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May 15, 2021

NC Transportation Museum offers special events in February

The North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer has announced two special offerings in February.
On Feb. 21, NCTM presents a history of Winston-Salem-based Piedmont Airlines with “Piedmonsters” day.
Though the Winston-Salem based airline merged with US Air (now US Airways) in 1989, former employees and patrons of Piedmont Airlines have kept the history and memory of the company alive. The N.C. Transportation Museum’s Piedmonster flight simulator display and other aspects of Piedmont Airlines history will be a part of the program.
It will also feature Piedmont Captain Bill Wilkerson as he shares memories of the airline and documentarian Richard Eller, who will provide a sneak peak of his film, “Speedbird: The History of Piedmont Airlines.”
Piedmonsters Day will begin with a special presentation of the Piedmonster flight simulator from 10 a.m. to noon. The Piedmonster was developed in the 1960s for use as a military and general aviation flight simulator.
When the Piedmont Silver Eagles Charitable Fund acquired the simulator for the North Carolina Transportation Museum, they gave the Piedmonster its memorable name. The program hopefully will include operation of the Piedmonster pending available volunteers. Visitors will see and hear how the simulator helped train airline pilots.
The next part of the program will add to Black History programming at the N.C. Transportation Museum. At 1 p.m., former Piedmont Airlines Captain Bill Wilkerson will appear in the Bob Julian Roundhouse orientation room for a presentation on his time with the airline.
Wilkerson was hired in the mid-1970s, becoming Piedmont’s third minority pilot. He met his wife, Tisa, on the job when she was a flight attendant with the airline.
After the US Airways merger, Wilkerson worked on safety programs and flew international routes until his recent retirement. Wilkerson remembers fondly his time at Piedmont and will relate his experiences, both as a pilot and as an African-American pioneer with the airline.
Closing out the event, at 2 p.m., historian and documentarian Richard Eller will show an early cut of his work in progress, “Speedbird: The History of Piedmont Airlines.” The first half hour of the film is nearly complete and will be shown in the Bob Julian Roundhouse orientation room.
Eller is the department head of social and behavioral sciences at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, where he also serves as an instructor of history. Piedmont Airlines is a subject Eller has studied extensively, in coordination with groups representing former Piedmont Airlines employees.
Last year, Eller’s book, “Piedmont Airlines, A Complete History, 1948-1989” was published. Copies will be available for purchase and Eller will host a book-signing in the museum gift shop prior to his program. Following Eller’s program in the Bob Julian Roundhouse, he will hold another book signing.
“Piedmonsters” is free and open to the public. Those with an interest in aviation and North Carolina aviation history are especially encouraged to attend.nnn
A new exhibit opening Feb. 24 at NCTM will highlight African-American railroad workers, their toils and their music.
“The North Carolina Lining Bar Gangs” exhibit recalls the labors of African-American railroad workers. At 10 a.m., a ribbon cutting will take place in the Elmer Lam Gallery in the museum’s Roundhouse.
This exhibit is a part of the museum’s Black History Month programming, but will remain as a permanent addition to the museum.
Between the mid-1800s and mid-1900s, rail lines were laid manually across North Carolina and the United States. The workers who performed this hard labor were generally African-American and created their own work-based culture. Music was incorporated into the job both the pass the time, and to aid in the completing the work.
Lining bar gangs consisted of several men who laid railroad track onto rail ties. They were known as “gandy dancers,” referring to a “gandy” or lining bar, used to align the tracks. The crews were generally made up of 10-30 laborers and a foreman.
Laborers picked up the rail, using rail tongs, placed it on tie plates, and spiked it down to the ties. To maintain a fluid motion, crews sang blues and rag, along with African spirituals dating back to slavery.
The work was back-breaking and took place in the heat of summer. The songs helped keep the workers synchronized and expressed feelings about the hard job they were doing.
One traditional song featured the line, “July de red bug, July de fly / Ef Augus’ ain’ a hot month, lawdy, I pray to die.”
The songs also featured humor. One traditional line reads, “I got a gal who’s long and tall / Sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall.”
Faith and biblical figures also found their way into these traditional songs, like, “Moses stood on the Red Sea Shore / He was battin’ at the waves with a two by four.”
Each line was followed by a refrain. During that refrain, each man would push the rail with his lining bar on certain beats.
It was in the 1950s that mechanization began making lining tracks a faster job. It also heralded the end of the traditional lining bar gang and the music created by those workers.
Today, groups like the Buckingham Lining Bar Gang of Buckingham, Va., continue to bring the lining bar gang tradition to railroad festivals and events.
The N.C. Transportation Museum, located in historic Spencer Shops, the former Southern Railway repair facility, is part of the Division of State Historic Sites, Department of Cultural Resources.
Visit www.nctrans.org for more information, or call 704- 636-2889.

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