Railfans gather to spot the Old 611.
Kevin V.Q. Dam
Five thousand fans gathered in Roanoke over Memorial Day weekend to catch a glimpse of fame. The celebrity wasn’t a Hollywood star but a hulking steam locomotive, originally built in 1950, known as “Old 611.” The engine set off from the Virginia Museum of Transportation for the North Carolina Transportation Museum, where it will undergo approximately $750,000 worth of restorations over the following six to nine months before returning to Roanoke.
The celebration surrounding Old 611 is no surprise to members of the railfan community—train enthusiasts who visit railroad tracks in order to spot (and photograph) specific trains of historical, aesthetic or rare import. “It’s almost become like a competitive sport; so many guys want to be the first to see this train or that train,” says Charles Curley, president of the Richmond-based Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, which has about 130 members. “I like to say it’s similar to NASCAR—big, powerful machines that make a lot of noise,” adds Curley. The difference lies with the trophy; for railfans, it’s the photograph that matters.
Virginia is a particularly rich state for railfans, says Curley, noting that many lines converge in Richmond and Roanoke. “We have both CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway here,” so there is a lot of history. But the real appeal for railfans?
“Most little boys love trains,” says Curley, “some of us just never grew out of it.”
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