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Transportation Museum hosts rail camp

SPENCER ó Boy Scout Bryan Blackwell was in his element. “This is the best place ever,” he said Saturday, standing next to a railroad car in the Bob Julian Roundhouse at the N.C. Transportation Museum.
Blackwell was one of 400 Boy Scouts attending the 2009 Rail Camp at the museum, on the site of the former Spencer Shops steam locomotive repair facility. His grandfather worked for the railroad, and Blackwell appreciates being able to experience his family history at the Transportation Museum.
“I wanted to see it up close and in person, instead of reading it in a book,” he said.
Boy Scouts attending this weekend’s Rail Camp set up their tents in cold weather, sleeping on the museum grounds Friday and Saturday nights. Amid campfire programs and songs, scouts learned about railroading, train safety and the historic Spencer Shops.
Brian Moffitt, Rail Camp coordinator and historical interpreter at the museum, is an Eagle Scout and has helmed Rail Camp for the past 11 years, nearly as long as the event has existed.
He said, “Scouts have a better understanding of railroading in general when they leave.”
Rail Camp started in 1996 as part of the Transportation Museum’s celebration of 100 years of the historic Spencer Shops. This year’s Rail Camp drew Boy Scout troops from across North Carolina and from as far away as Anderson, S.C., and Danville, Va.
Troop 925 made the trip from Greenville, S.C. Scout leader Marty Yigdall said the experience was worth the long drive for his troop.
“There is nothing else like this. It’s something none of their friends have done,” he said.
Yigdall asked his troop to describe the best thing about Rail Camp, and each person gave a different response. Some enjoyed the train or turntable rides, some liked the history and others appreciated the museum exhibits.
Other troops traveled a far shorter distance. Phil Spohn’s Troop 349 is sponsored by Spencer’s Central United Methodist Church, just a few blocks from the museum.
Even though his scouts live nearby, “a lot of them haven’t been out here,” Spohn said.
The event was an opportunity for Troop 349 to learn the history of their community and to spend time outdoors.
“The camping, the cold weather, they like that,” he said.
Troops enjoyed a train ride early Saturday before a scavenger hunt around the museum’s 57 acre property. After attending six work stations, the scouts earned their Railroading Merit Badge.
Moffitt said the merit badge is unique to the area. “This is not a badge that you can sit in your hut and earn. You have to travel to one of the sites and do it,” he said.
Moffitt said the Transportation Museum is the only site in North Carolina where scouts can earn the badge as part of a camp.
The work stations were conducted by museum staff and volunteers.
Andy Perryman works in IT at a bank. In his spare time, he helps keep the trains running at the museum, working as a mechanical volunteer. Saturday, Perryman used that expertise to teach scouts how a diesel engine generates power.
An Eagle Scout, Perryman said his past experience as a Boy Scout made the decision to volunteer an easy one. “I was more than willing to help out,” he said.
Other work stations focused on the railroading industry, how to plan a trip by rail and how to identify different types of rail cars.
“Operation Life Saver” volunteers taught scouts how to behave safely around railroad tracks.
Sunday, campers gathered their tents for the trip home. Despite the long drive for Marty Yigdall and his Greenville-based troop, they are likely to return.
Yigdall smiled when he gave the reason: “There is never a disappointed scout,” he said.
The Transportation Museum, located in historic Spencer Shops, the former Southern Railway repair facility, is part of the Division of State Historic Sites of the Department of Cultural Resources.
Go to www.nctrans.org for more information. For information on the Department of Cultural Resources, call (919) 807-7385 or go to www.ncculture.com.

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