Twenty locomotives to appear in their original colors at Transportation Museum

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 24, 2012

By Emily Ford
SPENCER — Twenty locomotives painted in the original color schemes of railroad companies dating back to the early 1800s will appear at the N.C. Transportation Museum over the Fourth of July.
Organizers are calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Norfolk Southern’s Heritage Unit will gather for a “family portrait” July 3 and 4 at the museum’s Bob Julian Roundhouse, one of the only locations in the country large enough to host 20 locomotives side-by-side.
Norfolk Southern is producing the Heritage fleet to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary. Each locomotive will represent a railroad company that preceded Norfolk Southern.
“This is the first and probably only chance we’ll have to get all these locomotives together in one place at one time,” Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman said in a press release. “We’re proud of the role railroads play in keeping the country’s economy strong, and July 4 is an opportune time to showcase that heritage of service and safety.”
Samuel Wegner, executive director for the museum, called the event historic.
“Having these engines gathered together is a phenomenon, not just an event,” Wegner said.
The event is part of the museum’s new strategy to boost attendance, generate money and eventually become self-sustaining, Wegner said.
“We’re trying to find really interesting opportunities to bring people onto the site and educate them,” he said.
The museum has struggled with layoffs and lower attendance since the state cut its $1 million funding in half last year. For the first time, the Spencer landmark had to start charging admission.
Although Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration had planned to eliminate any contribution to the museum’s operating budget starting July 1, Perdue included $300,000 in her proposed budget.
An appropriations subcommittee is scheduled to vote today on whether to include $400,000 for the museum in the N.C. House’s proposed budget.
The N.C. Senate’s budget has yet to be released.
The museum’s nonprofit foundation is lobbying legislators to give the museum $400,000 for the coming year.
The foundation came up with the idea for the Norfolk Southern event and negotiated with the railroad for weeks to pull the locomotives out of freight service.
Norfolk Southern announced the event Monday, and the museum already has sold 300 tickets to rail enthusiasts across the country, including people who will travel from Nebraska, Oregon and even Hawaii, museum spokesman Mark Brown said.
“It promises to be an event of great magnitude, easily rivaling the biggest events we hold at the N.C. Transportation Museum,” Brown said.
Many visitors will spend at least one night in Rowan County, eating at local restaurants and buying gas, Wegner said.
“The phones are ringing off the hook,” he said. “It’s not only good for the museum because it will help our attendance and bottom line, but it’s tremendous for the area.”
Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children in advance, and $30 for adults and $20 for children the day of the event. Children aged 2 and younger are free.
Tickets are available by calling 704-636-2889, ext. 237 or visiting Norfolk Southern employees and retirees are eligible for a $5 discount, with a limit of four tickets per purchase.
The painted locomotives are working engines, pulling freight trains throughout the Southeast. Initially, it didn’t look like the railroad would bring all the locomotives together for one event, Wegner said.
When railroad officials realized the size of the Roundhouse, strategic location of the museum and historic nature of the event, things began to click, he said.
“And we said Hallelujah,” he said.
Norfolk Southern chose the Fourth of July because there will be less demand for the locomotives due to the holiday.
Norfolk Southern was created June 1, 1982, with the consolidation of Southern Railway Company and Norfolk and Western Railway Company. Both trace their lineage to hundreds of predecessors dating back to the early 1800s.
The N.C. Transportation Museum is on the former site of Southern Railway’s Spencer Shops, a steam locomotive servicing facility. After the advent of diesel, Spencer continued to serve as a classification yard into the late 1970s, when Southern donated land and facilities to North Carolina.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.