IF YOU GO
When: Saturday through Monday, plus photo shoot tonight.
Where: Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, 4119 Cromwell Road. Must park at Eastgate Town Center, 5600 Brainerd Road, or Northgate Mall, Highway 153 at Hixson Pike, and ride free shuttle.
Admission: Varies (see box).
Daily entry: $30 per ticket for ages 3 and older, $96 single-day family packs of four tickets (plus $1.50 convenience charge). Includes shuttle service from off-site parking, access to all displays and exhibits and unlimited rides (as space allows) on Missionary Ridge Local and Tunnel Turn trains. Sunday ticket also includes an evening outdoor movie.
Best value: Railfest entry is included with purchase of premium train rides: $35 for Mainline 21st Century Steam excursions Saturday or Sunday, $45 for Georgia Diesel Special on Monday.
Sam Bush concert: $10 (may be purchased without additional Railfest ticket). Show scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Saturday; must ride shuttle to TVRM. Lawn chairs or blankets recommended for seating.
Extras: The following on-site activities will have an additional charge: trackless train rides ($2 and $3), vintage self-propelled hand cars ($3), pony rides ($3) food and refreshments, souvenir photos, face painting.
Chattanooga is the place for train lovers to be this weekend.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is celebrating its golden anniversary with Railfest, an event a year in planning.
"We wanted to play it big for our 50th anniversary," said Steve Freer, TVRM membership and marketing coordinator. "We hope it will be the biggest event we've ever had. It is a family event featuring entertainment, equipment exhibits, historical displays and, of course, plenty of train rides."
To date, the museum's Day Out With Thomas -- a series of rides pulled by the storybook tank engine -- has been its most popular event with an average crowd of more than 3,500 each day, Freer said.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum was founded in 1961 by a small group of local residents trying to save Chattanooga's railroad history.
"And here we are today, still able to provide that railroad experience," said Freer. "People can ride almost on a daily basis -- and that's becoming rare in our country."
The museum's founders and supporters succeeded in building a collection of railroad items, including rail cars and locomotives. The latest project is the renovation of Southern Railway locomotive No. 630.
Initially, excursions traveled regional rail lines, owned at the time by Southern Railway and Louisville & Nashville, Freer said. Southern Railway donated TVRM's existing property along the abandoned East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia rail line. Installed in 1858, the line included pre-Civil War Missionary Ridge Tunnel, he said.
TVRM offers several excursions during the year, including Chickamauga Turn and Dinner on the Diner trains into North Georgia, Hiwassee River Rail Adventure trips in Etowah, Tenn., and several holiday-themed outings.
Its trademark service is the Missionary Ridge Local, described as a "bite-size" round-trip between Grand Junction Station on Cromwell Road to East Chattanooga.
"The service accurately re-creates a local train, which would ramble between, and make stops in, small towns," Freer said. "This trip includes a stopover in East Chattanooga, where passengers view a turntable in operation and view restoration in progress inside the repair shop."
The nonprofit organization is funded through ticket sales, membership fees and tax-deductible donations. Additional income has been earned in recent years via Hollywood.
"Most recently we participated in 'Water for Elephants,' the History Channel's 'Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy,' and we had a part in the CBS Hallmark movie with Betty White called 'The Lost Valentine.' We were in a 'Veggie Tales' release as well," Freer said. "Anytime a film opportunity comes up, we try to deliver."
All events take place at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. No parking on-site, except for tonight's photo shoot. Online ticket purchase is recommended.
* 7 p.m. Gates open for night photo session using high-powered lighting on posed locomotives. Photographers will need a camera capable of long shutter speeds and a tripod. $25. Limited to 100.
* 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Shuttles run from Eastgate and Northgate.
* 9 a.m. Gates open. Entertainment throughout the day, including TMZ Live: All Aboard the Happy Train, Christie Burns, Lon Eldridge, Sweet Georgia Sound, Mountain Cove bluegrass band.
*9:30, 10:30, 11:30 a.m. and 12:30, 2, 3, 4 and 5 p.m. Tunnel Turn trains, pulled by steam locomotive, depart Grand Junction and reverse at Missionary Ridge Tunnel (25-minute round trips).
* 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mainline 21st Century Steam excursion trains run from Grand Junction Station to an area behind Chattanooga Choo Choo (15-mile, 90-minute round trips). $35 (includes same-day Railfest events).
* 10:15 and 11:10 a.m. and 12:25, 1:45, 2:50, 3:55 and 4:55 p.m. Missionary Ridge Local trains, pulled by diesel locomotive, run to East Chattanooga Station for turntable demonstration (45-minute round trips).
* 7:30 p.m. Entertainment headliner Sam Bush in concert (separate $10 ticket).
* 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Shuttles run.
* 9 a.m. Gates open. Entertainment throughout the day, including Matt Evans, Gary Scheufler, Lou Wamp & Swing Shift, Smooth Flight Jazz Band.
*9:30, 10:30, 11:30 a.m. and 12:30, 2, 3, 4 and 5 p.m. Tunnel Turn trains run.
* 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mainline 21st Century Steam excursion trains run. $35 (includes same-day Railfest events).
*10:15 and 11:10 a.m. and 12:25, 1:45, 2:50, 3:55 and 4:55 p.m. Missionary Ridge Local trains run.
* Sundown. Outdoor movie.
* 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Shuttles run.
*9 a.m. Gates open. Entertainment throughout day, including Ed Huey, Matt Evans, River City Red Hots and Norfolk Southern Lawmen.
* 9:30, 10:30, 11:30 a.m. and 12:30, 2, 3, 4 and 5 p.m. Tunnel Turn trains run.
* 10:15 and 11:10 a.m. and 12:25, 1:45, 2:50, 3:55 and 4:55 p.m. Missionary Ridge Local trains run.
* 11 a.m. Georgia Diesel Special departs. (6-hour round trip). $45 (includes same-day Railfest events).
DISPLAYS AND EXHIBITS
Available Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
*Entertainment: Civil War re-enactments, hobo camp storytelling by Jim Pfitzer, magician Jaden Maxwell.
*Exhibits: Chattanooga Area Model Railroad Club, Coosa Valley Model Railroad Association, Tennessee and Georgia Railroad Model Club, North Georgia Tinplate Trackers, Tennessee Valley Lego Train Club, photographer John W. Coniglio's "Fifty Years of Steam in the Valley" photo exhibit.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...