Norfolk and Western Railway is the product of more than 200 railroad mergers spanning a century and a half. Beginning in 1838 with a 10-mile line from Petersburg to City Point, Va., NW grew to a system serving 14 states and a province of Canada on more than 7,000 miles of road.
William Mahone, a Virginia Military Institute engineering graduate, built the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad and eventually became its president in the pre-Civil War era. Mahone's innovative roadbed through the Great Dismal Swamp, near Norfolk, Va., employs a log foundation laid at right angles beneath the surface of the swamp. Still in use today, it withstands immense tonnages of coal traffic -- 20th century traffic on a brilliantly engineered 19th century track. After the war, Mahone was the driving force in the linkage of N&P, South Side Railroad and the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad to form the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad, a new line extending from Norfolk to Bristol, Va. When this company entered receivership less than a decade later, Mahone's role as a railroad builder ended.
In 1881, the AM&O was purchased by E.W. Clark and Co., a private banking firm in Philadelphia, and was renamed Norfolk and Western Railroad. Frederick J. Kimball, a partner in the Clark firm, headed the new line and consolidated it with the Shenandoah Valley Railroad. He and his board of directors selected a small Virginia village called Big Lick, later renamed Roanoke, as the junction for the Shenandoah and NW. The Roanoke Shops, where the famed Classes A, J and Y6 locomotives were designed, built and maintained, made NW known industry-wide for its excellence in steam power.
Kimball, whose interest in geology was responsible for the opening of the Pocahontas coalfields in western Virginia and West Virginia, pushed NW lines through the wilds of West Virginia north to Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio, and south to Durham and Winston-Salem, N.C. This gave the railroad the route structure it was to use for more than 60 years. The opening of the coalfields made NW prosperous and made Pocahontas coal world-famous. It fueled half the world's navies and today stokes steel mills and power plants all over the globe, providing nearly a third of NS revenue. Norfolk and Western operated profitably through World Wars I and II and paid regular dividends throughout the Depression.
In 1958, Stuart T. Saunders, a lawyer, was named president, the first non-operating man to hold the position. Under his direction, the Virginian Railway was merged into NW in 1959, ushering in the merger movement and the modernization of the industry. In 1964, the former Wabash, Nickel Plate, Pittsburgh & West Virginia, and Akron, Canton & Youngstown railways were brought into the system in one of the most complex mergers of the era. This consolidation positioned NW as an important Midwest railroad, providing direct single-line service between the Atlantic on one side and the Great Lakes and Mississippi on the other.
Photo Source: Walter Wilk ( http://railroadfan.com/gallery/displayimage-1247-64146.html )
Norfolk & Western Railway #2110. 2-8-8-2 Y5 class engine built by N&W's Roanoke Shops.