I know how hard it is to get young kids out of the house to go somewhere - even quick outings require you to pack enough snacks, diapers, and toys to make you think you’ll be gone for a week. And who wants to wrestle kids in and out of carseats just to find out that your destination isn’t kid-friendly? That’s why I’ve decided to visit Triangle area sites to see if they’re worth your trip. I won’t use a rating system but I’ll try to describe what you’ll see well enough for you to decide if your kids would find it interesting. I’ll also give you the heads up on bathrooms, stroller accessibility and any other SNAFUs I encounter.


ROAD TRIP: "Day Out With Thomas" at the NC Transportation Museum - Spencer

          We had already intended to visit the Transportation Museum, knowing that my toddler would love the chance to see trains and automobiles, but it just so happened that the weekend we chose to visit was the same weekend Thomas was coming. When Thomas comes he brings a carnival replete with food vendors, a small mini-golf setup, model train displays, wooden train playsets, a hay maze, a gift shop, pictures with Sir Topham Hatt, and children's performers. There was quite a crowd but because we arrived late in the afternoon I imagine we avoided even longer lines. Food vendors even gave us freebies because they wanted to get rid of their inventory on the last day of the weekend event.

Sir Topham Hatt

          Tickets to ride on Thomas were $19 a person and also included admission to the Museum. The ride itself was about 20 minutes and meandered along the edge of the Museum campus. For the first half you travel forward and then the train reverses to bring you back to the starting point. The trip is not exactly scenic but it does offer a glimpse of the Museum's rolling stock awaiting restoration.

                   ____________ SPOILER ALERT ______________
      If you'd rather be surprised about what happens on a Thomas ride don't read the next paragraph.

       The inside of the passenger cars are decorated with banners and pictures of Thomas' friends. The ride begins with Thomas themed sing-along songs piped through the loudspeakers. Each passenger is given a Jr. Engineer Certificate signed by Sir Topham Hatt - my toddler gazed upon his with reverence as if he'd just received his diploma from Thomas U. Midway through the ride a 'conductor' in costume strolls through the car chatting up the passengers.

___________END OF SPOILER_________

         The Transportation Museum itself is worth seeing even when Thomas isn't in town. The campus is a former train repair depot so trains and train equipment dominate the Museum's collection. The star of the Museum's campus is the 37 stall roundhouse with working turntable - you can take a ride on the turntable for a dollar. Several noteworthy engines and passenger cars reside in the roundhouse with placards that describe their history. The Back Shop - the largest building on site where all the train repair work was done -  is currently under renovation but you can step just inside the doorway to see antique firetrucks, some unique automobiles, an amphibious plane, and you might even be able to spot the fuselage of a passenger jet. 

The Bob Julian Roundhouse

The Champion - a diesel/electric with 6 million miles of experience

inside the Back Shop

       A gift shop dominates the old Mechanics Shop but it also houses a display of small fishing boats and a conestoga wagon. Another building is devoted to antique cars spanning the decades up to a 1978 Plymouth State Police cruiser.

antique cars in the "Bumper to Bumper" exhibit

        The Museum's buildings are spread out and a bit far from the parking lot so you'll definitely want to use a stroller to transport the little ones. There is a large covered picnic shelter on site as well as restrooms. A pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks provides visitors with a great perch to see the Museum's trains coming and going.We were able to see all of the exhibits in two hours. 

        The Transportation Museum belongs to an older era of museums in the respect that there aren't a lot of things kids can touch - except for when Thomas brings his carnival - and most of the Museum's information is delivered through text laden placards. But what the Museum lacks in interactivity it makes up for in the breadth of its' train collection, the crown of which is the preserved roundhouse. My kids had never seen a roundhouse except on Thomas and Friends. It was exciting to be able to show them the real thing, especially one with a functioning turntable.

         This excursion was all about my toddler. I can't remember the last time I saw him that excited. When he first sighted Thomas he called out his sister's name - a name we very rarely hear him pronounce - to share his excitement with her. There is such a wonderful feeling that comes from showing our kids something they have only dreamed about. Although I haven't done it, I can only imagine this is what it feels like to take children to Disney World for the first time.

1 comment:

  1. We do a lot of traveling. And we have a lot of kids. 5. (Holy cow, what were we thinking?) Anyway, we keep our kids occupied with audiobooks, and lots of them. There are a lot of sites where you can download them, but we use this one a lot because the stories are all free and they're original. Here's the link if anyone is interested. http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/short-stories-for-kids