Built with a single set of tracks consisting of hardwood rails and wooden ties, and using wooden trestles to carry it over low-lying areas, the 136-mile Charleston-Hamburg Railroad was one of the longest railroads in the world when it was completed in 1833. It also became the first railroad in the United States to be powered entirely by steam, the first to carry mail under contract, and the first to provide regularly scheduled passenger service.
This collection of equipment—all of it maintained in operating condition and used for educational purposes—was established in 1987. It spans the period from the late 19th century to the 1940s, when steam was the prime motive force for most U.S. industries, including rail and marine transportation. The collection of about 25 items (mostly stationary steam) includes a locomotive, switcher, and steam tractor: Locomotive #385 Consolidation 2-8-0 designed for fast freight service was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia in November 1907 for the Southern Railway.
Developed for use in both the plains and mountains, this coal-fired passenger locomotive was among the most advanced in design, construction, and performance of any 4-8-4. Designed by Norfolk & Western engineers and built in the Norfolk & Western Roanoke shops, the 611 was specially balanced to minimize rail damage at high speeds. No. 611, eleventh of fourteen constructed and the last survivor, was retired from service and donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum in 1959.