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Monday, June 7, 2010

Smarty Day Trip Series: NC Transportation Museum

By Katie M

When my then-two-year-old son witnessed 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 Salisbury. In fact, there are a bunch of great exhibits and celebrations to note this summer (see calendar below). And with it located just an hour’s drive south of the Triad, 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 a 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. Rail Days takes place this coming June 12 and 13. The event includes train rides, model trains, live music, children’s activities, the Rail Days Chili Cook-Off and more. Also happening that Saturday (June 12) is “2nd Saturdays.” Visitors will be able to explore railway transportation while watching and admiring the work of metal works, landscape artists, and photographers, among others.

For a complete calendar of events, click here. (Note to all: The Pumpkin Patch Express on October 30 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.

The NC Transportation Museum follows this schedule on dates and times:

Regular Hours (May 1- Oct. 31)
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday
1-5 p.m. Sunday
Winter Hours (Nov. 1-April 30)
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
1-5 p.m. Sunday (1-4 p.m. Sundays in January and February)
Closed Mondays, on New Year's Day, Easter Sunday, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving holiday, and Christmas holidays.

There is no charge for admission to exhibits, but donations are appreciated to help maintain and improve our collection. Admission may be charged for special events, and there is a small fee for the train and turntable rides. Parking is free.

And the Train Ride Schedule (with rates) is as follows:

March-Memorial Day and Labor Day-December 31
Thursday – Friday: 11 a.m., 1 and 2 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m.; 1, 2 and 3 p.m.
Sunday: 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.

Train Ride Fees:

• Adults - $6
• Children (3-12) - $5
• Seniors (60 and older) - $5
• Children younger than 3, who will not occupy a seat, ride free.

Have you been? What’s your favorite event or exhibit? And do you have any other smarty tips to share for this day trip destination?

*Lots of information courtesy of NC Transportation Museum web site.

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Angela S said...

We did my son's 4th birthday party on the "birthday caboose" at the museum. It was the most fun!

Summer said...

We have never been to the thomas part but the museum has been a day trip before. We went on one of those gloomy almost raining days and it was AWESOME!! the kids and I both enjoyed the exhibits, especially the mail car they have in the roundhouse. There were a TON of things that the kids were allowed to touch and climb on. Totally worth the drive (I think it's like 40 minutes)

Katie M said...

Yes, I believe you can also book birthday parties and go to summer camp there too - all this is found on their web site - thanks for the reminder, Angela!

RLR said...

We are planning to do this over the summer, so I am glad to see it featured as a day trip. Thanks for all of the tips!

Sarah said...

The museum annual membership fee is well worth the cost if you have a child who loves trains. Our membership paid for itself in just one month and we are planning to renew it again this year. I believe it is only $50 and includes train ride tickets for 6 people during every visit and free turn table rides.

If you can go to Rail Days this weekend, I would highly recommend it! My 2 year old was in heaven last year! Sunday is much less crowed than Saturday.

There is usually a community group selling hamburgers and hot dogs there, so you don't have to pack a lunch. There is also a little cafe across the street that has ice cream.

The 'TM' as its called around our house, is an awesome day trip!

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