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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 People on the Move Americans Adopt the Auto Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction The Salisbury Depot What Happened to Plessy? A Way of Travel Railroad Conductor Pullman Porter Carrying Everything Into Town--and Out Locomotive Engineer & Fireman Railroaders behind the Scenes Promoting Good Roads Spencer, an Industrial Community What Happened to the Railroads?
Lives on the Railroad

Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927

The Southern Railway’s 1401 locomotive—90 feet long, 280 tons—is the dramatic backdrop for a 1920s railroad story. Enter a replica of the Salisbury station and meet travelers. Explore a tactile model of the railroad station with its segregated facilities, and a model of a typical 1920s train and its makeup. Explore the work of railroaders of all stripes, from conductors to Pullman porters to behind-the-scenes clerks. And as you walk along the platform, you have a chance to see how trains carried the nation’s freight. Looking into the cab of the locomotive, you can eavesdrop on the daily work routines of the men working there.

A ramp takes you down to ground level. Examine the driving wheels at close range, and get a sense of the intricate technology of the locomotive. Take a look at a horse-drawn delivery wagon, and learn about the Good Roads Movement in North Carolina, a grassroots effort by farmers who wanted to get their produce to the train. Finally, meet some of the workers who repaired locomotives for the Southern Railway in the shops in Spencer, a North Carolina town whose very existence depended on the railroad.

View from the exhibition
View from the exhibition

Riding and Working on the Railroad

In the 1920s, railroads were a central part of American life. Railroad lines crisscrossed the country. They carried people, manufactured goods, food, the daily mail, and express packages. Railroads made long-distance travel possible, but the opportunities for travel were not equally shared. In the South, African Americans were segregated into “Jim Crow” cars.

Salisbury, North Carolina, was linked to the nationwide system by the Southern Railway. Its main route ran between Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, Louisiana, by way of Salisbury. The depot and rail freight sheds made the town a part of the country’s rail network. The railroad also provided job opportunities in the community: in nearby Spencer, the vast locomotive repair shops employed 2,500 skilled workers.

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