The American, Part 2: 6-4-16 N&W 611 and the Manassas Railway Heritage Festival

611 pounds through the crossing at Balls Ford Road in Wellington, VA.

A couple of months before 611 came to town, I started up on anti-depressants again after over a decade of refusing to use them. While they are certainly having a positive effect, the side effects included EXTREME drowsiness. So drowsy that I would occasionally dream that I got out of bed and went to work, only to wake up and realize I was still at home, at which point I would get up and go to work... only to wake up again and still be in bed at home. Six times in a row. But I digress... Point being, I overslept and didn't get to film 611's 7am arrival at the Manassas depot like I had planned.

Instead, I staked out a spot at the Balls Ford Road crossing in Wellington, VA. This point is several miles from the wye at Manassas, so 611, operating as NS train 958, was guaranteed to be at full permitted speed as it began its tour westbound. I then leapfrogged ahead of the train to Delaplane, where a massive crowd was being policed by a railroad cop in a black SUV. I chatted with a gentleman next to me who informed me of the footbridge at the crest of Linden Hill, which I would later feel incredibly foolish for ignoring. Several familes unfamiliar with railfan etiquette nearly got in everyones shots, but thankfully the view was clear by the time the crossing bells rang. 611 pounded by, and I moved to my third spot of the morning.

At Des Plaines, VA, the tracks wind around wide open fields, save for a line of trees to either side of the track. But, positioning myself at a private farm gate (without blocking the way or trespassing, of course!) I settled down for a 2-hour wait for the train to return eastbound. I was convinced that other railfans would be vying for this spot, but I was sorely mistaken. My only company by the time 611 arrived was a couple of families, curious about why so many people were standing near the tracks. The first family was very polite and interested in the train, and I gave them info on how to go see the engine up-close when it was stopped in Manassas. The second family, after insisting they didn't mean to be lemmings, unfortunately had to get to a sports appointment. 

Surprisingly, I managed to get far enough ahead of the train that another shot at Balls Ford Road became possible. This time, I took stills as well as video:

The Manassas Railway Heritage Festival began over two decades ago when Norfolk Southern steam excursions would stop in town on trips to and from Alexandria, VA. Now that there are no facilities for turning or maintaining steam locomotives in Alexandria (the enginehouse and wye were removed in the mid 1990s and the area has since been built over as a mid-rise business development) the excursions depart from the VRE/Amtrak station in Manassas and the visiting steam engine, which has so far only been 611, spends the night on the Manassas Yard house track. For a time in the early 2000's the annual Railway Festival was on the verge of disappearing, but model railroad clubs and local businesses gave it new life, and now 611 puts the festival on a national map. I enjoyed visiting with friends from various model railroad clubs, and checking out what WAMALUG, the local Adult Fans of Lego club, had built in the past year. Game recognizes game.

I didn't have long to enjoy the HO and O scale Class Js scurrying about scale track, because the 1:1 scale Class J was nearly about to pull through town! The train made a grand performance strolling through the heart of the festival, capturing attention from nearly everyone. As the train pulled ahead of the crossovers on track 2 at control point Moore, Amtrak's Northeast Regional train #176 (operating as NS 014) carefully eased up to its scheduled station stop on Track 1.

After the Amtrak had continued on its journey towards Alexandria, Washington DC, and points beyond all the way to Boston, 611 gently pushed the excursion train through the crossovers to unload the passengers on Track 1 at the station. This offered the treat of seeing Dover Harbor, a classic Pullman lounge that belongs to the local D.C NRHS, "leading" the train as it reversed through, cutting the festival in half again.

Pullman Lounge "Dover Harbor" guides the train as it reverses down Track 1 at Manassas.

While the passengers unloaded, I continued to enjoy the model trains. Once the train was empty, 611 pulled forward of Moore Interlocking, and reversed down Track 2 to tie down the excursion train in the yard for the day. After doing so, 611 rolled up to the Track 2 platform of the Manassas station to sit on display for admirers. Just as it eased to a stop, the VRE excursion train to Clifton came up to board the second-last train of the day, after spending lunchtime laying over at the Broad Run Yard while 611 and Amtrak took up all the available railroad.

Please enjoy the pictures and video, Part 3 will be up soon!

611 rests on display at Manassas, VA after tying down the excursion coaches in the yard in the background.