ROANOKE, Va. _ The Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum, an affiliate of the Virginia Museum of Transportation, suffered a devastating fire on Nov. 1. The building housing the museum was a complete loss and 12 historic buses representing nearly half of the museum’s collection were destroyed, notably its 1958 GM Roanoke City Lines bus and 1955 GMC Scenicruiser. No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire remained unknown.
“We would like to thank City of Roanoke fire and rescue crews for their quick response and brave actions to bring this unfortunate fire under control safely and without injury,” said Bev Fitzpatrick, Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum executive director. “Although the building is a total loss and many of the buses are irreplaceable, we stand firm in our resolve to continue to preserve this important piece of our transportation.”
Fire crews were called to the Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum in Roanoke just after midnight on Nov. 1. According to local news reports, it took nearly 40 fire and rescue crews working throughout the early morning hours to contain the two-alarm fire.
“We have already begun the process of fully evaluating the loss so that we can begin to move forward in recovery,” said Fitzpatrick. “The building was completely destroyed and many irreplaceable pieces of transportation history lost in the flames, but crews are in the process of relocating busses that were not heavily damaged off the property and assessing the museum’s surviving collection.”
Tom Cox, vice-president of automotive collections at the Virginia Museum of Transportation, which was in the process of absorbing the Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum (and current AACA president), said the staff is searching for someone to offer warehouse space for the museum’s remaining collection, which was stored off-site or outdoors at the time of the fire.
In addition, the museum is hoping to find replacements for the items lost in the fire, which were not covered by insurance.
“In the last year or so, finances had become tighter at the Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum, so an effort was made to have the Virginia Museum of Transportation integrate the CC&T back into the collection,” Cox said. “We had made that board vote a few weeks ago and were in the process of going through all the steps to make that integration legal. The Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum didn’t have anything but liability insurance and our insurance at the Virginia Museum of Transportation was not in force. Had the fire occurred a couple weeks from now, the story would have been different. So not only is [the Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum] a total loss, but there was no insurance coverage.”
Most of the restored buses and coaches lost in the museum fire had a local connection to Virginia, and Roanoke specifically, and they will be nearly impossible to replace. However, the museum hopes that they will be able to replace tools necessary to maintain and restore the museum’s remaining 15 buses through donations or leads on reasonably priced equipment. Four of those remaining buses are operational, and three of those fully restored, but the remaining were projects.
“One of the bigger issues that we face, moving forward, is there were a ton of tools, heavy-duty tools, from heavy-duty hand tools to specialized bus shop tools, lost in the fire,” Cox said. “Wheel lifts, which were used to lift the buses, that we are now without, are rare these days.”
Additional information regarding the fire and the museum’s recovery efforts can be found at commonwealthcoachandtrolley.org. Those wishing to support the Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum in its recovery efforts can donate at vmt.org.
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10 27th Street, S.E.
Roanoke, Virginia 24014
602 18th Street, S.W.
Roanoke, Virginia 24016