Engine 397 — a Victorian-era class R switcher steam engine – was built at Norfolk & Western Railroad’s Roanoke Machine Works, rolling out in September 1893. The Roanoke shop, chartered in 1881 to build and repair locomotive engines and railcars, weathered hard times in 1893 as an economic depression descended on the Magic City, forcing layoffs. N & W later went into receivership and was reorganized in 1896 as Norfolk & Western Railway.
Despite the financial upheavals, engine 397 was built before orders for new locomotives dried up almost completely and the railroad cut hours for the shop’s remaining employees to four a day. The undated photograph from the Norfolk Southern archives, at top, shows the locomotive’s crew, some with lanterns, ready to fire up the engine.
Like all switchers, the 397 was a small, powerful locomotive built not to move cars over long distances but to shift railcars around in a classification yard to assemble and disassemble trains.
– Jennifer McDaid, NS historical archivist