A Milestone in Restoration
The Muscle of Spencer Shops
While the Bob Julian Roundhouse, located just south of here, provided routine maintenance for Southern Railway's steam locomotives, the Back Shop was where the heavy lifting was done—literally. Locomotives came to the Back Shop for major overhauls and repairs. Ceiling-mounted cranes were used to lift locomotives weighing up to 90 tons and shuttle them through the building. A machine shop was located on the eastern side of the building. When completed in 1905, the Back Shop became the largest manufacturing building in the state of North Carolina. Building this behemoth took 2.5 million bricks and $483,000—a project that today would cost in the tens of millions to complete. The giant windows and skylights provided an abundance of natural light in the building. The building, which could accommodate 15 locomotives at a time, is 596 feet long (nearly two football fields), 150 feet wide and 80 feet high. Workers turned out one completed locomotive per day.
A Milestone in Restoration
Ater work at Spencer stopped altogether, the shop buildings fell into deep disrepair for decades. By the time the shops were donated to the State of North Carolina for use as a transportation museum, the Back Shop had hundreds of broken windows, badly damaged brick and was covered
upper photo caption:
Rowan County celebrated its 200th anniversary in April 1953. As part of festivities, the Spencer School band toured the Back Shop, which had by then been modified to service diesel locomotives. An assembly line took the diesel prime movers from disassembly, to overhaul to reassembly, while body work was done on the other side of the building.
center photo caption:
The Back Shop was divided, with one side for locomotives and the other for machinery. This view shows the line of shafts and belts used to operate many of the machines. Small electric motors mounted on the steel columns were used to power the line shafts.
lower photo caption:
This interior view shows three of the four tracks used for locomotive servicing. Locomotives entered the south end of the building and worked their way through repair stations. The skylights and large windows let in natural light, allowing electricity to be used for machinery rather than lighting.in kudzu vines.
Preliminary efforts to stop further damage, including a new roof, began in 1980, but a more extensive restoration would be more than 20 years later. In 2005, the initial phase of restoration was completed, including replacing the roof again (the 1980 roof was damaged first by a tornado and then by Hurricane Hugo in 1989), stabilizing the foundation, extensive masonry work, replacing windows and skylights, and sandblasting/repainting steel roof trusses. Additional restoration needed to complete the building's transition to an exhibit hall includes installation of a new floor, electrical and plumbing work, construction of interior walls, restroom installation, and much more.