This past Friday I was fortunate enough to take a field trip to the NC Transportation Museum with my Heritage Tourism class. The NC Transportation Museum is located in Spencer, NC right off of Interstate 85. Dedicated to all types of transportation, but specializing in trains, the museum houses old locomotives, train cars, old automobiles and a replica of the Wright Brothers first flyer. The museum presents the overall history of trains and airplanes within its exhibits. It also displays the heritage of North Carolina and North Carolina railway workers through its discussion of local railroads, train stations and how the railroads affected the growth and development of the state. The history and heritage of several railways are shown including Southern Railway and Norfolk Southern.
The NC Transportation museum brings out the inner kid in all its visitors. One’s visit begins at the Barber Junction railway station, built in 1891 in Rowan County. The station was moved to be part of the museum’s Visitor’s Center. The on-site train ride departs from this station. The coolest part of the museum is the roundhouse, built in 1924. The 37 stall roundhouse is one of the few remaining roundhouses in the country. Within the roundhouse is restored trains, train cars and exhibits. At the roundhouse one can see steam and coal locomotives, cars belonging to the Seaboard Railroad, and Norfolk Southern Railroad, A large coal train, a partially restored Lehigh Valley Coal engine, A US Army hospital train and a 1920s era Pullman car.
The US Army hospital car was one of the best parts of the train exhibit. The car was used at the end of WWII to transport wounded soldiers from ships to hospitals all across America. The car was also used in the Korean war to transport troops to various field hospitals in Korea. The car was fully restored with the hospital bunks and nursing stations in place. Thinking about all the soldiers who rode in those cars and all the pain and suffering they went through to protect America really makes one thankful.
My favorite part of the whole museum was seeing the fully restored Pullman car circa 1920s. The car was a private railway car complete with two sleeping berths, a sitting room and a dining room. One hears so much about the Pullman cars and how they revolutionized the traveling experience by making it more comfortable and more appealing and after viewing this car I can certainly see why someone would want to travel in a hotel on wheels. The car had very ornate ceilings and light fixtures. The sleeping areas were as nice as some hotel rooms, and the dining car looked like something in an old Cary Grant movie with a large table, fancy chandelier and ornate wallpaper. Not all Pullman cars were as fancy as the one I saw, but they were a step up from the average coach cars that sported wooden benches with no cushions, poor ventilation and no restroom.
After going through all the exhibits I have a new appreciation for the role railways played in the growth and development of North Carolina as well as admiration for all those who worked and still work for the railway industry. Transportation was key to America’s growth and success as a world superpower. Trains played a large role in the expansion of the country and should not be forgotten in a modern age of airplanes.
A visit to the NC Transportation Museum is a must for anyone wishing to learn more about North Carolina history, railway history or transportation history. People of all ages will enjoy the exhibits and walk away with new knowledge. My only regret is that I could not ride the train, so make sure if you visit that you go on a Saturday so you can get the full experience of a train ride.