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About 1960, N&W was the last major railroad in the United States to convert from steam to diesel power.The presence of the railroad also made Roanoke attractive to manufacturers.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 three 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.However, the Financial Panic of 1873 wrecked the AM&O's finances.At Roanoke Gap, another branch of the Great Wagon Road, the Wilderness Road, continued southwest to Tennessee.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.The AM&O was renamed Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W). Kimball, a civil engineer and partner in the Clark firm, headed the new line and the new Shenandoah Valley Railroad.For the junction for the Shenandoah Valley and the Norfolk and Western roads, Kimball and his board of directors selected the small Virginia village called Big Lick, on the Roanoke River.
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.The name for the river was that used by the Algonquian speakers who lived 300 miles away where the river emptied into the sea near Roanoke Island.The native people who lived near where the city was founded did not speak Algonquian. There were also Cherokee speakers in that general area who fought with the Catawba people.In fact, Roanoke became a city so quickly that it earned the nickname "Magic City".Kimball's interest in geology was instrumental in the development of the Pocahontas coalfields in western Virginia and West Virginia.