This recent Thanksgiving holiday was quite busy for me. In addition to spending time with friends and family for the traditional dinner, I also took a trip back to my alma mater, Virginia Tech, to attend the big football against the University of Virginia. If you are not familiar with these colleges, they are big rivals. If you are not familiar with college football, Virginia Tech has beaten UVA in the big rivalry game for the past ten years.
It was a cold night for being in an outdoor stadium, but I was glad to see our winning streak extended to eleven years! Go Hokies! But it turned out that I found some other Virginia Tech connections after the game. Image from http://www.hokiesports.com/football/recaps/20141129aaa.html
Normally on our trips I’m the one who finds museums to visit. However, on our trip home my husband took us to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia. This building was formerly the Norfolk and Western Freight Station, so even though the museum deals with many forms of transportation, it has a lot of trains. For a rail fan and former train dispatcher like my husband, it is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon!
Once inside, we headed to the showing of a short movie about the 611 steam locomotive, and a presentation by a very informative and animated docent. Afterwards, my husband and the docent, who turned out to be a former train conductor, started talking and comparing past train careers. I was eager to see the exhibits, so I wandered away to the galleries.
The largest “gallery” is the outdoor display of train engines and cars. You could easily spend the entire time looking through everything on display out here!
Storing large artifacts, like this train car, outside presents some challenges which I am glad I don’t have to deal with at my museum!
It’s not all trains though. There are many other modes of transportation on display.
Back inside the museum, I found a display which compared pistons from various engines.
I also found that the automobile section was pretty popular.
Back to the Future, anyone?!
Look what else I found – a robotic car built by Virginia Tech students! In November 2007, this self-driving car called Odin placed third in a 60 mile Urban Challenge race. According to the label, computers control Odin’s throttle, brake, steering, and shifting while relying on input from cameras, laser sensors, and a GPS system.
I wanted to show my husband the robotic car, so I hurried back to where I had left him, expecting to find him still discussing trains. Instead, he found me and excitedly told me that he’d just gotten a behind-the-scenes tour of some train items. A behind-the-scenes tour – and I love getting to see the artifacts that aren’t out on display. I’d missed it; guess I shouldn’t have left.
This is one item I didn’t get to see in person, an old US&S CTC machine used in dispatching trains. Notice that this one controlled the trains which ran through Antietam – not far from the Pry House Field Hospital Museum!
In addition to the full-sized trains, there is a large model train display. I liked that they placed some viewing windows down low for the kids.
In fact, many of the displays were good for kids (and Hokie fans) of all ages!
In the aviation section, I finally found a Civil War connection – a model of the gas balloon, or aerostat, Enterprise.
The Enterprise was built by Thaddeus Lowe, and was part of Lowe’s plan for a transatlantic flight. In April of 1861, he took it on a test flight from Cincinnati, bound for Washington D.C. He instead landed in Unionville, South Carolina, where he was promptly captured and accused of being a Union spy! He was ultimately able to convince his captors that he was on a scientific mission, and was released and sent home. He then offered the use of his balloons for reconnaissance to the Union Army. The Enterprise was used to observe the Battle of First Bull Run, and paved the way for the use of balloons in the Civil War.
You never know what kinds of connections you will find when visiting different museums. Just don’t wander away from your group or you might miss something!
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