Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 7, 2013

Fully loaded Ridge Runner derails on opening day of 2013 season

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — A much-anticipated first run for a miniature train ran into a snag Saturday when a problem with the tracks derailed it just as the journey started.

The Ridge Runner locomotive at Lotito Park in Bluefield had bright spring weather for its first day of operations for the spring of 2013, but it derailed moments after it left the train station. A local wrecker service was called to put the engine back on the tracks, but it continued to derail.

Half a dozen dry runs were conducted while the Ridge Runner was being prepared for service, said Lori Mills, Ridge Runner coordinator.

“The test runs looked really good,” she said while the work was underway.  The track had been inspected to ensure that it was ready; however, the train can move differently when it is fully loaded.

It was soon determined that a steel piece that holds sections of the track together, known as a tie bar, may have shifted. Recent freezing and thawing could have affected the part, said train engineer Tim Blankenship.

“There’s a lot of moisture in the ground,” he said.

Mills stated that the company that assembled the tracks, Crafton Railroad in Illinois, might be contacted if the problem continues.

“If we need to get Crafton Railroad to come out here and see what’s going on, we absolutely will,” she said. Mills did not know Saturday if the Ridge Runner would be open today.

Two fascinated children watched as the tow truck lifted the train engine’s stern and set it on the tracks.

“I want to see the choo-choo!” 2-year-old Nicholas Gates declared. His mother, Melissa Gates of Bluefield, Va., said her son loved trains, especially Thomas the Tank Engine.

“I like it a little bit,” Natalie Gates, 5, said of Thomas. “But I like Rapunzel and most, and Minnie Mouse!”

Michael Roberts, 42, of Durham, N.C., and his family had traveled to Bluefield to see the Ridge Runner.

“We actually came up for the train, and it’s beautiful up here,” he said. The family planned to visit the Ridge Runner again if they couldn’t ride it Saturday.

“I like trains,” said his daughter, 3-year-old Mary Emma. “We rode it, and then it went back.”

Near the train station, 3-year-old Braylen Shrader Dellinger was hoping to ride the Ridge Runner for the first time.

“He loves trains,” said his grandmother, Krystal Shrader of Paynesville. “He is crazy about trains.”