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Aerial view of Spencer Shops
Currently on display
Not a part of the official Smithsonian Collection

The Main Erecting Hall for locomotive repairs is the long building to the left-center of the picture. The long building to the right-center is the repair shop for railroad cars, the Car Shop. The Power House, which supplied steam, compressed air, and electricity to the complex's buildings is in the center, with the smokestack. The huge locomotive roundhouse is to the left. (The roundhouse and its turntable permitted locomotives to be stored and also to be turned around conveniently; most steam locomotives were not bi-directional but had to perform their work headed in one direction.)

Date Made:
Dates Used:
1920s - 1950s
North Carolina
North Carolina Division of Archives and History

Railroad locomotive-repair 'shops' were located in cities and towns throughout the country. 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.

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, "Main Erecting Hall, Spencer" and "Forging a Steel Billet.")

(A shop complex such as this was more than a railroad 'roundhouse,' which stored locomotives between runs and where daily maintenance and 'light repairs' were done. A roundhouse was always part of a 'back shop' complex -- the Spencer Shops' roundhouse is to the left in the picture -- but other 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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