Among U.S. Class 1 railroads it can be a challenge to locate one that didn’t buy an F-unit from General Motors. Norfolk & Western (N&W) is one of those in that rare club and got there by sticking with steam later than most roads.
In 1964, N&W’s system expanded with its acqusition of Nickel Plate Road, Wabash (WAB), and a few smaller lines. From Wabash came N&W’s F-unit roster, which consisted of Electro-Motive Division (EMD) and General Motors Diesel (GMD) F7 examples.
In all, N&W inherited more than 100 F-units (F7A and a few F7Bs), according to Norfolk & Western First Generation Diesels by Paul K. Withers and Robert G. Bowers (1990, Withers Publishing). The collection of cab units saw use in many parts of the newly expanded N&W system from the time of the 1964 merger through the late 1970s. In addition to working N&W service, a group of 10 members of these ex-Wabash F-units went on lease to Central Railroad of New Jersey.
Perhaps the most notable were Wabash’s GMD-built F7s. These 20 Canadian F-units are an interesting bunch and though they did initially travel to points beyond their usual St. Thomas Division haunt, the group as N&W roster members mostly returned to their original tasks of serving as a bridge between Buffalo, N.Y., and Detroit, Mich., on what became the Ontario Division on Norfolk & Western…
ABOVE: Wabash 691 shows the road’s late era simplification to its multicolor livery the F-units arrived wearing. In Norfolk & Western service, there are several variations to the look, some utilizing parts of the original Wabash scheme. This unit is about a year away from becoming N&W roster member 3691 as it sits at Landers Yard in Chicago in late August 1963. —Jim Boyd photo/Kevin EuDaly collection
ABOVE: N&W 3657 (ex-WAB 657) is the class unit of sorts for the GMD F7A series. The unit is shown at Windsor, Ont., in October 1971. Note the combination of horns present on the roof with a reverse single bugle and small cluster air horn residing on this unit. —Ken Annett photo/Kevin EuDaly collection
ABOVE: N&W 3671 retains its gray upper color from its days on the Wabash roster. The unit was with 3667 at Buffalo, N.Y., on April 27, 1974. The metal frames on the number boards were common attribute on GMD F7s in Wabash and N&W service. Notice the horizontal white stripes are coming back through on the pilot surface from its original tri-color Wabash livery. —Mike Tedesco photo/Kevin EuDaly collection