N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer chronicles state’s wheels, tracks and wings

jbordsen@charlotteobserver.comMay 26, 2012 

Admission to the 2012 Rail Days Festival includes unlimited rides around the grounds on three passenger trains, including the Flagg 75 Steam Engine Caboose Train – a coal-fired steam engine pulling five colorful cabooses.


  • Details What: Rail Days Where: N.C. Transportation Museum, Spencer, N.C. When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 2, noon-5 p.m. June 3. Admission: $20; $18 for 60 and older and for active military; $15 for ages 3-12; 2 and younger, free. Info: 704-636-2889, ext. 237; nctrans.org Regular museum hours:9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $5 or $10 (with train ride); $3 ($6 with train ride) for ages 3-12; 2 and younger, free.

Rail ridership is up in North Carolina, and interest in railroads never abated. June 2-3, the N.C. Transportation Museum stages its annual Rail Days Festival honoring the glory days of passenger trains.


Spencer is about 125 miles from Raleigh, about 21/4 hours one way..

To see and do

The state-owned N.C. Transportation Museum occupies the grounds of what was the Southern Railway Co.’s largest steam locomotive repair shop. In the first half of the 20th century, this was where many engines and cars in its 12-state railway empire came for maintenance, repair and refurbishing.

The yards, the sheds and the roundhouse have proven a fitting place to store and display the hulking coal-burning and diesel dinosaurs.

The 57-acre campus has 11 exhibit areas. Some holdings are still in motion: You can take a 25-minute train ride around the grounds, and the 37-bay roundhouse has a still-working turntable that will give you a five-minute spin. The roundhouse alone holds 25 train engines.

Not that the state’s transportation history is limited to what moved on rails. The 1924 Flue Shop now houses a collection of restored autos that range from a 1901 White Steam Stanhope to a 1970s Plymouth highway patrol car. On display elsewhere are prerailroad carts and carriages, plus artifacts from Piedmont Airlines – a regional carrier absorbed into US Airways decades ago.

But trains are the big draw, and the big event is the Rail Days Festival. Admission includes unlimited rides around the grounds on three passenger trains, including the Flagg 75 Steam Engine Caboose Train – a coal-fired steam engine pulling five colorful cabooses.

A Southern Railway-themed train will feature the Southern FP7 No. 6133 and E8 No. 6900 engines with the Royal Arch, Pine Tree State and Doris private rail cars. An N&W-themed train will feature the N&W GP9 No. 620 engine pulling 1950s-era passenger cars.

At the roundhouse, you can climb into the cab of one of two engines for a quick run up and down the tracks with the engineer’s view of the rails. You can also take a ride on a motor car, a smaller maintenance machine that ran along the rails.

In the roundhouse, you can also take a spin on the turntable, for a minimal fee.

Weekend activities also include a hobo camp, where re-enactors tell stories about riding the rails without paying the fare.

There will be crafts and activities in the roundhouse; a magician will also be roaming the site.

Railroad artist Andy Fletcher will be displaying his work, and modelers will find S-, N- and HO-scale train layouts in the roundhouse.

For an additional $20, photographers can attend two after-hours photo sessions Saturday.

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