Out and About with Becky: Small parts make up the big picture for the 611

611: Back on Track

SPENCER, N.C. - The great steam locomotives of the past will no longer be just a memory, thanks to the last remaining N&W Class J 611, which was built in Roanoke back in 1950.

Volunteers, staff, and train buffs continue their around-the-clock work to get her back in working condition after years in retirement. We head Out and About to Spencer, N.C., which has been home to the 611 for the past year.

At the North Carolina Transportation Museum, you will find plenty of noise, along with people and locomotive parts everywhere. It's organized chaos, in which everyone knows exactly what to do.

"It's gone really well," said Tom Mayor, the general foreman of the 611 renovation project. "We've had a few hiccups, but other than that, everything has gone as we thought it would go."

Once a fireman on the 611, Mayor makes it clear this mass effort has a single focus: getting the 611 back on track to run under her own steam once again.

"The big thing is the family history on the railroad, and I get choked up about it," said Eddie Mooneyham.

For Mooneyham, and so many others who work on this project, it goes beyond the general labor; this project is laced with emotion.    

"I retired from my other job," Mayor said. "I wasn't going to lose that much, so I decided to retire and come out and do this project."

Mayor took early retirement, left his home in Illinois, and headed to North Carolina so he could be a part of the 611 project.

"I worked on a lot of steam engines," he said, "but to me, this is the Cadillac."

To operate a Cadillac of this magnitude, there are a multitude of jobs.

"It ranges from monotonous little jobs to really exciting jobs where you're finishing up a project and know you are one step closer to making smoke," Mooneyham said.

We caught up with Mooneyham while he was working on an exhaust part. He stepped aside to let me work on this small part of history. My job involved working on an elbow piece of the exhaust which that transports warm water into the 611's boiler. Even that small piece has roots in Roanoke. Mooneyham explained it was actually cast at the East End shops in the foundry.

Once we finished, Mooneyham walked me inside the massive bullet nose of the 611, where that elbow piece will be a small part of the massive operation.

Almost a year ago, this group began their work.  They started at the front, and continue working their way back.

"Then you get in and see what time has dealt you, a good hand or a bad hand," Mooneyham said.

They discovered time preserved the 611 well.

"I mean, [it's] just a nice engine, rides nice, you can put your feet back, turn the valve on, fire it, and watch the scenery go by," Mayor said.

Built in 1950 and retired twice, the time has come for the 611 to run the tracks again. The 611 will be reborn for generations to come.

Throughout May, we will bring you the stories of the 611's renovation. When she thunders into the Star City, we will bring you live to the celebration, May 30, to see her triumphant return for yourself.


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