© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Charlotte Area

Restored Streamliners Draw Thousands To Spencer

Streamliners caused a stir throughout the U.S. when they made their debut in the 1930s.  These trains had a smooth, sleek design.  But they didn’t just look neat; they were fast, some of them reaching speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. 

But by the 1960s, they disappeared as more people chose airplanes and cars.  Twenty-six of these restored streamliners were on display this weekend at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.


Streamliners occupy a hallowed place in the minds of many train lovers.  Dave Blazejewskiflew all the way from Anchorage, Alaska to check them out.

"I can assure you that, for the rest of my life, I will never get the chance to see these locomotives gathered in one place."

They had powerful compact diesel engines and looked unlike any trains that came before. 

Credit Tasnim Shamma
The Silver Pilot (Burlington Route No. 9911-A) is owned by the Illinois Railway Museum. It's a passenger car built in 1940 for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy route.

"When you think of a diesel, you think of this round, bulldog nose. Really just the shape and style of them and streamliners are what people think of. And they haven't made these in 50 years."

To attract passengers, these trains were eye-catching. 

Andy Fletcher is a professional railroad artist and painter. 

"A lot like airlines now, they were trying to sell that their railroad's service from Chicago to Atlanta was the superior service and part of doing that was in the design of the train. "If it had flashy colors -- this train is the one you want to ride."

The trains operated all over the U.S., including in North Carolina.  Bob Loehne, a museum volunteer, shows off a yellow and navy streamliner from 1948 that hauled freight. 
"C & O – the yellow nose – is Chesapeake and Ohio," Loehne says. "It used to run, as local to here, it ran through Virginia horizontally. Like it came out of the mountains and went to Lynchburg and then to Richmond and Newport News."

These trains are now owned by private individuals who put a lot of time and money into restoring them.  One engine can cost up to $2 million to bring back to life. 

Visitors could see them in action as they went back and forth a short track.  Trey Pitts, from Lincolnton, North Carolina, stepped inside one of them. 

"This is about as close to Heaven as I could possibly get," Pitts says. "So I'm really enjoying this, I think it's pretty cool."

He was one of more than 8,000 visitors to see the streamliners during the four-day exhibit.