Monday, June 6th was a bittersweet day. On the pro side, I would get to see 611 make a grand departure from the Manassas yard, right in my home railfanning turf! However, a sinking feeling lurked in the background; prospects for future mainline steam excursions weren't looking too bright. The 21st Century Steam program ended in 2015, and while 611 had been allowed to romp across the high iron for another season, there has been no official comment on any kind of 2017 schedule.
I was determined to get this departure on film. In 2015, the train was scheduled to depart at 8am, and the crew didn't show up until nearly 10am. This year, as I was scarfing down breakfast, I could hear the yard crews building up the train. I raced for Manassas and arrived to see 611 popping her safety valves on and off, waiting for the clear signal to tear down the Washington district, with a final destination of Spencer, NC. My camera phone simply does not do the beauty of the J in the morning justice, but still:
At about 9:30 in the AM, the signal for 611 raised to a high green, but the ferry move was still waiting for verbal confirmation that the railroad was ready for the steamer. For a moment, there was some confusion on the radio, as the dispatcher was trying to call 611, 611 was answering (with a very classic engineer voice) but for some reason the dispatcher couldn't hear the responses. After a few failed attempts, a unidentified voice on the radio said "___ to Greenville (the dispatching center in SC), I think 957 can hear you, but you can't hear him. What you want to tell 'im?" "I just want to tell him to come on." "Alright, he's comin on!" And with that, two blasts on the whistle and a cloud of steam, 611 TORE out of the siding. And I mean TORE. When entering the yard, 611 went very slowly but leaving, I realized that with the amount of speed the train was picking up, there was NO WAY I'd beat him to Godwin Road. Instead, I raced ahead to a crossing in Nokesville, cursing every slow vehicle in front of me. I arrived to a photo line of fellow railfans, all exhibiting perfect ettiquette. Nobody spoke as the mighty 611 crossed over from track 2 to the single track and began blowing madly for the crossing. I'm no good judge of speed, but given all the circumstances surrounding 611s last scheduled run with a full rake of passenger cars, I highly doubt they were obeying the theoretical 40mph speed limit for equipment over 40 years old.
Until next time, Glorious Queen.