Thursday, February 25, 2010

Virginia Museum of Transportation - Roanoke, VA

Some of our museum trips are planned for months in advance. We are going to such-in-such a place to go to this museum for this purpose. However, most of our museum trips are tied to other plans, such as conferences or book signings. Our trip to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia, was just such a trip. Michael had a book signing in Roanoke, and took Nathaniel with him. They spent most of the day at the museum.

The Virginia Museum of Transportation (VMT) was created in 1963 as the Roanoke Museum of Transportation, and became the VMT in 1983. It is housed in the 1918 Norfolk and Western Depot in downtown Roanoke. Besides being housed in a historic building, it sits right beside the mainline of the current Norfolk Southern Railroad. Trains are constantly rolling by. Part of the inside of the historic depot has been converted into a “town,” where different displays inside the shops teach about railroad safety, and there are exhibits of railroad photographs. There are two model railroad layouts, including one of a circus train. At the far end of the building is a display of automobiles entitled “From Mud to Mobility: 100 years of Virginia Department of Transportation.” Michael’s favorite was the 1904 Curved Dash Olds.

Other exhibits on the main floor include a reconstruction of a 1940s rural train depot, African-American heritage on the Norfolk and Southern, and an Aviation Gallery.

The real fun starts once visitors are outside. There are scores of locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars, along with a far number of automobiles. Some of these are under the large shed, and some are sitting in the back lot. If you are into photography, then plan to spend plenty of time in the rail yard, as there hundreds of interesting things to catch your eye. Some of our favorites include the Nickel Plate Road Diesel-Electric Locomotive; the Southern Pullman Sleeping Car “Lake Pearl”; The Illinois Terminal “President One” Business Car; and the Panama Canal GE Electric Towing Locomotive, also known as the “Panama Mule.”
The Virginia Museum of Transportation has a great website where you can find more information at
From a historian’s point of view: The numerous cars, planes, trains, and one rocket are enough to keep most folks occupied for hours. The museum is well laid out, and there are numerous placards describing the different pieces of rolling stock in the rail yard.
From a educator’s point of view: Elizabeth did not get to tour this museum.
From a eight year old’s point of view: Nathaniel loved all the rolling stock. He is particularly fond of machinery, so this museum was a real treat for him. Any mechanically inclined kid will love this museum and find plenty to see.