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Restored Norfolk & Western ‘Queen of Steam’ returns to Old Towne Petersburg

Posted at 12:53 AM, Jun 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-13 02:11:38-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Business owners in Old Towne Petersburg are preparing for large crowds when a massive piece of Virginia transportation history once again rumbles into the city over the weekend.

The restored Norfolk & Western steam locomotive, No. 611, will depart Lynchburg around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday morning for the 130-mile trip to Petersburg.

As a result, businesses in Petersburg are gearing up for a massive influx of tourists. The "Queen of Steam" is slated to arrive each day around lunchtime and stay in the city for about two hours before heading back to Lynchburg.

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"No. 611 was one of fourteen Class ‘J’ passenger locomotives built for the Norfolk & Western Railway between 1941 and 1950 and the only one in existence today," the Virginia Museum of Transportation's website reads.

When the train rolled into town two years ago, business owners were stunned and a bit unprepared for the turnout.

"Last time it was mayhem, but it worked," said Charlie Rawlings, who owns the Dixie Restaurant on North Sycamore Street.

This time, Rawlings has called in extra staffers to handle the crowds. And as well as normal hours on Saturday, the restaurant, which is normally closed Sundays, will also be open that day for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"You don’t expect the number of people who come," Rawlings said. "There are some many train enthusiasts who follow in. And then you got the people who are curious about the train and then the people on the train."

Rawlings said that presents a challenge for business owners, but added that it could be the biggest day of the year for many shops and restaurants in the historic city.

“I think it’s great for Petersburg," he said. "There’s been a lot of good things going on in Petersburg.”

Rawlings was referring to the boom the film industry has brought to the city. It started when Steven Spielberg filmed much of his Academy Award-winning movie, "Lincoln," in the city. Then Meg Ryan selected Petersburg for some locations of "Ithaca," her directorial debut. Most recently, the cast and crew of the new PBS mini-series "Mercy Street" filmed portions of the Civil War-based drama in Old Towne.

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