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Field Report: Trip to the North Carolina Transportation Museum

The North Carolina Transportation Museum is located about five minutes off I-85, in Spencer NC, about an hour's drive from Charlotte. The museum is located on the site of what was once Southern Railway Company's largest steam locomotive servicing facility.

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 and land. The entire site was eventually placed under the administration of the Historic Sites section of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

The North Carolina 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.

When we arrived at the 57 acre museum grounds, we opted for the 25 minute train tour. There were five coaches attached to Southern Railway #6133: a FP-7 built in 1950.  The tour train backs out of 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. It changed direction at the Eastern edge of the museum grounds, through a wye switch to proceed west around the northern edge of the facility, giving a grand overview of the grounds. Another wye switch and direction change at the western end brings the tour train through the museum's yard facilties with a stop at the 37-bay Bob Julian Roundhouse, housing 40 restored locomotives and rail cars. The train then proceeds back to the Visitor Center.

Among the displays in the roundhouse were one of the few surviving US Army Hospital Cars, a restored United States Mail Railway Post Office car and a couple of restored private cars which looked lavishly appointed.

More information can be found on the museum's website at

Posting and photos by Dave Lawrence

Click on each image for a closer look!

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