Monday, August 27, 2007

A sight not seen in some time

Roanoke celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. This means that Norfolk Southern, after a fashion, also celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. As part of the commemoration of the latter, two of Roanoke's glory girls may be showing off their stuff at Norfolk Southern's Roanoke Shops.

Norfolk Southern is hosting an open house at its Roanoke Shops on September 8th. The term "open house" is a misnomer as the event is open by invitation only. Nonetheless, the open house at the shops is a big deal, and to emphasize it, #611 and #1218 may be making an appearance.

Now, the event is closed to the public, which is too bad, really, but not surprising. The shops are in various states of repair, and safety concerns should and do prevail. These concerns only grow as the number of attendees does. However, your Virginia Museum of Transportation will offer exclusive photos of those engines at the shops, if they are part of the event. The photos will go up on this blog. The sight of a J Class steam engine on the turntable at the Roanoke Shops has not been seen in over a decade, and might not ever be seen again.

We're holding our breath, crossing our fingers, and knocking on every piece of wood we can find.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pb and Progress

Lead is in the news. It is an intriguing element by itself, really. It is highly malleable, but a poor conductor of electricity. It resists corrosion, but tarnishes in the open air. It was discovered by the ancients, used in everything from drain pipes to metal coins. Later uses included gasoline, glass, and paint. As environmental concerns grew, lead's usage shrank. Some even suspect that lead poisoning may have had a role in the decline of the Roman Empire. The latest toy recalls will likely bring about all kinds of new importation practices, quality assurance standards, and inspection procedures. I'm skewing pretty far afield from what we would consider germane, so let me hasten to the point.

Lead affects your VMT in two different ways. In the first, there are three coal hoppers sitting at the west end of the museum. While further research needs to be done, we currently believe them to be some of, if not the oldest surviving steel coal hoppers in the country. However, one quick look by even the least educated rube would lead one to question how well they're surviving. All are almost totally mussed in a rusty crust; trees have just bust that robust and rusted crust, leaving us nonplussed.

Sorry, couldn't help myself.

In any event, we've begun collecting bids to restore at least one of the hoppers, but our efforts ground to a halt when we discovered -- you guessed it -- lead on the skin of the cars. The cost of sandblasting a car of that size, priming it, and repainting it, comes to about $8,000 (assuming no metalwork is done, and these cars need a lot of that). That's also assuming there's no lead. Factor in the various safeguards that have to be taken to handle and dispose of the blasted lead, and the price per car jumps to nearly $20,000. For those of you wondering why those cars still sit at the end of this building untouched, you've got your answer. Meanwhile -- please forgive the cheap plug -- we will happily accept donations toward the restoration of what could very well be America's oldest surviving steel hoppers.

So, I said that lead affects your VMT in two ways, but I've only named one. The other one is rather unsettling.

Up until a few months ago, the museum's gift shop carried Thomas the Tank Engine products. If you purchased any from us, or know of people who may have, PLEASE CONTACT THE MANUFACTURER TO DETERMINE IF YOUR PRODUCTS HAVE BEEN RECALLED. But there is some good news here, too. The museum's gift shop no longer carries Thomas products. Instead, it carries products from parent-favorites Melissa and Doug and our new friends, The Whittle Shortline Railroad. The latter's wooden trains are all made in America, and as their website boldly states, their paint is 100% lead free. Anyway, this is less about merchandise, and more of a general notice to our patrons and customers.

It's not at all difficult to see progression in a museum. In this one, for example, one can see steam give way to diesel, horses give way to internal combustion engines, and motive technology itself move from journal boxes to roller bearings. And yet, the same lead in the paint on our hoppers that threatens the environment forms a barrier in the glass of our computer monitors to shield us from radiation. Mankind is on a time line of progression, taming the very elements of nature to meet his demands.

Neat, huh?

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Friday, August 10, 2007

90 and 11

In the movies, whenever a film maker wants to convey the heat of a desert or other warm locale, the camera will usually take a few establishing shots of the area featuring visual distortions from the heat, a scant few desert creatures, or perhaps a clich├ęd skeleton adorning the sandy ground. As a blogger, I have no such visual tools to capture the essence of how hot it is inside this building today. I have only two numbers -- 90 degrees, 11:00 am.

As you know by now, we had to postpone our Tug of War due to a lack of participation. The event has been rescheduled for Saturday, October 27th. We're hoping that the extra weeks will give us a chance to talk to more businesses, involve some college fraternities and sororities, and other people who would be less likely to be vacationing in the fall than in the summer. Also, given the current temperature, it might make pulling an 800,000 pound locomotive a tad easier if the thermometer doesn't show off as much mercury.

The museum building, Norfolk & Western's historic freight station, is 89 years old this year. Back in the day, it utilized gravity vents to cool the interior. These vents created a nearly constant breeze through the building. As the building was upgraded with modern air conditioning, the gravity vents were sealed off, but the hoods were left on top of the roof. These hoods are still visible atop the building, but serve only to mock those of us working here without the luxury of central air.

In any event, it's hot. But we're still open. Come on down and see us, but bring a water bottle. You'll need it.

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