ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke's famed 611 steam locomotive is headed for a little road trip next week. The engine will be fired up to go to Pennsylvania's Amish Country on the Strasburg Railroad.
But before it leaves, there's a big weekend in store for it in Roanoke.
The Virginia Museum of Transportation is again offering the chance for people to get up in the cab, blow the whistle and get hands-on with the engine.
The locomotive had been sidelined when Amtrak and Norfolk Southern said they would not host any more excursions on their tracks, so that's why it's headed to Pennsylvania to a place where it can stretch its legs.
611's whistle will echo through downtown Roanoke once again this weekend as the locomotive is fired up ahead of its trip to Pennsylvania. On Sunday, fans will be able to get up close with the Spirit of Roanoke before it leaves for the Strasburg Railroad next week.
"The experience alone, just to be near an engine like this is wonderful, add to it the firing up of the engine," museum education director Courtney Plaster said.
A small group of people will be there as the crew fires up the engine Saturday before Sunday's events. It will take a whole day to build up enough pressure and the group will get to watch as the crew performs its work and studies from manuals just like the real-life engineers and firemen do.
"Crew members will be there so they won't be handling tools per se, but they'll be right there with the crew learning more," Plaster said.
The museum isn't laying out a specific timetable on the 611's move, saying it's up to Norfolk Southern to decide, nor is it sharing details on whether the locomotive will complete the trip under its own power. 611 is making the trip because Strasburg is one of the few places with private tracks for the locomotive to run on. After Norfolk Southern and Amtrak sidelined the engine, and steam locomotives in general, the museum was left with very few places to run it.
Strasburg Railroad station manager Steve Barrall said they're happy to play host to such an iconic piece of history.
"It's a unique partnership that we're excited about," Barrall said. "It's something that has kind of come together over time, our chief mechanical officer got to talk to the 611's chief mechanical officer and said wouldn't it be neat if 611 could make its way here to Strasburg."
The Strasburg Railroad is calling it a once-in-a-lifetime steam extravaganza because the 611 will reunite with Strasburg's engine, the Norfolk and Western 475. Although 475 was not made in Roanoke like 611 was, the two locomotives were stablemates at points throughout their careers, according to Barrall.
There's a full line of events set for the 611's time in Pennsylvania, from operating the engine to taking photos with it and more. Both VMT and Strasburg are excited to be able to show the engines off to people who have not seen them before.
"Within two or three hours, folks from Philadelphia, DC, Baltimore, they can all be here and enjoy the events that are going on."
Spaces are still available for Saturday's fire up experience, but preregistration is required and closes before the event. Sunday's hot cab tours, whistleblowing and photo opportunities are open to the public, no registration required. Contact the museum 540-342-5670 for more information.
Click here for more information on the events at the Strasburg Railroad.