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What is that “thing” on your trailer?
is a Railroad Motorcar, sometimes called a “Speeder”. Smaller
models, like this one, were used routinely to inspect the many
miles of track for defects. Larger versions would carry half
a dozen workers and pull a few trailers loaded with spikes and
tools, to handle track maintenance.
of motorcars has been phased out over the past couple decades
in favor of Hy-Rail vehicles, which are standard road vehicles
with retractable guide wheels that can operate on road or rail.
Although these “speeders” have a top speed of only about 30
m.p.h., they were so nicknamed because compared to the manually
powered pump cars they replaced, they were much faster.
What do you do with it?
owners belong to several clubs which obtain permission from
railroads to operate on their tracks. These clubs are under
the organizational umbrella of the North American Rail Car Operators
permission of the railroads, members operate their motorcars
on excursions ranging from one day to over a week in almost
all parts of the U.S. and Canada.
of these excursions are in remote and very scenic areas that
are impossible to see from the highway and thus provide an experience
not available by other means of transportation.
How do you get permission to use your motorcar on a railroad track?
rent the tracks for our outings from the many small railroad
companies which have taken over former branch lines of the major
carriers (as well as some large railroads in the U.S. and Canada).
Often smaller railroads operate trains only on weekdays, so
a group of motorcars on a Saturday or Sunday does not cause
the coordination problems the larger lines would have.
have developed an excellent reputation within the rail industry
for our attention to safety through operator training, self
imposed safety rules and mechanical standards for our motorcars.
We know that our operation must be viewed as a positive experience
for the railroad to invite us back year after year.
Do you need any special training to be able to operate a motorcar?
NARCOA members who desire to operate motorcars must become “licensed”.
They must first obtain and learn the NARCOA rule book which
prescribes procedures for safe operation and mechanical standards
to which all motorcars must be maintained. A written test must
be passed on the contents of the rule book. New operators must
then be “Mentored” on their first excursions by an experienced
operator who has been designated to act as an instructor.
after passing these written and practical tests is a new operator
allowed to operate a motorcar in a NARCOA sanctioned event.
Each motorcar is inspected by a NARCOA qualified safety inspector
prior to each excursion to be sure it meets mechanical standards.
What happens when you meet a train?
meets are never accidental, but always planned events. On smaller
railroads we operate on days when there are no trains. Our groups
are always lead by a specially qualified NARCOA “Excursion Coordinator”.
addition, many railroads provide Hy-rail vehicles with railroad
staff at the front and rear of our group. On busier railroads
where train meets occur, our group leaders maintain radio contact
with the railroad dispatcher and the crews of all trains we
are scheduled to meet. We generally proceed into a siding or
passing track and wait for the train.
operators and passengers are required to leave their motorcars
and stand on the side away from the passing train for safety
reasons. From the railroad’s perspective, we are treated the
same as a train.
What happens when you come to a busy highway crossing?
always yield the right-of-way to automotive traffic.
addition to brake lights, each car carries a red flag that is
lowered by the operator to warn the following motor car that
the he is approaching a road crossing and stopping or slowing
to check for traffic.
traffic is encountered, we stop, wait for the automobile to
cross and then proceed. When we cross busy multi lane highways,
we stop, wait for the rest of the group to catch up, and send
trained personnel in safety vests with red flags ahead to stop
all highway traffic before crossing the road as a group.
How safe is the hobby?
members pride themselves in maintaining an extremely high level
of safety. Although no statistics are available, it is possible
that a motorcar participating in a NARCOA sanctioned excursion
is the safest form of any type of recreational vehicle travel
in the world.
to our strict attention to safety, any type of mishap is rare
and usually limited to a minor incident.
How fast can you go?
cars have a top speed of about 35 m.p.h. Since we travel in
a group of usually 25 to 30 cars, our speed is limited to that
of the slowest car. We generally travel at speeds between 15
to 25 m.p.h. with frequent stops at scenic places and to take
speed is always limited by a rule that requires we be able to
stop in half the distance we can see ahead. This is particularly
important on curves. Our hobby is unusual in that it is strictly
operate in a group. If one car breaks down, the ones around
him can help fix the problem or easily tow the car to a more
suitable area for repairs. One thing is guaranteed: the car
that leaves the starting point last will arrive at the destination
last no matter what the cars speed capability.
How many horsepower is the engine?
of the two and four person motorcars commonly operated on our
excursions have a 20 horsepower Onan 4 cycle engine. Some restored
older motorcars use the original 2 cycle 5 horsepower engine.
Since we travel at low speeds, more power is not required or even
Is it possible for members to operate Hy-rail vehicles?
the discretion of the excursion coordinator, Privately owned
hy-rail vehicles can be permitted to operate.
can be very useful for carrying spare parts, extra baggage or
running into town if something is needed.
How far apart do the motorcars travel during an excursion?
keep close enough to each other to maintain visual contact with
the car in front, never getting closer than a safe distance that
will allow for stopping should the car ahead come to a sudden
What is the role of the NARCOA Excursion Coordinator?
Excursion Coordinator is the excursion leader, liaison with
the railroad and person in charge of the operation. He assumes
responsibility for and has the authority to be certain each
participant is in compliance with all NARCOA and railroad rules.
is the ultimate authority on any decisions made for situations
not covered by published rules.
What type of people participate in the hobby?
motorcar fraternity is a very mixed and friendly group. There
are professors and programmers, farmers and physicians, teachers
and truckers, as well as police officers, engineers, firemen,
plumbers, and many retired people.
all of them have good mechanical skills for restoring and repairing
motorcars. Many of them travel, with their motorcars on towed
trailers, in pickups, SUVs, and motor homes; others have family
sedans or station wagons.
certainly much less expensive than flying or boating, it is
still not a hobby for the financially challenged.
What is traveling in a motorcar like?
in a motorcar provides a perspective on rail travel that most
people never experience. One is seated perhaps only two feet
above the top of the rail and can see directly ahead and to
both sides, similar to the view a locomotive engineer has, but
is relatively slow, generally averaging less than 20 miles per
hour. Every culvert, bridge, road crossing, tunnel, and building
along the rails is seen from an uncommon vantage point. Because
motorcars are so uncommon, they attract much attention from
people along the track.
we pause for lunch or other extended periods of time in populated
areas small crowds often gather to look and ask questions. Most
motorcars have a windshield and roof for protection from the
wind and rain.
also have sides and backs (sometimes made of canvas) with doors
(or opening flaps) and windows. Many are fully enclosed with
metal or fiberglass bodies. These are the most desirable for
rain or cold weather. Most excursions cover 50 to 120 miles
in a day.
average hobbyist uses his motorcar 500 to 1,000 miles a year.
A very few, mostly those participating in the longer trips,
run as much as 2,500 to 3,000 miles a year.