Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So Many Ways to Help

The Virginia Museum of Transportation is critical to the Roanoke valley and southwest Virginia. Along with other railroad-themed attractions, the museum brings substantial tourism dollars to the valley. VMT also preserves and tells a gigantic part of this area’s history. It offers a unique setting and collection of exhibits that need to be preserved.

Financially, times are very challenging, due to the costs of maintaining our vintage facility and caring for the treasures in our collection, many of which are not only extremely large but also complicated and costly to maintain. The loss of a significant stream of state funding has turned a challenge into a crisis.

You can help. Many already are—larger corporations and small businesses, nonprofits and individuals—for which we are extremely grateful. Here are some other ways people can contribute.

1) Make a tax-deductible donation, either a one-time amount or a monthly gift. Anything from $10 to $10,000 will help. And if you insist on giving even more than $10,000, we will try not to fuss.

2) If you aren’t already a member of the Museum, use the form in this newsletter to purchase a membership today. You can just go to http://www.vmt.org/membership%20form.pdf or call VMT at 342-5670.

3) Become a part of upcoming fundraising events. VMT is the featured charity at Cocktails for a Cause at Trio Restaurant on Wednesday, July 30th and First Fridays at Five on August 15th. Join us at either or both events for drinks and dinner or entertainment.

4) Visit the Food Lion web site to register your MVP card (https://www.foodlion.com/IntheCommunity/ShopAndShare/default.asp). Every time you shop, a portion of your grocery purchase will be donated to us!

5) Sign up at http://www.maatiam.com/ and choose the Virginia Museum of Transportation as your charity. Shop your favorite stores online by visiting Maatiam first to sign in and select your store’s site. Hundreds of listed stores will donate a percentage of your purchase to VMT, and it will not cost you an extra penny (not even one that has been flattened on the railroad tracks).

6) If you are a member of the Rotary Club or other community organization that has a giving program, please ask your leadership to consider making a donation or a grant to the Museum.

7) Write individuals and corporations who have the capacity to make substantial capital donations to the museum. Tell them in your own words how valuable VMT is to this area and explain why it needs their help so much. Perhaps your letter will be the one that opens eyes and purse strings.

8) Consider donating to VMT through special financial arrangements such as trusts, wills, stock donations, capital projects, etc. Contact the museum, your financial advisor or your attorney to discuss options.

9) Volunteer. Your “sweat donations” can either accomplish tasks that the museum cannot currently afford or free up another set of hands to do something else. It’s more than just a dollar issue. Numerous volunteers cheerfully working around VMT is great chemistry, building morale and infecting visitors with enthusiasm. From greeting people to grease and grunt work, from computer savvy to carpentry skills, we have a job to fit just about everyone.

10) Shop in Destinations, the museum gift store. We have a collection of gift ideas for adults and children, from clothing and decorative pieces to books, videos and artwork. You can come by whenever VMT is open—you don’t have to purchase museum admission to shop there. We have great gift ideas for birthdays, graduation, retirement, Christmas and other special occasions.

11) Talk to friends you think might be willing to share their time, ability or finances. Explain to them what our mission and need are. Take them on a tour to acquaint them with VMT if they aren’t very familiar with us. Pay for their admission if need be.
12) Visit with us whenever you can. Your admission and your presence boost our efforts.

13) Talk us up wherever you go. Many area residents don’t realize what we have to offer. You can be an ambassador at-large for us.

Perhaps you have a great idea we haven’t thought of. If so, please tell us. As Red Green says, “We’re all in this together.”

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Listening Again

Blogs without readers are sad, sad creatures. I have been writing this one since late February and appreciate so much those who bother to show up here time after time. Here is a look back at some of your comments. (Feedback regarding whether VMT should be a transportation or railroad-only attraction I will defer until an upcoming blog on that subject.)

Welcome back
When I took over the blog in February, several of you were kind enough to say you were glad to see it back on line—and those of you who weren’t glad were kind enough not to say so. Derek wrote, “As someone from Indiana who has never had a chance to come and visit but has many fond memories of 611, this is the place to keep up on the action. Please keep the updates coming! Would also like to get the newsletter.

From Indiana? Cool. I hope you can visit in person soon. As the May 12 blog points out, you can see a lot of other railroad stuff in addition to VMT.

Wishin’ and hopin’
Several people have shared items from their personal wish list. Chief among them is the desire to have more intimate contact with the outdoor exhibits. Martin said, “I personally would like to see the Virginian Railway 0-8-0 #4 be painted up and have the cab open to the public. “ Emmo213 dreams of being able to “actually sit in the engineer's seat of 611 and 1218 …. Maybe even have an air source hooked up so there's a noon-time whistle or something similar.”

Phillip thinks one of VMT’s biggest selling points is allowing visitors to “climb all over the collection,” even though “curators in their various ways would pull out their hair.” And Anonymous applauds “how the railroad exhibits are not roped off. There is something special about touching the artifacts that I have read about or seen on video for years.

Anti-q8 wishes we could get even more up close and personal. “It seems almost criminal that [the 611] sits idle, with little or no possibility of coming back to life. My kids love trains and are just in awe when they see a regular diesel engine. I can only imagine what they’d think if they could actually see 611 under power. With the steam, smoke and the driving rods, I’m sure it would seem to be alive and breathing.”

We all ache for that to happen. More likely to occur is Philosofik’s idea.

In conjunction with a map of area railroad attractions, he (or she?) suggests cell phone tours. “Basically, the map provides visitors with a unique local or toll-free phone number they can call at the various landmarks noted on the map. The phone call will access a pre-recorded message talking about the site they're viewing with as little or as much detail as you want. Each site could have its own extension in the phone so you could even track which sites get the most traffic.”

Cell tour calls. That’s a different kind of CTC.

Thanks for the Memories
Anti-q8 loved the comments I included from a staff member about the impression 611 makes on people. He reminisces, “My grandfather was a Pullman conductor on the Powhatan Arrow and the Cavalier back in the 40’s and 50’s. When my mom was in college at Longwood in Farmville, she used to deadhead home to Norfolk when her dad was on the train. She said that when they pulled out of the station, by the time they were at the town limit, they were almost at speed. I have heard that at one time on the flats between Richmond and Norfolk, the engineers tried to see how fast she would go but had to throttle back because they were afraid the track wouldn’t hold up; so they were never sure exactly how fast the J-series really was.”

Recollections like that need to be preserved and shared, Phillip mused. “What if the VMT set up a computer terminal where guests could record their recollections of riding behind #611 or any of the other vehicles? Then have them stored so others can view them and share their own. There are so many great stories out there, it’d be a shame to lose them to time.”

“Just the Facts”
An anonymous blog reader feels “more people would read it if you posted about what's going on at VMT. Ya know, like the exhibits, what's being done to restore various pieces of equipment, things like that. Just because it's a blog doesn't mean you have to try to be poetic. I personally want information, not poetry.”

Some folks like poetry,
Some folks like prose
Thanks for your view
Though it steps on my toes.
Here’s who I write for
When I have my druthers.
Sometimes it’s one group
And sometimes it’s others.
So when one column
Leaves you at the station,
Maybe the next will
Provide stimulation.

Too Much Talk, Too Little Action
Another Anonymous (or the same one?) also groused about a piece on stories: “Yes, there are so many stories. Why are we telling them on a blog that few read instead of at the museum itself? Perhaps the museum would be in better shape if it had been telling them there.”

“That few read?” You break my heart.

Isn’t that part of the reason for a blog? To talk about what we can do better, especially when readers join the dialogue, is a vital step toward putting new ideas into practice. Sometimes we throw things out there to get your reaction and to see if you have better ideas. We would love to do lots of things that we cannot right now due to a lack of manpower and money. So we do what we can and continue to dream, with your help.

It’s Everywhere
Finally, Barbara wrote to say, “Hello, I just entered before I have to leave to the airport. If you want here is the site I told you about where I type some stuff and make good money (I work from home).”

How about that—not even blogs are immune from spam.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, May 12, 2008

Railroad Heaven

Have you thought about how large the rail footprint in the Roanoke Valley has become? We are a train lover’s Bigfoot, a rail fan’s gold mine. Those of us who live here may forget sometimes how much we do have to offer.

You can tour the Museum of Transportation and its extensive collection of locomotives, rolling stock and other artifacts. Adding to its value is its location within the former Norfolk & Western Roanoke freight terminal.

You can travel the David and Susan Goode Railwalk, filled with graphics, data and hands-on exhibits. Strolling alongside the mainline of one of the four largest railroads in America, you can observe all kinds of Norfolk Southern trains in action. At times you will see not only NS locomotives but also those in the livery of CSX, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific, among others.

Nearby you can find much more of Norfolk Southern’s regional operations to take in. A dual track hump classification yard with both receiving and departure yards on each end lies just west of downtown at Shaffers Crossing. Fueling and sanding facilities and a locomotive and car maintenance center are located there as well. Downtown the current NS office building, modern and sophisticated-looking, towers above the streets.

Across the tracks from VMT and the Railwalk stands Hotel Roanoke, the grand old lady built by Norfolk Southern’s predecessor, the N&W, for its passengers. On one side of that classic structure is the restored, Loewy-designed Roanoke passenger station. Within its walls lies the O. Winston Link Museum, featuring stunning photos of N&W steam locomotives against the vanishing rural landscape of this region.

Traipse over to the other side of Hotel Roanoke and you can gaze at two earlier Norfolk and Western office buildings, built when Roanoke was not just a regional but a national railroad headquarters. One structure now houses the Roanoke Higher Education Center where more than a dozen universities and colleges offer classes. The other building contains upscale apartment living. You can go inside the Higher Ed. Center and see the exquisite wood paneling and metal work that made this such an elegant home for railroad management.

Just down the tracks from the office buildings, hotel and passenger station you will find the sprawling East End Shops, where many of the locomotives featured in Winston Link’s photos were built. On one end, Norfolk Southern continues to perform heavy maintenance on GE locomotives, fabricate slugs and do some wreck repair. On the other end, FreightCar America manufactures ore cars for BNSF, coal hoppers for NS, BNSF and GATX, and double-stack container cars for Saudi Arabia.

The recent tour of “lost railroads” in the valley offered a reminder that there is still more railroad gold to be mined in this area. In addition, two other planned projects will make Bigfoot’s print even more expansive: the restoration of the Virginian Railway passenger station and the building of an intermodal terminal in Elliston.

How many places in America can you go and see in such close proximity the headquarters of one of the most successful and innovative steam railroads in history, the shops where some of North America’s most impressive locomotives were built, the collected work of one of America’s great railroad photographers, some of the classic locomotives he shot, the operations of a modern class 1 railroad bisecting the historic sites, a manufacturing center for new freight cars and (hopefully soon) a cutting-edge intermodal railroad center?

You can do so much railfanning here, drinking in the past and present and even the future, taking in the trains and the people and facilities that make them go. It leaves me wondering whether we are adequately marketing ourselves to the world.

Is there any coordinated attempt to “sell” to train buffs all we offer in the valley? Are visitors to the area introduced to the full range of interconnected rail attractions we offer? Do we have railfan maps of the area to hand out to tourists?

Scranton, PA has Steam Town, a somewhat motley repository of locomotives gussied up by huge amounts of federal government money. Perhaps we should call ourselves Train Town or Railroad Roanoke, or something like that (I bet you can think of a better name than the ones I just suggested).

Surely we can do more to promote our railroad riches. Looking around convinces me that we are a wonderful secret that has been too well kept.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Friday, May 2, 2008

From Caboose to Dr. Seuss

The Museum of Transportation has many needs. Foremost is our need for people.

We need effective employees. We are so fortunate to have a small group of staff members who are as dedicated and adaptable as they are skilled. We are seeking another one, by the way: a new weekend gift shop manager who is responsible and enthusiastic with retail experience, customer service and computer skills, and the willingness to work Saturday and Sunday. (Anyone interested may send resumé to sloveman@vmt.org).

We need people with large vision and resources who will give to VMT. This is a critical time for us financially.

And we need people who give of themselves in other ways. Over the 45 years of the museum’s existence, volunteers have been as vital to us as coal and water are to a steam locomotive. Without them we would get nowhere.

We can utilize volunteers in so many areas, including some that surely match your interest and ability. To help you understand the ways you can serve the cause, we offer in the spirit of Dr. Seuss this poetic volunteer job description. You remember Dr. Seuss? He wrote The Cat in the Engineer’s Hat. Or was it Dr. Seuss Hops a Caboose? Whatever.

This Cat Can Do That

Our fine museum could use loads of cash.
If, though, like lots of us, you lack a stash,
That is quite cool—you don’t need to despair.
There are so many ways you can still share.

Since we’re short-handed, short-handed by half,
Lacking a fully-stocked roster of staff,
You can donate a resource we hold dear:
Give us your time, lend a hand, volunteer.

How many ways could we put you to work?
How about being a gift shop sales clerk?
Sell nifty merchandise, take up the dough
While shoppers chat with you, tell what they know.

You could help maintain the building and grounds
Inside and outside while making your rounds,
Patching, attaching, and catching up stuff,
Fixing the broken and smoothing the rough.

Maybe your thing is conducting a tour,
Leading the tourists around, making sure
They see the biggest, the brightest and best—
Railyard and car gallery, all the rest.

You could help learners—you know—educate,
Touch them and teach them, inspire, innovate;
Guiding the grownups and little ones too,
Transporting them to a world we once knew.

You could be artsy and make spiffy signs,
Do fancy lettering, create designs,
Or you could write about trails, rails and flight;
Read and research, dig up facts left and right.

You could share elbow grease: scrape, clean and scrub;
Keep the exhibits in shape—polish, rub;
Clean ‘em up, preen ‘em up, shake off the dust;
Fend off the fingerprints, cobwebs and rust.

You could help tidy the many displays,
Giving attention in various ways
So all the guests who explore the museum
Will be impressed by the sights when they see ‘em.

You could restore items in our collection
If you possess the right skills and affection,
For these are treasures both old and quite rare
Needing devoted and delicate care.

You could greet people at special events
At booths or tables or even in tents;
Be the museum’s warm face for a while,
Share information, an ear and a smile.

You could help organize, plan and promote
Shindigs and happenings, moments of note:
Easter egg hunts, birthday parties and such
That need ideas and the creative touch.

And though your work brings no wages your way,
We offer perks that are sort of like pay:
Admission that won’t cost your family a cent;
Gift shop discounts at a healthy percent.

If you can talk or walk, listen or learn;
If you’re still breathing with free time to burn;
There is, we guarantee, something to do—
Something that just fits the person who’s you.

(To find out more about volunteering at VMT, call Susan Loveman at 342-5670 or e-mail sloveman@vmt.org)

Labels: , , ,