More discoveries from this morning's New York Times. (OMG! Print newspapers! So random-access! So serendipitous! What an innovative technology!)
We've been hearing tales about this unique little subculture for a while, but the Times has a wonderful piece today about the folks who purchase and restore old railcars — small vehicles that were once used for trackside maintenance — to take them on meandering journeys along little-used trackbed across the American countryside. The NYT sez:
A railway motorcar, or railcar, is a peculiar, no-frills, gasoline-powered vehicle not much bigger than a golf cart and not much more powerful than a riding mower. The seats do not have much padding, if any, so the rider feels every clickety-clack. A railcar ride is not like a trip on any comfy old commuter train.
That is actually one reason the railroads once used railcars, which are also called speeders, jiggers or putt-putts. Tracks needed inspecting, and supervisors felt the bumps and peered through holes in the front of these cars to spot defects. Then bigger railcars, carrying track workers and equipment, were dispatched to make repairs.
About 25 years ago, railroads phased out railcars in favor of pickup trucks fitted with carriages that can adapt to railroad tracks. Railcars became collectors’ items, like antique automobiles. Now, collectors use these vehicles on excursions that offer views of remote scenery on rented tracks meandering miles away from the nearest roads.
“You can see countryside that you don’t see from a car,” said Bob Knight, a railcar owner from Sandwich, Ill., who takes excursions as often as twice a month in warm weather.
There's lots more goodness where that came from, so read the whole thing and drool over all the excellent multimedia the Times has assembled. It's perfect fodder for meandering thoughts on a Friday afternoon...
Putt-Putting Along the Rails (New York Times article on railcars with excellent mutlimedia, August 8, 2008)
North American Railcar Operators Association (National railcar enthusiasts' website)
(Images by the New York Times)