Advertising its route as "The Rhine, the Alps, and the Battlefield Line," the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway proudly served up Southern hospitality and glorious scenery to travelers between tidewater Virginia and the heart of the Midwest. In the early 1930s, to entice passengers during the depths of the Great Depression, it re-equipped its Fast Flying Virginian, inaugurated the Sportsman, and added a new flagship limited, "The George Washington, the most wonderful train in the world, created by the Chesapeake and Ohio to celebrate the two hundredth birthday anniversary of the father of transportation in America." Traveling overnight between Washington and Cincinnati, the George featured Pullman and reclining-seat coach accommodations and delivered on the road's new advertising slogan, "Sleep like a kitten and arrive fresh as a daisy."
To haul these air-conditioned trains on fast schedules over the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains, the C&O turned to a familiar resource for a new engine. Along with the Nickel Plate Road, the Pere Marquette, and the Erie Railroad, the C&O was part of group of railroads controlled by the Van Sweringen brothers of Cleveland, Ohio. Under the leadership of talented designer John Black, an Advisory Mechanical Committee designed engines for the Van Sweringen roads and turned out some of the finest locomotives of the super power era. Just a year after the AMC's famed Nickel Plate Berkshire took to the rails in 1934, its first Class J-3 4-8-4s for C&O passenger service were delivered by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio. Rather than calling them Northerns as western roads had done, the C&O named its 4-8-4s Greenbriers after a West Virginia river and The Greenbrier, a C&O-owned resort that was a favorite of U.S. presidents.
The new engines proved so satisfactory that the C&O continued to order them well into the diesel era. Our model represents the last group, Class J-3a delivered in 1948. With nearly 3500 cylinder horsepower and the ability to haul 13 heavyweight cars up a 1.5% grade, the J-3a's represented the last hurrah of steam power. Capable of nearly 80 mph, they boasted roller bearings on more surfaces than any previous C&O steamers; BoxPok drivers for less "dynamic augment," or hammer blow on the rails (a characteristic of steam power); and a Franklin high-speed trailing truck booster - a miniature steam engine that added power for starting heavy loads.
While most of the Greenbriers went to scrap after retirement in the mid-1950s, J-3a No. 614 was preserved at the B&O Railroad Museum until Ross Roland brought it back to life in to power the Chessie Safety Express in 1980-81 and then years of fan trip service, where Ross was known to occasionally take the throttle and show fans what 70 mph behind a steamer was like. Although 614 is not currently in steam, it resides today at the Greenbrier Resort, painted for a Presidential Express planned to take to the rails in the future.
Did You Know?
The Greenbriers were originally planned to have a streamlined shroud like the C&O's 4-6-4 "Yellowbelly" Hudsons.