Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Merrily we roll along

Friday, June 15th was a big day for the museum. We didn't have a ton of visitors. We didn't raise a bunch of money, or receive anything new to the collection. What did happen, though, was a sight too rare in our time. #611 moved.

We've been ramping up to our big tug of war fund raiser for a few weeks now, and in order to make sure that #611 could not only still roll (as we all knew it could), but that it could do so safely (of which we weren't quite so sure). So, on June 15th, we decided to try it out.

Our thanks go out to Robert Young's Towing for helping us with this project. We absolutely couldn't have done it without them.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Someone let the monkeys out

No, Oops is still up on the mountain. We're talking about the other small, energetic primates -- kids.

With school out for the summer, VMT is entering its busiest time of the year. We'll see as many people through our doors in the next two months as we've seen since the year began. It's a favorite time for us, not just financially, but also because the fun of this place really comes out when kids are here.

The old rail fans (affectionately known as "old farts") are some of our best customers, but a large portion of our museum is devoted to providing fun and educational experiences for children. We have a playground, hands-on exhibits, trains the little devils darlings can climb on, and a transportation safety room geared directly toward them.

One new experience in the works is a train simulator so that kids and adults can get a sense of what it's like to sit in the cab of a locomotive rolling down the line. We're hoping to install this simulator in the cab of one of our diesels sometime soon, though the all-important dollar, the hinge around which our museum turns will dictate the time table for that.

Not to forget the kids during our tug of war fund raiser, while the adults are pulling on #611, the kids can pull on a 1950 Studebaker Land Cruiser. We might even let the parking brake out for them.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Clerical Oversight

VMT used to be a city museum. This is an older bit of history, but it bears mentioning because it has to do with this story. VMT got its start as the Roanoke Transportation Center and Railroad Museum in May of 1963. At that time, it was an odd assortment of priceless locomotives and rather ordinary wagons and a four-year old Jupiter IRBM. The whole thing sat in Roanoke's Wasena Park for 22 years before a flood wiped out most of the complex.

The museum relocated to its current home on Norfolk Avenue, with its new and current name in tow. A curious matter of billing never quite caught up, though.

While in the city park, the museum's water bill was paid by the city. This made sense as there was no way to discern how much water was being used by public fountains and bathrooms and how much by the museum itself. Fair enough. But when the museum reopened downtown, the city continued to pay its water bill. One might think that this was an oversight that would be corrected in a few months, or maybe a year. Try 22 years.

In the early spring of this year, the museum received a notice from the water authority that threatened to turn off our water for a past due bill. When we called about this, the water authority told us that the bill had been paid by the city. A phone call to the city confirmed this, and shed light on a clerical error more than two decades old. The museum changed its name prior to moving from the park, so the bills showed the same name and got sent to the same address with the city's Parks and Recreation office. Apparently, nobody in that office thought this was odd. More accurately, 22 years of city officials in that office didn't think it was odd.

We finally started paying our own water bills this year, and we thank the tax payers of Roanoke for their generous contributions over the years. They quite literally kept the water running.

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Saturday, June 2, 2007


On May 21st, the VMT staff and a few volunteers traveled to Spencer, NC to take a tour of the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

Despite being qualified museum professionals ourselves [*cough*], we were happy to receive a guided tour to tell us about the exhibits, the collection, and the facilities. Here, we've stopped to learn a bit inside the museum's automobile exhibit, Bumper to Bumper.

Unlike the VMT facility, the museum in Spencer occupies multiple buildings, each housing a different exhibit. Luckily, we enjoyed great weather in Spencer, though our Fearless Leader (center) came to regret a long sleeve shirt in the heat.

The NCTM is also home to the North Carolina Transportation Hall of Fame. This is a terrific idea, honoring figures integral to North Carolina's transportation heritage. Orville and Wilbur Wright are among the first people honored here. This inspired us to consider such a tribute in Virginia. To our knowledge, no such honor exists in the Commonwealth, and who better to do it than the VMT?

The primary exhibit in the museum is its collection of railroad equipment and rolling stock, housed ingeniously inside the Spencer Shops round house. This is an ideal building to house this collection, and boy is it big. The pieces in their collection are in immaculate condition. Here is the Southern Railway #6900. We'd get up close and personal with another Southern engine soon.

Steve, practicing his Deer-In-The-Headlights look. It's ok, Steve, you can climb on these exhibits.

In a reminder of home, the railway post office car included a slot for our native Roanoke. Interestingly enough, there is an enigmatic slot labeled only "Virginia." Were Roanoke and Richmond so important that they were the only Virginia cities worth their own slots? Meanwhile, Greensboro got two slots, twice as many as Philadelphia or Washington, D.C..

Easily the most exciting aspect of the museum are the live train rides. Here, the VMT crew head to board their chariot, another Southern diesel humming in the distance.

The museum's live train rides cover the length of the Spencer Shops, traveling by old and new buildings. Tour guides talk about each over an intercom as the train passes them.

Museum work has its perks. For example, when invited on a tour of another museum, you get to ride in the cab of one of their engines!

Here, the engine passes the Gift Station (right) and the backshops building (left) still under renovation. When finished this building will house a larger aviation gallery and other exhibits.

The engine is on its way back to the round house.

Also, we got to take a ride on the turntable itself. Many thanks to our kind hosts at the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Come on up and see us and let us return the favor!