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Main Erecting Hall, Spencer
Currently on display
Not a part of the official Smithsonian Collection

This view is of the interior of the Main Erecting Hall of the Spencer Shops of the Southern Railway, located at Spencer, N.C. Here, locomotives were reassembled after extensive tear-down (disassembly). The huge overhead crane - the horizontal object spanning across 2/3 of the top of this view - lifted partly assembled or disassembled locomotives from one place to another in the hall during various stages of heavy work on boilers, frames, cylinders, wheel assemblies, rods, pumps, brake systems, piping, and other components. Tenders do not appear in the view; tenders were repaired in a separate building.

The view is unusual because there are workmen and mechanics populating the scene. (Most often, a photographer taking such a picture in the 1920s-30s would ask that employees stand away from the scene while the camera lens was opened for a time-exposed shot; a blurry image of a person in the scene was regarded as a photographic defect.) This photographer used a faster-speed film.

Date Made:
about 1930
North Carolina
Marvin Rogers Collection, with North Carolina Transportation Museum

For the Southern Railway, in the first half of the 20th century, the town of Spencer, N.C., was the home of the system's back shops. (See also the pictures, "Aerial View, Spencer Shops" and "Forging a Steel Billet.")

This view is typical of railroad locomotive-repair 'shops' in cities and towns throughout the country where a major locomotive-repair terminal was located. A railroad usually centralized its facilities for the most extensive kinds of locomotive repairs (i.e., 'heavy repairs') at one location somewhere on its rail system; this facility was often called the 'back shops.' Locomotives from every part of the system needing such repairs were sent to that place.

(This is in contrast to railroad 'roundhouses,' which stored locomotives between runs, where daily maintenance and 'light repairs' were done, and where a locomotive could be conveniently turned around on a turntable. A roundhouse was always part of a 'back shop' complex, but roundhouses were also scattered all across a railroad's system, with at least one roundhouse for every 'division' of a railroad -- a division usually consisted of about 90-150 miles of mainline route, plus all associated sidings, branch lines, and railroad yards.)

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