N&W 1218 thunders past an NS freight. Author unknown, contributed by Jay Tester.
Norfolk & Western #1218 is a 2-6-6-4 mallet type locomotive. She was built in 1943 by the N&W's Roanoke Shops in Roanoke, VA. N&W called it's 2-6-6-4's the "A" class, and they were unlike anything else on rails at the time. Until her retirement in 1994 when NS ended it's steam program, 1218 was the second largest steam locomotive operating in the world.
Mallet (pronounced "malay") articulated compound locomotives have 2 sets of drivers and 2 sets of cylinders, a large set to drive the front wheels and a smaller set to drive the rear wheels. Mallet locomotives used steam twice. High pressure steam was passed first through the small set of cylinders, and then passed again through the larger front set. The front set was larger to accomodate for the lower pressure second hand steam they used. Though efficient in terms of steam usage, early mallets were very slow and ponderous. Many railroads could only operate them on only their best maintained trackage, because the front set of drivers hammered the track incredibly hard due to the weight of the enormous front cylinders. In the 1930's, new articulated locomotives began using a new more efficient design. Instead of using steam twice, fresh high pressure steam was used in all 4 cylinders, resulting in greater power and speed thanks in part to the normal size front cylinders. UP's Challengers and Big Boys, C&O Alleghenys, DM&IR's Yellowstones and B&O's EM-1s were all champions of this design.
The case was different on the N&W. They took the mallet steam locomotive and produced some of the most efficient and powerful locomotives ever built, right in their own shops. The A class, unlike previous mallet designs, was a fast freight locomotive, whisking heavy trains of time sensitive freight over the Blue Ridge mountains. The A class engines were very compact for mallets and in many ways out-preformed larger simple articulated locomotives. Compared to the UP's 4-8-8-4 Big Boy, N&W's A class 2-6-6-4's were shorter in length and height, weighed less and operated at a lower boiler pressure. Yet at 40 mph, the Big Boy's drawbar horsepower was only slightly higher than the A class. The N&W excelled at doing a lot with less.
#1218 was retired from revenue service in 1959. It was aqcuired for use as a stationary boiler and remained for that use until the early 1980's when the Norfolk Southern Railway purchased the engine and restored it for use on excursions along with N&W J #611 and Southern Railway 2-8-2 #4501. The locomotive racked up many miles in excursion service, one of it's most famous trips being going to St. Louis, MO for an NRHS convention. In 1994 when NS decided to pull the plug on it's steam, 1218 was undergoing mandatory inspections. It was fixed up cosmetically and moved to the Virginia Transportation Museum for display along with J #611. As a result, 1218 is missing parts of her firebox and boiler tubes. Both engines are still there today.