The N.C. Transportation Museum Fire Truck Festival

The North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina, is a site typically known for its railroading heritage, located on the grounds of the former Spencer Shops steam locomotive repair facility. During the first half of the 20th century, it was Southern Railways’ largest repair facility for those coal fired iron horses.  

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It was an essential hub for the repair and maintenance of locomotive engines that moved people, products and raw materials up and down the east coast. Train rides are offered seasonally, and many museum events like “Day Out With Thomas™” and “THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride” feature train rides. Those ties to railroading cannot be denied.

But on June 23 of this year, railroading will take a back seat to steam powered pumpers, hose reel carts, turn out gear, volunteer and professional firemen, and emergency response vehicles of all types — including a LOT of fire trucks.

Festival History

In 2015, the museum decided to revamp its annual Fire Truck Show.  Put together in just a few short weeks, the event drew a respectable crowd and around 25 fire trucks.  In 2016, the museum decided to step up its efforts, contacting virtually every department in the state of North Carolina and beyond, drawing more than 50 fire trucks and some 3,500 visitors. “After that event, with a great turnout and a great showing of fire trucks, we knew had something special that we could build upon,” said event coordinator June Hall.  In 2017, efforts were redoubled and a festival atmosphere was embraced.  The name was changed to the Fire Truck Festival, and the event grew even larger.

Prior to the 2017 event day, the museum witnessed the largest social media response it had ever encountered for an event.  “We had nearly 20,000 people listing themselves as attending or interested after the event was posted on Facebook,” said social media coordinator Mark Brown.  “The excitement and number of fire departments that responded proved it was going to be a very big day.” And it was. 

More than 90 fire trucks and fire apparatus were displayed, hailing from across North Carolina, with additional entries from Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina. The equipment included the most modern fire trucks in operation, vintage fire engines from nearly every decade in the 20th century, the N.C. Wildlife Service helicopter, the breast cancer awareness Pink Cares fire truck and other special entries.  The Charlotte Fire Department brought their Metropolitan Steam Fire Engine 2813, nicknamed Ol’ Sue, a 1902 steam powered pumper. The 115-year old engine was fired up for fire hose pumper demonstrations, which also provided a great way for kids to cool off on the hot day.  Officials from the Salisbury Fire Department celebrated their 200th anniversary with a special program and a beam from the World Trade Center that serves as a monument to the firefighters lost on September 11, 2001. The department also showed off a newly restored 1941 American LaFrance fire truck in its first public appearance.

In keeping with the festival atmosphere, kids’ activities were offered in abundance, with smoke houses promoting fire safety awareness, jaws of life demonstrations, live music and food. The museum’s train ride was rolling, allowing visitors to take a trip along the rails, and admission to the festival included museum admission, so festival-goers were also able to take in the museum exhibits.

A moving portion of the event took place at noon.  North Carolina’s Assistant State Fire Marshall, Brian Taylor, thanked the attending crowd and asked for a moment of silence. The huge crowd quieted, remembering those firefighters lost in the line of duty.  The silence was broken by the National Anthem, and the crowd remained silent as numerous ladder trucks raised American flags over the attendees.

The 2017 Fire Truck Festival concluded with a fire truck parade across the front of the museum property, eventually ending at the Bob Julian Roundhouse.  The trucks were lined up around the unique, horse-shoe shaped structure for a group photo of the attending departments.

The Fire Truck Festival allowed the public to meet firemen from across the state, get a close up look at the equipment they use, vote for their favorite fire truck, and enjoy a spectacular family day at the museum. “Putting the public into contact with firefighters, allowing them to talk and take pictures, is a great part of the experience,” said Hall.  “People are able to talk with real life heroes, those that run into danger to save our lives and our property.”  With more than 5,000 people attending, the event set a record for the largest attendance at a single day event in the museum’s history.

The Fire Truck Festival is now a signature museum offering, with a goal of making the event bigger and better each year.

2018 Fire Truck Festival

The big question for 2018, the triple digit challenge for museum officials, is whether the June 23 event will draw more than 100 fire trucks. More departments than ever are being contacted, as well as fire truck collectors and other groups with vintage fire equipment. All trucks are welcome, old and new, big and small, active or retired.

“This event only takes place if fire departments buy into it and bring their fire trucks, so that’s a huge part of our focus.  We are literally partnering with dozens of different departments, individuals, and collector groups to make the festival happen,” said Hall.

This year’s event will also include hose reel demonstrations, displays, other emergency response vehicles, the annual fire truck parade, and the Norfolk Southern Corporation® Safety Train.  Additionally, an Amtrak locomotive and coach will be in attendance, for a simulated rescue during an on-board emergency, referred to as Passenger Train Emergency Response (PTER).

Tickets

The 2018 Fire Truck Festival takes place at the N.C. Transportation Museum grounds in Spencer, N.C. June 23. Admission to the Fire Truck Festival and museum is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and military, and $4 for children 3-12.  Admission to the Fire Truck Festival, admission to the museum, and an on-site train ride is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and military, and $8 for children 3-12.  Ages two and under are free.  Tickets are on sale now at www.nctrans.org

Fire Truck Registration

To register a fire truck, individuals or departments can register online, download a form from the website at www.nctrans.org, or contact June Hall at 704-636-2889 ext. 268. You can also email June at june.hall@ncdcr.gov. People’s Choice Awards will be given out in various categories for attending fire departments. Attending departments will receive a Fire Truck Festival T-shirt. Admission is free for
those bringing a truck.

Registration ends June 16, 2018.

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