginian Railroad between 1910 and 1956.
In January 2001, the old passenger station was damaged by fire. Today it stands abandoned and in a state of disrepair. The Virginia Railway Passenger Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

It is a building of its time and place, which was the Jim Crow South. The station had separate waiting rooms and restrooms for black customers and white. The old depot is really two buildings beneath a single roof -- a passenger station and a mail and express building. The two are joined by a walkway.

The Virginian ceased passenger service in the middle 1950s and merged with rival Norfolk and Western Railway in 1959. For decades prior to the fire, the passenger station survived as a feed and seed store.

In 2003 it was given by Norfolk Southern to the Roanoke chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, which is raising money to restore it. They still have a long way to go to raise the estimated $1.5 million needed.

Here's a great old postcard of the Station taken before the road was widened and the bridge built next to it.

It had an ornate tile roof, a blond brick facade and terrazzo floors.
The Virginian was probably trying to make a statement as it was the only station constructed with brick along the entire length of the Virginian's 608 miles network. They built this nice, big depot just to show Roanoke there was somebody other than the N&W in town!

Heironimus Warehouse &
Virginia Can Company

To the north of the station, plans to renovate the Virginia Can Company complex and Heironimus Warehouse for adaptive reuse are underway as well.

Restoration plans for the old Virginia Can Company (also known as the S.H. Heironimus Warehouse) in Southeast Roanoke got a boost in April 2006 with the announcement that the structure, which had been built in 1912, was added to the national registry of historic places.

Purchased in 2004 by Katie Wallace Wetherington, owner of the Wallace (advertising) Agency in Roanoke, the Can Company is within the Southeast Roanoke Historic District. It sits on a little less than an acre of land and consists of an office building and two factory buildings that have been connected over time with additions to function as one building.

In 2006, Mullens said that plans are evolving. "There have been recent developments in the direction of the project," she says. "We are keeping in mind the overall direction of downtown development in Roanoke City."

With the Riverside Center being so heavily developed now, these old buildings are sure to take on a "new life" and once again become part of a functioning, well developed area.

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