Monday, May 23, 2016

Virginia Museum of Transportation – A Mix of Interests

Continuing with our visit to the Virginia Museum of Transportation…

It would have been more appropriate if I’d included this photo of the entrance to the museum with my first posting in which I covered some of the automobiles and trucks on display…

Originally named The Roanoke Transportation Museum, it was originally formed as a partnership of the Norfolk and Western Railway and the City of Roanoke.  Its first location was in a park along the Roanoke River.  In 1983 the Museum was designated as the Official Transportation Museum of the Commonwealth of Virginia and it was renamed the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Disaster struck the original museum in 1985, when floodwaters surged through the Museum causing $1,400.000 million in damage.  The Norfolk Southern Railroad stepped in and donated this current structure, this 1918 Norfolk and Western freight station as the Museum’s new home.  This has 45,000 square feet of indoor space and it sits on 5.75 acres adjacent to active Norfolk Southern mainline tracks in downtown Roanoke.

There is an extensive operating model train display just inside the entrance to the museum.  For the model train buff…or the child in all of us…the detail in this layout or action packed diorama is fun to visually explore.  The Roanoke Valley Model Engineers is a group of model railroad enthusiasts of all ages that meet every Tuesday in the basement of the Museum to build and operate HO, N, On30 and O gauge layouts.

These photos show an O-Gauge Model Train Layout.  It’s a 4 level model layout depicting major rail sites around the region.  With multiple trains operating over 600 feet of track, the layout was constructed and is continuously upgraded by the Roanoke Valley O-Gauge Club.

Love this old bus driver’s uniform… I can remember when Greyhound Bus Lines ruled the roads! 

I drove a taxi to earn some cash when on breaks and during the summer when I was going to Michigan State University.  My favorite fare or trip involved staking out the Greyhound Depot in Jackson Michigan.  I waited for the bus from Detroit hoping for 4 passengers who needed transportation to the Southern Michigan Penitentiary to visit family or friends.  It was a flat rate fare and if I could land 3 or more fares at once, I’d paid for my cab for the day!

Although the museum is heavily focused on railroads…followed by automobiles, other interesting exhibits are scattered throughout the museum.  There is a large space devoted to bus transportation, a mode of transportation that has made a bit of a comeback lately.

The Harry L. Messimer Bus Collection Exhibit at the museum features artifacts and models from Greyhound, Trailways and Virginia transit companies.

There is also a nautical section at the museum which consists of artifacts and a number of great looking model ships and boats.  Space constraints do limit what the museum can display.  Even the autos and trucks on exhibit are only a portion of the museum’s holdings in that area…

This model ship, appropriately enough, is the USS Roanoke (CL-145). She was a 680 foot long Light Cruiser that was commissioned in 1949 and decommissioned in 1958.

You may be able to guess the name of this big ocean liner… If you guessed the Titanic, you’d be correct!

I’ve never had the patience required to build model ships.  I built a few WWII vintage naval ships and a couple of airplanes from the same era when I was young.  However they were all simple kits…nothing too challenging.

This work of love is the HMS Goliath, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line that served the British Royal Navy beginning in 1751.  She was dismantled in 1815.  This ship was involved in several battles including the Battle of Cape St Vincent, Battle of the Nile, and Battle of Copenhagen.

The last model ship that I photographed is of a true classic.  This is the Cutty Sark, a British Clipper Ship that was launched in 1869.  At 212.5 feet in length with a cruising speed of about 17.5 knots, she was one of the last clipper ships used for transporting tea.  Soon after she was launched, steam ships began to replace these speedy sailing ships. 


·       The American built clipper ship Flying Cloud set the world's sailing record for the fastest passage between New York and San Francisco via Cape Horn.  The trip was accomplished in 89 days 8 hours anchor-to-anchor.  She held this record for over 100 years, from 1854 to 1989.

There is also a small area devoted to airplanes and aeronautical items.  Despite serious space constraints, there are a couple of small airplanes suspended from the ceiling…

Since the primary focus of the Virginia Museum of Transport is railroad history, related displays are never far away.  This extensive set of china with silverware and other related items was used on the Norfolk and Western railroad in the dining cars. 

I’m always looking for items like this from the railroad or the halcyon days of passenger air travel.  I do have a nice set of gold rimmed tumblers from Southern railway but these collectibles are both scarce and pricey!

Then there was this ‘dummy’ Norfolk and Western ticket agent and telegraph operator at his work station.  Try explaining the use and importance of the telegraph to our grandchildren… What’s a rubber stamp?  No digital scale?  You have to be kidding…!   That thing over the ticket agent’s shoulder is a telephone?

Moving outdoors in the direction of the rail yard displays, a number of other items are on exhibit in addition to trains and locomotives. 

This is an Oliver HG Crawler.  It was built by the Cleveland Tractor Company, (which was purchased by Oliver) and a year later, the “Cletrac” trademark was adopted.  Between 1916 and 1944, “Cletrac” produced about 75 different tractor models, one of which was the HG.  This little HG Crawler was introduced in 1939.  In Nebraska Tractor Test No. 324, in August 1939, the 3500 pound Model HG pulled 2800 pounds, almost 80% of its own weight while using 1.5 gallons of gas per hour.

This is an 1882 Howe Fire Engine.  It was built by the Howe Pump and Engine Company in Anderson Indiana.  That company later became the Howe Fire Apparatus Company.  This particular fire engine had to hand pulled to the fire and then the water had to be hand pumped on the flames.

FYI…Denver Indiana is located in north central Indiana and as of 2012 it has a population of about 474 people.  Back in 1880, the population was only 273 so they didn’t have too far to pull this fire truck to any fire in town!

You thought it would be a challenge explaining the telegraph to your grandchildren…!  How about this structure?  This is actual train “order station” from Ellett Virginia.  Before the days of cell phones and other communication methods, engineers’ instructions were sent by Morse Code to the train order station.  The telegraph operator then wrote out the instructions and held them up on a long pole for the engineer to grab through the locomotive’s open window as they speed by the station!

There is also a collection of carriages and wagons located along the platform underneath the freight depot’s protective overhang.  The second vehicle in line is the equivalent of a big family van today…with 3 rows of seats. 

The first one in line is an extended roof Rockaway Carriage.  These were popular beginning in the 1830’s but they must have been the luxury vehicle of their time.  They were pulled by 2 horses and they featured shock absorbing springs, window shades and windows that opened and closed!

This is an example of one of the first class hearses of the day… It was manufactured by the James Cunningham and Son Company in 1895.  There is an ice compartment underneath the place for the casket that helps keep the corpse ‘fresh’ on the trip to the cemetery.

Cunningham went on to begin building cars in 1908 and they were one of the first auto makers to introduce a V-8 engine…in 1916!   Their 1908 gasoline powered cars sold for approximately $3,500.  That would be the equivalent of $93,000 today!   By 1910, the company was producing all its own parts and was selling its cars in a range from $4,500 to $5,000.  The company went completely out of business in 1936 after being in business for 54 years.

That’s about it for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a tour!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Looks like a good stop, especially with the RR stuff.

  2. Hi, What a neat museum.. I love the old fire engine... NEAT!!! That museum does offer all kinds of things for different transportation interests. My biggest interest in the transportation industry is TRAINS... I have a huge love for trains (as you probably know).


  3. Those model ships are awesome! Kids would get the telegraph about the same as that telephone. Interesting post with some important history! Thanks!

  4. Love this Museum with these little buildings and trains!
    Is lovely !!

  5. wish there were a photo of the Rockaway's rear window.