Historic railway maintenance car collectors prepare to cross Rose Street Saturday. Twenty-five of the small cars were in town as part of a North American Railcar Operators Association tour.
Photo by Andy Porter.
WALLA WALLA — Locomotives and railcars are normally large, massive objects. So the parade of little rail cars putt-putting on tracks through town last weekend drew more than its share of double-takes.
The brightly-colored “maintenance-of-way cars” were on a tour of the area under the auspices of the North American Railcar Operators Association. Operating with the permission of the local railroad, the group of 25 cars followed the tracks from Weston to Wallula Junction to Dayton, covering about 194 miles.
The standard powerplant for the small cars is a two-cylinder gas engine and operating controls are fairly simple.
Although top speeds can reach 30-35 mph, track conditions and safety considerations keep cruising speeds in the 20-mph range.
“We’re in here for different reasons,” said tour member Nancy Andrews as the group halted at the Rose Street crossing at Thirteenth Avenue Saturday afternoon.
Participants include historians, railroad buffs, people who like to tinker with old machines and those who like watching the world roll by while riding the rails.
According to the association’s website, the small motorcars or “speeders” were used by railroads to inspect tracks for defects and handle track maintenance.
The cars have been phased out by railroads in favor of Hy-Rail vehicles, which are standard road vehicles with retractable guide wheels that can operate on road or rail.
The North American Railcar Operators Association was started in the 1980s by rail fans who had bought speeders as they were headed for the scrap pile.
The association now claims more than 1,700 members worldwide and organizes tours throughout the country.
“We go all over,” Andrews said.
Andy Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8318.