Freight Car Friday – A Visit to the North Carolina Transportation Museum

22 03 2013

We’re gearing up for our open house tomorrow here at our Concord, North Carolina offices. While we’re setting up, the LCCA, who are sponsoring the event, are enjoying a tour of the wonderful North Carolina Transportation Museum in nearby Spencer.


The roundhouse at Spencer is filled with historic treasures.

Housed in the historic shops of the Southern Railway, trains are a big part of this museum’s mission and exhibits. From historic diesels to the original roundhouse a turntable to the always-popular train rides, there is a lot for any railfan at this great facility. But since this is Freight Car Friday, let’s look at some of their collection of unique freight equipment.


The Southern was a big buyer of Pullman Standard’s products. This 50′ PS-1 has been modernized and lost its ladders and roof walks.

The Southern was an innovative railroad in many freight car efforts. This was never more true than during the leadership of Graham Claytor in the 1960s.

The most famous of the Southern’s cars at this time were the “Big John” covered hoppers. These huge cars and the marketing campaign that went with them would revolutionize farming and the way grain was shipped by rail. The changes were so big, competing barge companies filed legal suits which made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

covered hopper

Though small compared to the Big John, cars like this DuPont covered hopper owe their careers to the Southern’s innovative design.

The railroad’s “Green Light to Innovations” also extended to coal and intermodal technologies. The railroad was a leader in pursuing unit trains and aggressively courted new customers to its rails.

Although Spencer is the home of the Southern, the Museum’s mission and collection goes far beyond just one railroad. Like most state museums, anything which falls within the borders merits coverage. Norfolk and Western, Atlantic Coast Line, Norfolk Southern (the first one) and more are all well represented as well as private shippers.

ballast cleaner

This beastly contraption mechanized ballast cleaning.

In addition to the usual cars like boxcars, hoppers, gondolas, etc. the Museum has some more unique equipment like bunk cars and cranes from a wreck train. Perhaps most unique is the gigantic ballast cleaning machine. This was home-built by the Southern to dig up, clean and replace the stone ballast along the right-of-way in one continuous motion. Innovation stretched to all parts of the Southern’s operations.

Pulpwood Car

The Museum’s train ride rolls past the active Norfolk Southern yard where you may find even more freight car treasures like this pulpwood car.

There is a lot to see in Spencer. Whether you visit this weekend as part of the LCCA’s Red Carpet Event or make it a trip on its own, this is one museum you don’t want to miss!



One response

22 03 2013
Andrew Falconer

Lionel has to make O Scale and S Scale models of the Southern Railway’s Big John 4-Bay Covered Hoppers. Try to make them out of actual aluminum. There were a few graphic variations in the 1960’s schemes, the SOUTHERN 1980’s lettering style, and the many Norfolk Southern’s 1990’s refurbishment graphic variations.

The SOUTHERN Big John Covered Hoppers were seen on many railroads across the USA. Everybody can get one.

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