5 Reasons to Visit the North Carolina Transportation Museum


Photo by Justin Kase Conder

The North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer is not your typical museum.

“We aren’t quiet,” says Mark Brown, information and communications specialist for the North Carolina Transportation Museum. “We have train whistles, car horns, train rides, loud engines, railroad restorations and more happening all the time. Plus, we get to play with trains and cool classic cars and host really fun events.”

A North Carolina State Historic Site, the museum sits on the grounds of what was once Southern Railway Company’s largest steam locomotive repair facility, Spencer Shops, dating back to 1895. The site features an authentic train depot, a 37-bay roundhouse with 25 locomotives and railcars, antique cars and trucks, a replica Wright Flyer and much more.

“Not only do we have incredible exhibits, we also have historic buildings and railroad tracks that allow us to offer train rides across the museum’s 60 acres,” Brown says.

Read on for five compelling reasons to visit the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

Photo by Justin Kase Conder

1. Ride the Polar Express

The museum hosts more than 30 events each year, and the largest is the Polar Express Train Ride, which runs for 23 nights in November and December. Inspired by the well-loved holiday movie, it draws visitors from all over North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

“We’ve been lucky enough to partner with the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau to offer hotel packages during this event to make it an even more affordable family getaway,” Brown says.

See more: Discover the History of Languages at the Museum of the Alphabet in Waxhaw

Pajama-clad families board the Polar Express and embark on a trip to the North Pole, with hot chocolate and cookies served on board the train. The experience is set to the music of The Polar Express movie soundtrack, and passengers sing, dance and listen to a reading of the companion story. Santa makes an appearance at the North Pole and passengers receive a souvenir silver bell on the ride back to the museum.

Photo by Justin Kase Conder

2. Explore Transportation History

History buffs enjoy taking in the vast amount of railroading, aviation, automotive and trucking history presented at the museum. Discover stories of the people who worked on trains at Spencer Shops in the early 1900s and how the same trains that carried people, products and raw materials up and down the East Coast were pulled by steam engines maintained right in Spencer.

“We are known nationally and internationally as a railroad heritage site. We have massive steam engines from the past, antique cars you have probably only seen in movies, a Wright Flyer replica and more,” Brown says. “What is most interesting is the way transportation history reflects our history as people.”

See more: Visit This Museum to Celebrate America’s Favorite Pastime

In the mid-1800s, for example, the driving of a golden spike tied the country together with railroads.

“In 1903, two Ohio brothers took a flight that led to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon,” Brown says. “In the mid-1900s, segregation on public transportation was a flashpoint in the civil rights movement. Car culture and interstate highways changed the way we live, travel and exist. Transportation history is such an essential part of our human story.”

North Carolina Transportation Museum

Photo by Justin Kase Conder

3. Take a Spin on the Roundhouse Turntable

The museum’s 37-bay Bob Julian Roundhouse, built in 1924, is the largest remaining railroad roundhouse in North America. It features a turntable in the center of the building that was used to spin locomotives and rail equipment so they could be placed on the correct track and moved in and out of the roundhouse. You can watch the turntable in action and even take a spin on it for just $1. Turntable rides happen at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sundays.

See more: 6 Museums to Visit This Winter

Photo by Justin Kase Conder

4. Take a 25-Minute Train Ride

Choo-choo! Climb aboard a train pulled by an antique diesel engine and embark on a 25-minute train ride, which includes a narrated tour of the museum’s 60 acres. Trains run on a seasonal schedule, so check the museum’s website for details and times. Typically, regular passenger train rides run Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

North Carolina Transportation Museum

Photo by Justin Kase Conder

5. Celebrate a Special Occasion

Did you know the North Carolina Transportation Museum has a Birthday Caboose? You can reserve the authentic, operating train caboose to celebrate the birthday of the train-lover in your life in a memorable way.

The museum also hosts festive holiday and special events such as the Easter Bunny Express, Fire Truck Festival, Tractors and Trains Festival and the highly anticipated Day Out With Thomas. One of the museum’s biggest events, Day Out With Thomas happens in September and October and allows fans of Thomas the Tank Engine to ride on Thomas – the No. 1 blue engine – and meet Sir Topham Hatt, participate in crafts, storytelling, train play tables and more.

See more: Harvesting the Past at the North Carolina Museum of History

– Jessica Mozo

North Carolina Transportation Museum

Photo by Justin Kase Conder

If You Go ...

The North Carolina Transportation Museum is located at 1 Samuel Spencer Dr. in Spencer. Hours are as follows:

From March 1 through Dec. 31, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed on Monday (and Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving and Christmas). On days when the Polar Express Train Ride operates, the museum closes at 2:30 p.m.

From Jan. 2 through Feb. 28, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It is closed Sunday and Monday (and New Year’s Day).

Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors/military and $4 for children ages 3 to 12. Admission with a train ride is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors/military and $8 for children ages 3 to 12.

For more information, visit nctrans.org or call (704) 636-2889.


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