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Norfolk and Western’s Powhatan Arrow, 1949-1965

Norfolk and Western’s Powhatan Arrow, 1949-1958

Fred Klein, 2010, 2016

The Powhatan Arrow was Norfolk and Western’s day coach train from its easternmost terminus at Newport News Virginia to Cincinnati. The 1949 train seemed perfect in appearance: all coaches were made to the same plan, cars were painted a conservative Tuscan red with yellow stripes and back roofs, and were made by Pullman Standard in a single order delivered in 1949. The train carried no baggage or other assorted head end cars. From 1946 until the new streamlined cars arrived in 1949, the Arrow ran with refurbished heavyweight coaches. Steam finally ended on the N&W when the 4-8-4 J’s were retired in 1958, and the Arrow ceased operation in 1969.


Norfolk and Western was primarily a coal hauling freight railroad. There were no major cities along its east-west route and passenger trains were never a big part of its business. There was an eastbound and a westbound train every day. The car composition of the Powhatan Arrow did not change much during its streamlined 1949-late 60s lifetime, though the number of coaches was reduced as passenger demand waned. The cars had a script Powhatan Arrow 294.jpg on the sides, and cars could not be exchanged with other trains.


In my opinion, the real stars of the train were the steam J class 4-8-4 locomotives, designed and built by N&W in their Roanoke shops. The J’s were streamlined with a skyline casing, and had a side stripe that matched the tender and passenger cars perfectly.  The first batch of a total of 14 J’s were built in 1941-42 and the last in 1950. Norfolk and Western employees designed the J’s, which accounts for their unique appearance. They had 80,000 pounds of tractive effort and could haul trains at over 100 mph. Wikipedia states “Its counterbalancing and precision mechanics were so modern that it was joked that the J's top speed is only limited by the nerves of the engineer.” The locomotive is gorgeous to look at, and #611 survives in working order at the Virginia transportation museum on Roanoke.


This N&W publicity photo of the Powhatan Arrow was taken on the New River at Parrott Virginia in 1950, and shows the initial 7-car train. Photo from page 87 of Dixon’s Norfolk and Western’s Powhatan Arrow.


The Powhatan Arrow westbound at Cooper Tunnel West Virginia in July 1955. The baggage car is unusual. N&W did not order any matching streamlined baggage cars in the 1949 Pullman Standard order for streamlined passenger cars, but relied on older green cars when needed. N&W publicity photo.

The Powhatan Arrow at Singer Virginia on August 12, 1949. The locomotive is J class 4-8-4 #609. N&W publicity photo.

The Powhatan Arrow at Singer Virginia on August 12, 1949, showing the unique observation car. N&W publicity photo.


Prototype car

Prototype name

Model car

Model number


4-8-4 J steam locomotive

N&W 604

4-8-4 J steam

N&W 608


Coach (P1 48s w/crew rm)

N&W 502 (&501)


N&W 502


Coach (P2 66s divided)

N&W 512 (&511)


N&W 512


Coach (P3 56s)

N&W 534 (531-540)


N&W 538


Coach (P3 56s)

N&W (531-540)


N&W 533


Coach (P3 56s)

N&W (531-540)


N&W 539


Diner (D1)

N&W 491 (491-494)


N&W 491

same car shape


N&W 581 (&582)


N&W 581

same car shape







The consist is based on one published by Wayner in Passenger Car Consists 1923-1973, page 61. That train was at Roanoke Virginia on October 16, 1954. I model the Powhatan Arrow with a basic set of Con cor passenger coaches and cars. I re-decaled the cars to match the prototype, and the Con cor paint job is good. Although the Con cor cars are based on Great Northern prototypes, the basic car shapes and window patterns of the coaches are similar. The Con cor model coach windows are a bit larger than the prototype, and the observation windows are much larger. M&R metal sides are available if you want to model the Powhatan Arrow cars exactly.


J locomotive and first set of coaches


The J class 4-8-4 steam locomotive is a prototypical Bachmann model. The first coach in the Powhatan Arrow was a P1 coach with 44 seats, a small 8-seat smoking lounge for passengers, and a locker area with a few spartan seats for the dining car crew. The second P2 coach had 66 seats and was divided into a 24-seat “colored” section and 42-seat white section. The seats were all equivalent, but there were separate washrooms at each end of the car. The remaining P3 coaches had 58 seats, a men’s washroom at the vestibule end and a lady’s lounge at the other end. All seats in the regular passenger compartments reclined. The window patterns of the first two coaches were different than the P3 coach that followed. All coaches are modeled by the “generic” Con-cor smoothside coach that approximates the window pattern of the P3 coach.


More coaches, diner and observation car


Next are two more 58-seat P3 coaches. Next, the D1 dining car sat 36 people and was in the train for the whole route. The last car was a P4 Observation-tavern-lounge with a streamlined, boat-tail end. The model cars are all “generic” cars based on 1951 Great Northern prototypes. The model observation car is most unlike the prototype, which had smaller windows, and the kitchen and serving area was in the center of the car, not in the front like in the model. I admire the streamlined shape of the J locomotive and the simple elegance of the paint scheme on the cars, but must ignore the details of the windows.





Dixon, Thomas. Norfolk and Western’s Powhatan Arrow, TLC Publishing, 2009.

Randall, D: From Zephyr to Amtrak, Prototype Publications.