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Old Railroad Machinery - Motor Cars
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Old Railroad Machinery  -  Motor Cars

Railroads used machinery that is rarely seen now, called motor cars. These were small useful machines that were very portable and could usually be set off the rails by one person at a grade crossing or predetermined location. They were very light weight and could carry up to four passengers, but usually two comfortably.

The early motor cars were built by the Fairmont Motor Car Company in Fairmont Minnesota. The earliest cars, such as mine in the accompanying photo were powered by a small single cylinder two-stroke engine producing no more than eight horse power. The engine powered a large belt via a pulley system and the rear pulley could be adjusted by a lever at the operators seat, thus controlling the speed of the motor car.

The smaller motor cars were used for track inspection and some light rail maintenance. Larger motor cars could carry section gang members and often towed a trailer for their tools. The smaller motor cars were handy, as they could be set off if there was a local train coming and then set back on when the train passed.

As time went on, newer motor cars were built with bigger two cylinder four stroke engines and more options such as gas heaters to warm the occupants in the winter. Motor cars are rarely seen on modern railroads, as they have been replaced by hy-rails. Hy-rails are pickup trucks that have been equipped with rail wheels on the front and back that can be lowered and raised from inside the cab. You usually see hy-rails setting on at grade crossings, as this is the easiest place to roll onto the rails and line up the rail wheels.

Now the only place you will probably find a motor car is at a museum, such as the museum where I operate mine for Railroad Days. Operations include giving passengers rides at these events with the paid admission of visitors. Other venues where you may find motor cars are on scheduled trips. There are people throughout the United States and Canada that take their motor cars on long trips, sometimes up to several days at a time. There is even an organisation called NARCOA (North American Rail Car Operators Association) that sponsors some of the trips and also provides the insurance.

The days of seeing a motor car maybe gone, but with the large fan base and organisations such as NARCOA, it may still be possible to see a motor car going down the track. For many people this is a new experience, especially for the younger generation.

See you on the rails! (My motor car is the yellow one closest to the track, a 1942 Fairmont M19)


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