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At the foreclosure auction, the AM&O was purchased by E. Clark & Co., a private banking firm in Philadelphia which controlled the Shenandoah Valley Railroad then under construction up the valley from Hagerstown, Maryland.

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About 1960, N&W was the last major railroad in the United States to convert from steam to diesel power.However, the Financial Panic of 1873 wrecked the AM&O's finances.After several years of operating under receiverships, Mahone's role as a railroad builder ended in 1881 when northern financial interests took control.As the N&W brought people and jobs, the Town of Roanoke quickly became an independent city in 1884.In fact, Roanoke became a city so quickly that it earned the nickname "Magic City".This gave the railroad the route structure it was to use for more than 60 years.

The Virginian Railway (VGN), an engineering marvel of its day, was conceived and built by William Nelson Page and Henry Huttleston Rogers.

It was N&W's Roanoke Shops that made the company known industry-wide for its excellence in steam power.

The Roanoke Shops, with its workforce of thousands, is where the famed classes A, J, and Y6 locomotives were designed, built, and maintained.

In the 1850s, Big Lick became a stop on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad (V&T) which linked Lynchburg with Bristol on the Virginia-Tennessee border.

After the American Civil War (1861–1865), William Mahone, a civil engineer and hero of the Battle of the Crater, was the driving force in the linkage of 3 railroads, including the V&T, across the southern tier of Virginia to form the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad (AM&O), a new line extending from Norfolk to Bristol, Virginia in 1870.

Today it stokes steel mills and power plants all over the globe.