NC Transportation Museum, Spencer, North Carolina
The NC Transportation Museum is in the small town of Spencer North Carolina about a 2.5 hour car ride from Clayton and Raleigh.There are a couple of ways to get there, I-85 is what the GPS normally says is the quickest route but we took the somewhat slower route of Hwy 64 which takes you past the towns of Pittsboro, Siler City and Asheboro. You can go around Pittsboro but it’s a quaint little town that is well worth the time stopping in.
The Museum is in what was known as the Spencer Shops once the largest steam locomotive repair facility on the east coast. Over fifty acres in size and opened on August 19 1896 to service the Southern Railway’s locomotives and rolling stock which in it’s heyday employed up to 3000 workers. The town of Spencer was built to provide housing for the many engineers, blacksmiths, carpenters, firemen and their families who came to work on the locomotives. The museum is made up of a number of exhibits which include magnificently restored steam locomotives and sleek streamlined and hard working older diesel locomotives. Locomotives such as the Seaboard Air Line #544 built in 1918 for the Russian State Railroad but never delivered due to the revolution of 1917. The Southern Railway #542 built in 1903 is the only remaining locomotive of its type. The diesel engines are brightly painted and take you back in time to the early decades of the century when train travel was the way to go. The Atlantic Coast Line #501 was built in 1939 and remained in service until 1970 traveling over 6 million miles in that time span.
Train Enthusiasts Take Note
Some of these engines are housed with many more restored locomotives and rail cars in the 37 bay Bob Julian Roundhouse one of the few preserved roundhouses in the country. There is a massive turntable next to the roundhouse that takes folks on a five minute ride at certain times of the day a must for the train enthusist. Speaking of Train Rides… there is a 25 minute train ride that is offered a number of times a day depending on the season. Generally the train runs daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and on weekends at other times of the year. Pulled by an antique diesel locomotive the narrated train ride gives a good history of the Spencer Shops and the various exhibits. Roll the windows down in the car without the AC and feel the breeze as the engines chugs through the plant. For an even better treat fork over a few extra dollars for a Diesel Cab Ride, sit up front in the cab of the huge diesel engine with the engineer. Sold on a first come first served basis. Want to learn how to operate a diesel locomotive and actually drive it? Book a class where you will have a one on one lesson and get one hour of behind the throttle driving the locomotive around the yard. Make a great birthday present, must be 18 or older though. And if you’re looking for a place to have a birthday, the museum rents out a working caboose for birthdays which includes a 25 minute train ride in the birthday caboose. Food is allowed and you can even order pizza and have it delivered.
More Than Trains
Along with trains the NC Transportation Museum has a Bumper to Bumper Exhibit which traces the evolution of the automobile all the way back to the 1900’s, see cars from the Twenties, Thirties, Fifties and Sixties and learn how they changed the lives of North Carolinians. The Back Shop is a massive structure that is still being renovated and houses many forms of transportation including aircraft and antique firetrucks, old school buses and more. Built in 1905 it will surely be remarkable when it is completed for it’s size and capacity to house lots of large exhibits. Currently visitors can access the building at the south end where there is a viewing deck. The museum has an exhibit called High Rollers which is a presentation of historic bicycles from 1860-1910you won’t believe some of these amazing old bicycles when compared to todays.
Special Events At The NC Transportation Museum
There are lots of special events and traveling exhibits that you can find at the Museum, while we were there they were putting together a huge suspended model rail road in the exhibit hall behind the well stocked gift store that has hundreds of items from t-shirts to books to model trains and more. Some of the popular events coming up are …
- The Lincoln Funeral Train. Saturday August 28th and Sunday 29th 2015 is an opportunity to tour a replica of the funeral car that carried President Abraham Lincoln’s body on his final journey from Washington DC to Springfield IL. There will be train rides behind the Leviathan Locomotive, Civil War living history exhibits, live fire cannon demonstrations, period music and story telling.
- The Polar Express Train Ride. Nov 20-21, 27-29 Dec 4-6,11-13, 16-22 2015 The Polar Express rolls into Barber Junction Visitor Center where after a short presentation guests can board the train and be whisked away to the North Pole. Served hot chocolate and entertained by songs, dance and readings from The Polar Express until Santa meets everyone and returns to Candy Cane Lane where he presents the believers with their own silver sleigh bell.
- Day Out With Thomas The Tank Engine Sept 25-27 and Oct 2-4 2015. Can you imagine the thrill of riding in a train pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine for any young fans of the character ? This event will sell out quickly so book your tickets now, the day long event runs from 8am until 6pm and there is lots of fun and activities as well as the ride. Percy will also be making an appearance and you can buy a combination ticket that gets a ride on both trains. Sir Topham Hat will be on hand to greet the train riders and pose for pictures. There will be storytelling and videos a live musical stage show, magician and lots more to do and see. There will be food vendors at the event or bring a picnic and eat at one of the picnic shelters.
- Historic Spencer Shops Train Show Aug 22 & 23 2015 Saturday 9-5 Sunday 10-5 The railroad enthusiasts shopping dream where vendors from all over will be on hand with memorabilia of all sorts. Models, photographs, train dealers, model layouts, workshops collectors and more. Take a tour of Doris and Loretto luxury private rail cars the former built by James B. Duke of the American Tobacco Company and the latter built in 1902 for the steel magnate Charles M. Schwab.
- Auto Shows August 1 9am -Noon is the Annual All Ford Show, one of the museum’s largest car shows featuring Mustangs, Thunderbirds, Fairlaines, Lincolns, Mercurys and Model A’s and Model T’s. August 8th 9am -Noon is the Annual All GM Show with classic to modern Corvettes, Cameros, Firebirds and Impalas. October 17th is the Antique Auto Club of America Annual Car Show featuring antique cars of all makes and models. This is a free event from 9-3.
- Autumn Train Excursions 2015 The stunning Fall colors of the NC Blue Ridge Mountains are a sight to behold any time but a train ride through the mountains must be spectacular. The Blue Ridge Autumn Special to Asheville takes place on Saturday October 31st 2015. The train departs Spencer at 7am and travels to the Blue Ridge Mountains going through the towns of Statesville, Hickory, Morganton, Marion, Black Mountain and Swannanoa and through several tunnels along the way. The train arrives in Asheville at Noon and travelers will have three hours to shop and explore the wonderfully quaint Biltmore Village. The train departs Asheville at 3pm and arrives back in Spencer at 8pm. The Virginia Autumn Special to Charlottesville VA. leaves on Sunday Nov 1st. This train departs Spencer at 7am traveling through Greensboro, Thomasville, High Point and Reidsville, and the Virginia cities of Danville, Lynchburg and Oak Ridge arriving at Noon in Charlottesville home of the University of Virginia. With views of the rolling hills of the Piedmont of North Carolina and the western part of Central Virginia passengers will also experience the magnificent sights of the Dan, Roanoke and James Rivers as the train crosses. Returning to Spencer the train will depart at 3pm and arrive in Spencer at 8pm.There are number of carriage and meal options to choose from.
Spend All Day Bring A Picnic
If you are planning a trip to the NC Transportation Museum you can make a day of it and bring lunch and enjoy the picnic tables on the site. It’s possible to see almost everything in about three hours but if you rush you’ll miss some of the amazing details of these old modes of transport. Just the size and difference of the restored locomotives needs time to take in. The museum also offers classes for school age children where they can learn about transportation, railroad safety, maps and time zones, there is a Traveling Trunk for 3rd 4th and 8th graders which teachers can rent out for free for their classrooms. Home School Day is a special day for home schooled kids where they get to spend all day at the museum this is offered on one day of the year.
Become A Member
If trains or transportation is your thing consider becoming a member of the museum and you will get free admission and train rides which is awesome plus you get all the following benefits for a reasonable annual membership fee.
- 10% discount on most Gift Station merchandise
- Advance opportunity to purchase excursion and Polar ExpressTM tickets during our Members-Only Pre-Sale
- Discounts on select events and programs, including Easter Bunny Express, Rail Days, National Train Day and other events at our discretion. Unfortunately, no discount is available for Polar Express or off-site excursions due to overhead costs to offer these events.
- Subscription to ShopTalk our member/donor magazine
- Recognition in ShopTalk as a member
- Invitation to annual Members Day event
- Reciprocal admission benefits at more than 300 museums worldwide through the Association of Science-Technology Centers Passport Program.
Location And Times
The NC Transportation Museum is located at 411 S. Salisbury Ave, Spencer, NC 28159 and the telephone number is 704-636-2889. The Museum Hours are Tue-Sat 9am-5pm and Sunday Noon-5pm. Train Rides are on a Summer Schedule during the week through September Tues-Sat 11am, 1,2 and 3 pm and on Sunday at 1.30-2.30 and 3.30. Call ahead to confirm the times of both museum and train rides. Admission to the museum is $6 for adults and $4 for children under 12 $12 and $8 for admission to the museum and a train ride.