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A must see for rail fans and car guys

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North Carolina Transportation Museum -- Spencer Shops

History of the N.C. Transportation Museum

The N.C. Transportation Museum is located on the site of what was once Southern Railway Company's largest steam locomotive servicing facility. J.P. Morgan, Southern's owner, chose the site because of its location midway between the railroad's major terminal points of Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Ga. Construction of the Shops began in 1896, and they were named in honor of the first president of Southern Railway, Samuel Spencer.

During its peak, Spencer Shops employed nearly 3,000 people, which directly and indirectly provided most of the jobs for the towns of Spencer, East Spencer and other surrounding Rowan County communities.

With the advent of the diesel locomotive, Spencer Shops went into decline. The repair facility closed in 1960, but the classification (freight) yard remained open until the late 1970s.

In September 1977, Southern Railway donated four acres of the site, including three buildings, to the state of North Carolina. A second donation in 1979 included several; additional historic structures. The entire site was eventually placed under the administration of the Historic Sites section of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

The first exhibit area opened in 1983. Numerous restoration and exhibit improvements have occurred over the years, resulting in the museum's growth in size and popularity. The museum broke its annual visitation record in 2001 with 129.597 visitors, surpassing the old mark - set in 1999 - by nearly 15,000 visitors.

The N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation, a support group for the museum, was created in 1977 and is a key factor in the museum's success. More than $2 million in transportation artifacts have been acquired through the group's efforts. Foundation members and volunteers assist in the restoration and operation of these artifacts, which include trains, airplanes, trolley cars, wagons and automobiles.

The museum and the Foundation achieved restoration success with the completion of the Roundhouse, exhibits, Barber Junction Depot, turntable, parking lots and overhead bridge in 1996. The total cost of the restoration projects was $8 million.

The site's largest restoration project, the repair and renovation of the massive Back Shop, will be a major enhancement to the museum. More than $9 million has been raised, and restoration will begin when the remaining funds can be obtained.


Barber Junction Visitor Center:

The first stop is the Barber Junction Visitor center, an authentic train depot built in 1898 that was moved to the museum in 1980 from the nearby town of Barber, NC.

The Roundhouse:

The 37-bay Bob Julian Roundhouse, one of the largest ever constructed, was built (expanded) in 1924 and is one of the few preserved roundhouses remaining in the country. The building houses about 40 restored locomotives and rail cars.

Exhibits focus on the lives of the men who made Spencer Shops run and the history of railroads in North Carolina. Stop by the orientation room to get a map of the building, watch the orientation film, and ride the 100-foot turntable.

The Restoration Shop:

Here, volunteers restore and maintain rail cars and locomotives for future display in the Roundhouse or use on the train ride. The most active work days are Saturdays, and large viewing windows let visitors watch sparks fly and listen to the metal clang.

The Flue Shop:

Built in 1924 with hundreds of glass panes, was used to repair the flues, or pipes, used in steam locomotive boilers.

The building now houses the Bumper to Bumper exhibit, an impressive collection of antique automobiles, ranging from a 1901 White Steam Stanhope to a 1978 Plymouth N.C. Highway Patrol car.

Bumper to Bumper traces the evolution of the automobile in North Carolina, from tiny buggy-type vehicles to sleek 1940s roadsters and modern cars.

The vehicles are set against backdrops that feature life from the 1920s through the 1980s.

Master Mechanics Office:

The Master Mechanic's Office, built in 1911, once housed the head of operations for Spencer Shops, but today the Wagons, Wheels, and Wings exhibit hall and the Gift Station fill the historic structure.

Displays trace the history of all forms of transportation in the state, including a Conestoga Wagon, a corduroy road, and an amphibious plane built by a North Carolinian in his backyard!

*** I had been wanting to visit this place for a very long time, being a car guy and a rail fan. I chose a Wednesday in the off season because I knew we would mostly have the place and the knowledge of the volunteers/oldtimers to ourselves. It was all that I had hoped, 54 acres of history all the way down to the buildings and remaining track. Some of the buildings have been demolished and a lot of the track has been removed, but given the long history, it's pretty remarkable that MOST of the place has survived.

There are tons of unrestored train cars on the premises and a lot of buildings that are still off limits because they haven't been restored. (a turntable office, sand shop, coal building, rolling stock repair shop -- in bad shape, powerhouse (it generated it's own power at one time) and a 100,000 square foot back shop that is absolutely beautiful. It is the major project right now and should be complete relatively soon.)

I was right at home in the flue shop with the old cars... It was a beautiful old industrial building, mostly intact and untouched at a train yard which houses all types of automobiles and automotive memorabilia. I told the GF that she could just leave me, I'd be perfectly fine here for the rest of my days.

The best part is that the yard (naturally) sits right beside Norfolk Southern's mainline, so the whole time you're looking at all of this classic rail equipment and walking around, there is always the lonesome, faint sound of a train whistle in the background. It provides an amazing feel.

In the summer, they offer train rides around the facility as well as car shows every other Saturday night. I'm going to spend a whole day. :D I would highly recommend visiting the place if any of you are ever around the Charlotte area.

I can share some interesting tidbits if anyone is interested, but I figured I'd hold off for now since the post is already so long, LOL.

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM

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I went a couple years ago, and plan on going back when the new Back Shop exhibit is finished. They had a scale model out, and it looks like it will be incredible.

Today, in the context of the N.C. Transportation Museum, the Back Shop is seen as an ideal location to tell the story of North Carolina's transportation history. This building is large enough to house trains, trucks, automobiles and aircraft in a protected, enclosed environment. Classrooms and meeting spaces will provide opportunities for community outreach and engagement. More than 150,000 visitors per year are expected to pass through the Back Shop after its renovation.

And next time I go, I'm going to remember to bring my :censored: camera.

Edited by Enzora

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I went a couple years ago, and plan on going back when the new Back Shop exhibit is finished. They had a scale model out, and it looks like it will be incredible.

And next time I go, I'm going to remember to bring my :censored: camera.


Yeah... Mine died right in the middle of the flue shop (Didn't even make it to the roundhouse)

The GF took the batteries out and said "How many pictures have you taken?!?! The batteries are about 100 degrees!"

I said; "Only about one every 15 seconds." :D Being an amateur photographer AND a history nut DOES NOT PAY in situations like this.

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM

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Wow ... looks like a place I'd love to visit someday ;).

Very cool.

Cort | 35swm | "Mr Monte Carlo"."Mr Road Trip" | pig valve.pacemaker ...RT 66 drive = Sept '09

WRMNshowcase.legos.HO.models.MCs.RTs.CHD = http://www.chevyasylum.com/cort

"Yuletide carols being sung by a choir" ... Nat King Cole ... 'The Christmas Song'

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