BLUEFIELD — The historic Ridge Runner train at City Park may be back in operation soon.
Operating sporadically this year because of various issues, Interim City Manager/City Attorney Colin Cline told members of the city board recently the small train, which carries passengers through the park for a scenic tour, was down again because of mechanical and other problems.
“We are going to do a top to bottom assessment of that,” he said, to find out what needs to be done to keep the popular ride up and going.
Craig Strahm, deputy director of public works for the city, said Friday that assessment was done.
The problem was, he said, the rear wheels of the locomotive kept slipping off the track.
“We fixed the track, but it didn’t solve the issue,” he said.
Raymond Woody, the contractor who brought the Ridge Runner from its previous East River Mountain Overlook to the park and is familiar with the train, was consulted.
After examining the tracks and the train the determination was made the wheels needed to be replaced.
“We are hoping it’s the wheel problem,” Strahm said, and the needed parts have been ordered.
However, it is not yet known when they will arrive, but once they do installing them can be done in a day, he said.
“The train is set up well,” he said, and has the ability to operate soon after the wheels are replaced.
First installed at the East River Mountain overlook on Rt. 52 in 1964, it operated until around 1980 as travelers heading north and south used Rt. 52 going over East River Mountain.
However, once the East River Mountain tunnel was built and motorists started using I-77, a much smaller volume of traffic crossed the mountain.
In the early ‘80’s the train was moved from East River Mountain to the City Park by Woody and it operated on about 4,200 feet of track off and on until the early 2000s, when it fell into disrepair and closed with no plans in place run the train again.
Since there was no money in the budget to replace the rotted cross ties and repair the old Ridge Runner locomotive, the city at that time thought it might be appropriate to bring the old locomotive out of the garage and transform it into a statue — a downtown reminder of Bluefield’s railroading past.
However, group of present and former residents, who became known as the “Save the Ridge Runner Committee,” raised $150,000 in 27 weeks to start the process of restoring the locomotive, rebuilding the passenger cars, replacing the track and even erecting a new train depot at City Park.
Almost $300,000 was eventually raised to finish the work.
Bea Paine, former member of city council and community activist, was co-chair of the committee, and the Ridge Runner, the “little train that could,” was again back in operation in May 2011.
“Many of us remember the Ridge Runner when it was on top of the mountain,” Paine told a crowd of about 1,400 people gathered for the grand reopening ceremony that she organized.
Paine, who welcomed the crowd and served as host for the 40-minute-long ceremony, said the city manager at the time (Andy Merriman) “really did us a favor” when he suggested bringing the aging Ridge Runner locomotive out of storage and putting it on display in the downtown.
“We heard from you,” Paine said, making reference to the people who then rallied to support the effort to restore the popular tourist attraction, which may soon once again hit the rails.
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com