My dad has always been a train fan. To help pay his way through UCLA, he worked at Union Station in Los Angeles. He and my grandpa watched the transition from steam to diesel and lived through the fading glory days of rail travel.
When I came along, I joined the tradition. We occasionally chased steam trains of yesteryear and I spent hours with my HO and Lionel models. About fifteen years ago, my dad's dream of not just watching trains but riding the rails on his own came true. He's now an active member of a small but growing group of hobbiest who ride railroad motorcars (aka speeders) safely and legally on rails all over North America (see: www.narcoa.org). These tiny cars that putt along the rails at up to 30 mph were used by the railroads to inspect track and transport crews out to job sites. Motorcars have been mostly replaced by hi-rails, pickup trucks equipped with special gear which allow them to drive on the tracks.
With the advent of hi-rails, motorcars were discarded and then picked up by rail enthusiasts. My dad bought his first motorcar about fifteen years ago and has since ridden thousands of miles of rail from Alaska to Colorado to the Mexican boarder. We just got back from riding the San Luis Valley and Rio Grande railroad through some beautiful scenery in Southern Colorado.
The history of the US is so closely linked to the railroads. Being a part of this history through riding the rails on a speeder has been a great chance to spend time with my dad and pass the tradition on to my own son. Stay tuned for a future blog post on the workings of a specific rail speeder, the Fairmont M-14. The entire car can be maintained with a small set of six tools. That's classic American ingenuity!