Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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September 17, 2012

Ridge Runner pulling into station in two weeks

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Only two weekends remain in the Ridge Runner Railroad’s 2012 season, and interest in the little train that cruises in a circle around Lotito Park is still as strong as ever.

After sitting idle for several years, the train resumed its circuits inside the park during the summer of 2011 — thanks to the efforts of the “Save the Ridge Runner Committee,” RJ Mine Service, the late Ronnie Jones and many others, the locomotive and its cars were restored and put back in service to the delight of more than 14,000 people who rode the train last year.

“Nicholas is train crazy,” Richard Crisp of Martinsville, Va., said as his wife, Cindy, went to the ticket window to buy tickets so Nicholas, 4, his sister, Samantha, 11, as well as Richard and Cindy Crisp, could ride another circuit through the park.

“My mother-in-law lives in Tazewell, Va., and when she told us about this train, Nicholas couldn’t wait to get up here to ride it,” Richard Crisp said. “Now we’re going for another round.”

“I loved it,” Samantha Crisp said. “My favorite part was coming through the tunnel.”

Tim Blankenship runs the Ridge Runner, and his wife, Shirley Blankenship, operates the ticket booth and souvenir shop in the Ridge Runner depot. Shirley counted the number of $1 tickets sold this year and had a total of 12,116 sold as of 1:40 p.m. on Sunday. “And that was with us being closed for a month while the track was repaired,” Tim Blankenship said.

The train will be running on Sept. 22 and 23 and again on Sept. 29 and 30 from noon until 6 p.m. both days. Lotito Park closes to vehicular traffic at the end of September, as volunteers and employees of the Parks and Recreation Department begin the process of setting up the Holiday of Lights set to open this year on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22.

“This has been a fun year,” Tim Blankenship said. “I saw kids running across that field, holding a dollar bill stuck up like this and waving in the wind,” Blankenship said as he pointed in the direction of the large field near the basketball courts in the park. “With this day and age when it seems like computers are the only thing that interests kids, it’s fun to see how they love the train.”

Shirley Blankenship said that train souvenirs have done well this year, but it is impossible not to notice an Appalachian League baseball on the shelf near her desk.

“Someone hit it over the fence, it bounced once and came right in here,” Shirley Blankenship said. “Some kid will come in here and ask for it and I’ll give it to him.”

The Ridge Runner Depot is located near the right field fence where the Bluefield Blue Jays play Appalachian League baseball during the summer.

“It was just a foul ball that bounced in here, but we’ve had several baseballs that have bounced into our parking lot,” Tim Blankenship said.

Jodi Harris of Bluefield brought her grand niece, Layla, 2, and her 5-month-old grandson, Jaxon Billings, for a ride on the train with Derik Billings and his fiancé, Katrina Fitzwater.

“I brought Layla to ride it earlier this year, but this is Jaxon’s first ride,” Harris said. When Blankenship brought the train back to the station, Harris asked if he would pose for a picture with her holding Layla and Jaxon. Just like that, new memories were made.

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