by Katie Moosbrugger
When my two-year-old son saw a true-to-life Thomas the Tank Engine turn the corner, race towards him with a loud clackety-clack and let out an ear-piercing “Choo Choo,” I thought I might have mistakenly ended his innocent obsession with all those funny faced locomotives. Instead, it turned out to be one of the most magical moments for him. I honestly believe he thought we arrived on Sodor Island. And while he will never forget that surprise visit from Thomas, I will always cherish the priceless expression on his little face.
Day Out With Thomas (which takes place every September) is just one of many events at the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC, just outside of Salisbury. In fact, there are a bunch of great exhibits and celebrations to note. And with it located just under 2 hours from the Triangle, it makes a perfect day trip for families with kids of all ages. Even my very girly-girl daughter had a blast!
The NC Transportation Museum sits on an historic 57-acre site. Except for the 25-minute train ride (which offers a narrated tour of the 57-acre site and is pulled by an antique diesel engine, or Thomas himself) be prepared to walk and spend a lot of time on your feet. The museum exhibits are housed in three buildings which spread out over a quarter of a mile.
One building is the Bob Julian Roundhouse, where you can view more than 25 restored locomotives and rail cars along with exhibits tracing the history of railroads in NC. Another building is called Bumper to Bumper, which was built in 1924 and offers a history in lesson of the automobile. And third, the Wagons, Wheels, and Wings building, built in 1911, gives a history of NC transportation including a dugout canoe and a 1922 fire engine. In this building you’ll also find the Gift Station which sells a variety of transportation-related collectibles, books, toys and gifts and a full array of Thomas the Tank Engine™ and Jay Jay the Jet Plane™ merchandise.
We did a quick scan of the museum buildings after our Thomas train ride, and if we were not short on time, we could have spent a lot of time in each. There was also a great kid-area outside the Gift Station where kids could get temporary tattoos and play on giant Lego replicas of Thomas. (This area might be available just during Day Out With Thomas). In addition to this play area, the grounds near the parking lot were covered with tents for food or visits with Sir Topham Hatt, gigantic blow-up inflatables, and there was even a small playground.
In addition to Day Out With Thomas, the NC Transportation Museum also has Rail Days, Halloween events, and Christmas events.
For a complete calendar of events, click here. (Note to all: The Pumpkin Patch Express looks pretty spooktacular, and will be a must for our family this coming fall!)
According to the NC Transportation Museum’s web site, you can purchase your tickets for train rides and get information on exhibits at the Barber Junction Visitor Center, an authentic train depot built in 1898. However, tickets go fast so we bought ours by phone (you can also order tix through its web site) and picked them up at Will Call. The Will Call stand was stationed between the parking lot and train ride for the Day Out With Thomas event.
9–5 Monday–Saturday, 1–5 Sunday
Museum hours and train ride schedules are seasonal. See events page for details.
Train Ride Schedule
Monday - Saturday: 11 am, 1, 2, and 3 pm
Sunday: 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 pm
Seniors (60+)/Military $8
Children (ages 3-12) $6
Children 2 and under FREE
Effective July 1, 2011
Admssion Fee Includes Train Ride
Admission only rates available too. Please click here for details.
Parking is free. To get there, follow I-85 South (like you are going to Charlotte) and look for exit 82. Turn left / follow NC 150W / US 29 for about 4 miles.
*Lots of information courtesy of NC Transportation Museum web site.