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North Carolina Transportation Museum 7/29/2018

by Chris Guenzler

We pulled into the parking lot at just before three and would have until 5:00 PM to look around this unique museum. I am making my third trip here and Robin is making hs first trip to the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

History of the North Carolina Transportation Museum

The museum was founded in 1977, when the Southern Railway deeded 4 acres of land to the state of North Carolina for a transportation museum. Two years later, another 53 acres was added to the original donation; the entirety of the railway's largest former steam locomotive repair shops. The museum's first exhibit opened in 1983, called People, Places and Time. The museum grew over the years, most notably in 1996, with the opening of Barber Junction, a relocated railroad depot from some 30 miles away, and the newly renovated Bob Julian Roundhouse. Barber Junction serves the museum's Visitor's Center and departure point for the on-site train ride. The Bob Julian Roundhouse serves as the hub for most of the museum's railroad exhibits, but also includes aviation exhibits and site history.

Several bays of the Spencer Shops roundhouse are devoted to volunteered restorations of locomotives and rolling stock in the museum collection. It was here that the 542 was worked on and steam locomotives from 1896-1953 were repaired. In the first 16 stalls, visitors can walk among the massive locomotives and rail cars on display. Moving into the Elmer Lam gallery, aviation exhibits dominate, with a full size replica Wright Flyer, Piedmont Airlines exhibits, and more. Moving into the restoration bays, visitors may also see volunteers working on various railroad pieces, and even manufacturing their own parts, as steam engines have been out of date so long it is impossible to obtain replacement parts from any manufacturer.

The Flue Shop, where all of the flues for steam engines were formerly produced, as become the Bumper To Bumper exhibit, featuring vintage and antique cars. These include several Model Ts, a Model A and even a Ford Model R (the 1907 predecessor to the Model T). A Highway Patrol car from 1935, a Divco Milk Truck, a Lincoln Continental and others are also part of the museum's collection.

In 2005, the museum's Back Shop underwent a massive renovation, which included repairs to the roof, re-pointing of the brick, and a stabilization of the building's floor. This building, where the full overhaul of steam locomotives once took place, is most notable for its size and scope. Nearly three stories tall and two football fields long, it was once the largest industrial building in the state. It may be most notable, however, for the words "Be Careful," standing some three feet tall, visible from nearly anywhere on the north end of the site. In 2009, the museum opened the Back Shop to the public for the first time, with an access ramp on the south end. "Behind the Scenes" tours and special events often featuring a full Back Shop tour.

Heritage railroad

The museum has a heritage railroad, which operates passenger excursion trains several times per day, year round, but on a seasonal schedule. Trains are usually powered by the Norfolk and Western 620, however, at times it is substituted by the Southern 6133 or Southern 2601. The Southern 6133 and Southern 2601 also assist in special events where two or more trains are operating. Though the museum has no operating steam locomotives of its own, it has used the Lehigh Valley Coal 0-6-0 126 for trips, along with Flag Coal Co. 0-4-0 75, the American 4-4-0 "Leviathan" locomotive, as well as the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's Southern 2-8-0 630. For Caboose trips and at-the-throttle trips, the museum has leased engines from the Grambling Locomotive Works; the Virginia Museum of Transportation and Norfolk Southern previously allowed the museum to use their Norfolk and Western #611 during its two stays. Cab rides to the normal excursion can be purchased at Barber Junction.

Visitors may also purchase tickets to ride the roundhouse turntable every day.


The museum hosts a number of events annually and some one-time railroading events that bring rail fans from across the country. In 2012, the Bob Julian Roundhouse was the stage for all 20 of Norfolk Southern's Heritage locomotives during a two-day photographic event. In 2014, the museum hosted Streamliners at Spencer, with notable 1930s - 1950s era locomotives gathered around the Bob Julian Roundhouse turntable for a four-day event. Streamliners at Spencer included the Class J 611 Steam Passenger locomotive, visiting from the Virginia Museum of Transportation. This notable locomotive remained in Spencer for repair and restoration work to allow it to once again pull passenger excursions across the southeast.

The Museum has also operated 21st century steam trips from its grounds over its property and Norfolk Southern using the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's Southern 630 and rolling stock as well as the NS steam rolling stock fleet in 2012 and 2013. In 2015, the museum was used as the boarding destination for some the Virginia Museum of Transportation's Norfolk and Western 611 trips.

Other annual events include Day Out With Thomas, the Polar Express, Fire Truck Show, Automobile shows, the Harvest Festival, the Easter Bunny Express, and Spring and Autumn (Southern leaf specials) excursions that take visitors to destination cities.

The NCTM is also host to Boy Scout Rail Camp, which allows for Boy Scouts and Leaders to camp out on the historic facility and earn the railroading merit badge. It is the largest railroad related scouting event in the nation. There are plans to implement Girl and Cub Scout events at the museum in 2017.

Our visit

We walked into the Barber Depot and introduced ourslelves as being from and were given wrist bands to wear to show that we had premission to look around the grounds. I know I can show Robin everything with two hours of time.

Beaufort and Morehead H-12-44 1860.

The museum train that we won't have enough time to ride.

NC Ports Authority L-3.

The exibit train was closed for repairs with Cone box car 16 and the NS 27 Exhibit Car.

The Spencer water tank with the Southern Railway emblem on it.

N&W caboose 55012.

Seaboard Coast Line caboose 0613.

Atlantic Coast Line caboose 0635.

N&W caboose 518641.

The first building we will visit is the newly opened to the public back shop.

A fire truck and school bus.

All kinds of automobiles.

This gives you an idea of the size of the back shop at Spencer.

There is an airplane in this building.

Motorcycles as well.

A big rig and more cars.

Airplanes and cars.

A medicine wagon.

A covered wagon.

There is even a boat in this building.

This looks likes the rig that was in Smokey and the Bandit.

Railway Express Truck. Next we went into the roundhouse.

The North Carolina Merci Car P.L.M. J54906.

Charlotte Electric Railway Company 1.

Charlotte Trolley 85.

Southern 2-8-0 542.

Seaboard Air Line 2-10-0 Decapod 544

Atlantic Coast Line 4-6-0 1031.

Duke Power 0-4-0 111.

Piedmont & Northern Railway box cab 5103.

Carolina Power and Light 0-4-0 Fireless Locomotive.

Norfolk Southern bay window caboose.

Atlantic Coast Line E3A 501.

Only at the Spencer Roundhouse.

Southern Railway E-8A 6900.

Norfolk Southern AS-416 1616.

Southern lounge 1211.

Southern Sleeper Catawba River.

Seaboard wooden caboose 5458.

CC&O caboose 1048.

Atlantic and East Carolina outside braced boxcar 606.

Southern Derrick 903066.

Raleigh and Gaston Railway 0-4-0 Raleigh.

A life size model of the Wright Brother's first airplane.

Chicago and North Western coach 4955.

N&W 4-8-4 611 in the Spencer Roundhouse.

Chicago and North Western coach 4953.

Cliffside Railroad caboose 105.

Southern FP-7 6133.

Graham County Railroad Company Shay 1925.

United States Postal Car 800700.

US Army Hosiptal Car 89480.

The tool car for N&W 611 RNRH 1407.

N&W 4-8-4 611 here for shop work.

Southern GP-30 2501.

N&W GP-9 620.

N&W 4-8-4 611.

Views of the roundhouse.

You could alwys say Norfolk Southern in this picture.

One more view of N&W 611.

VMTX baggage car 9647.

Coach 1297.

Virginia Rail Express gallery coach 423.

Norfolk Southern Coach 43 Florida.

N&W 611 tender and water car.

GE 44 toner O4491

Norfolk Southern Powhaten Arrow coach 20.

Southern coach 1081.

Side rod switcher.

Derrick NCMX 935250.

Amtrak F40ph 307.

Virginia Rail Express gallery car 424.

Southern baggage car 630.

NCNX coach 4886.

Museum scene.

Sheriff Railcar private car Cripple Creek.

Pennslyvanian Railroad Martin W Clement.

GNW&B Gritty Palace.

WillettsRail caboose VGNX 199462.

Virginia Rail Express gallery 427.

Another view of the Spencer Roundhouse.

The NCTM excursion train on its last run of the day.

Charlotte Trolley 85 enjoys the afternoon sun on its nose.

The Doris observation car.

Norfolk Southern Diner 14.

New Haven Railroad Pine Tree State.

Norfolk Southern 42 Tennessee.

The NCTM excursion train heads to the barn for the night.

There was a guitar exhibit going on at the museum.

Passing the Southern water tank meant our visit was almost over. We went back to the Barber Museum and thanked them for having us visit today. Since it was well over 90 degrees for the first time on this trip, we had to open all the doors before we could leave. Our AC worked fine and soon we were at the Super 8 in Salisbury for the night. We had dinner at Applebee's which was really good and then I worked on stories for the rest of the night.