Railtown’s Motor Car Collection

Behind the scenes at any railroad is the mighty track car. A track car or speeder (also referred to as railway motor car, putt-putt, track-maintenance car, crew car, jigger, trolley, quad, trike, or inspection car, and also known as a draisine (although may be unpowered), is a motorized maintenance vehicle used on railroads around the world by work crews, track inspectors and emergency response crews to move quickly to and from work sites. The track car is slow in comparison to a train or automobile, it is called speeder because it is faster than a hand car or human-powered vehicle. Most cars have a top speed of about 35 MPH. Track cars are small in stature however these maintenance of way vehicles perform any number of tasks.  On modern railroads, this unique type of vehicle was replaced by ‘Hi-Rail’ (or HyRail) vehicles.  Hi-Rails are modern trucks specially fitted with flanged wheels.  The rail wheels can be raised and lowered as needed and they are legal for use on both the highway and rail.

At Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, track cars are most often seen as “fire patrol”, ferrying a crew of dedicated volunteers that keep a lookout for fires started by errant sparks from our steam engines and to promptly extinguish the flames.

Not all of the speeders in use today are historic to the site. We catalog here, a visual sampling of the speeders or motor cars at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Some of the more restored speeders are the ones we use in daily operations while the older and more “crusty” looking ones are kept intact as collections pieces because of their documented relevance to the Sierra Railway during the earlier years of operations, before the diesel era.  In the preservation world, they are highly valued for their original, unrestored condition in their original context.  Under the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Preservation, this is known as preservation integrity, and we work hard educate visitors to appreciate them in this state.  Anyone can apply a fresh paint job, but it is rare to find original equipment, in original context, in un-restored condition.

Meet the Track Cars


MW 80 “Great White”

MW 80 is known among the engine crew as the “Great White”.  A Fairmont A-8 motorcar, it came to Railtown from the Sacramento Southern Railroad at the California State Railroad Museum. We use this car often during the operating season, and since it holds 8 people it is usually our offering for special events that include speeder rides.


SRy #102

Tucked away in the track auto house or “Speeder Shed” is speeder #102. It has been here since the early years. It is a Fairmont A5-A series car, this dates to the early 1930’s. These cars were called Large Extra Gang Cars and could carry up to 11 workers. No longer operable, its engine is a Continental Motor Company Red Seal, 4 cylinder engine. With parts missing, and a frozen engine, it may sit for quite some time as is.

speeder 104, small cropped

Sry #104

Sry #104 is one of the older Sierra motor cars. It is a Fairmont A5 series B-4 manufactured around 1937. The car operated with a 4 cylinder Waukesha engine, and has a capacity of 9 men. This car was once abandoned at Chinese Camp, and came to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in the early 1990’s.

SRy 106 in machine shop of the roundhouse.

SRy #106 in the machine shop of the roundhouse.

SRy #106 is a sister car to the 104, it is of the same make and manufactured in 1937. It operates today, but is reserved for very special occasions. It has a canvas top. It was acquired from the Sierra Northern Railroad in Oakdale in the early 1990’s and brought back to Railtown. Both the 104 and 106 ran on a Waukesha 4 cylinder engine. Today, both are kept under cover.

SRy #108 May 1978, Jamestown, CA

SRy #108 May 1978, Jamestown, CA

SRy 108

SRy #108-current condition.

SRY #108 is a newer Sierra addition. It was painted SRR 108 back in 1978. This Fairmont  A-5 was part of the original facility acquisition by California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1982. It was probably manufactured in the mid 1950’s. Though it is historic to the site, its age puts it right on the cusp of the advent of the diesel era and Railtown’s period of significance.  Today it is fully operable and is carfully cared for by our dedicated volunteers.

june 2012 097

SRy #110 with park volunteers.

SRy #110 is a Fairmont M19-AA two man light inspection car. It also is a later Sierra acquisition from the Western Pacific. It was manufactured in 1955 and is operable. This model is configured with the aluminum cab and painted “federal yellow”.

SRy 114

SRy #114

SRY #114 is also a newer addition to the Railtown roster. This motor car came from the Western Pacific originally.  It has had extensive rehabilitation work done on it in the past few years, including a new engine, paint job, and most recently a new tool box. 114 is currently running as our primary “fire patrol” speeder. This type of motor car is a Fairmont A-5.

SR MOTOR B full body shot

Sheffield #33

This is by far the oldest and most mysterious motor car at Railtown. It is a  Sheffield No. 33 model. It has a 2 stroke, 3 cylinder engine with a direct drive. This means you pushed the car to start and away you go. No idle, it runs when on. Records show that there were six of these running along the Sierra lines in 1922. This one is probably a remnant from this original fleet. It is stenciled “S.R. Motor B.” in white with dark red body.

W.P. S-2

Western Pacific S-2

Out on “speeder hill” at Railtown, you can find a number of speeder bodies and parts that are sometimes used for surplus. There are two relatively intact speeders on the grounds that were acquired by the Sierra from Western Pacific. Manufactured in about 1960, one of these cars (above) has a belt drive, and the other (below) has a transmission. We do not have record of Sierra numbering for these cars or if they ever ran on the Sierra line.

W.P. S-2 T

Western Pacific S-2T

Olivia dehaviland

Actress Olivia de-Haviland driving the #8 during the filming of “Dodge City” 1939.


SRy #8 Model T

One of our crown jewels found in the historic belt driven machine shop is SRy #8. This Ford model T is mounted on a Fairbanks-Morse frame and dates from around 1922. Though technically a track auto, this two-seat rolling stock was most likely used for light track inspection, or as a paymaster’s car. Today, the car still operates for special occasions, but does not go far from the Roundhouse.


#19 “Hetch Hetchy”, circa 1920 at the San Francisco Muni shops where it was built.

june 2012 128

#19 “Hetch Hetchy” with park volunteers.

The #19 “Hetch Hetchy” is an upscale track car. Its frame and motor were built in 1919 by the White Motor Company. The passenger body is by Thompson-Graf-Edler of San Francisco and interior appointments by Meister & Sons of Sacramento. The front rail trucks, wheels, brakes and self-contained turntable were added by the San Francisco Municipal Railway shop. The first “track bus” No. 19 could carry thirteen passengers, but was originally furnished as an ambulance car during Mountain Division construction and was used on the Hetch Hetchy dam project. Faster than most “speeders”, it originally could travel up to 5o MPH on level track, running in overdrive. This vehicle was refurbished to its original configuration and operating condition at Railtown 1897 State Historical Park in 1998-1999.

More on this unique track car: Hetch Hetchy Railcar #19


Historically, the track autos were used for track inspection, to transport VIPs to work sites, as the paymaster’s car,  or as ambulances for injured workers. The Sierra Railroad rented them out for private use in the early 1900’s.


Newspaper article taken from the Pott’s family scrapbook, 1907.

It is interesting to note how expensive it was to rent the track auto (with chauffeur) for a day, $15.00. That would be about $300.00 in today’s currency.

Visit Railtown 1897 State Historical Park to see the motor car collection in person. During special events you will have a rare opportunity to take a ride on the house tracks in one these unique cars that were once vital to the railroad.


Sometimes it’s the Little Things

The accessibility of the shop operation is a unique feature of Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.  Most of the maintenance, repair, and train operations are on full view in the roundhouse.  When a malfunction occurs, it can be an opportunity to demonstrate these activities.  Working with historic equipment gives us lots of opportunities to demonstrate!  Today, for example, it was a malfunctioning gauge that was giving us some grief.  During hostling, the crew noticed that the gauge was reading 25 lbs, even when the air reservoirs were empty.  Some troubleshooting led to the diagnosis of a misbehaving gauge.

While most of the crew transitioned to a back-up diesel to keep the trains on schedule, David Ethier and Dave Tadlock worked to coordinate the repair.  All of this work was done on public display, with a stream of visitors touring the roundhouse and the cab of the locomotive.

Step 1: Remove the Air Brake Gauge from the cab (hot!)

Step 1: Remove the Air Brake Gauge from the cab (hot!)

Step 2: recalibrate the gauge on the dead weight tester

Step 2: recalibrate the gauge on the dead weight tester

Duplex air brake gauge- indicates two separate functions.  The red hand indicates main reservoir pressure and the black hand indicates equalizing reservoir pressure.

Duplex air brake gauge- indicates two separate functions. The red hand indicates main reservoir pressure and the black hand indicates equalizing reservoir pressure. The sticker denotes the date of calibration.

Step 3: Reinstall the gauge and give it a whirl!

Step 3: Reinstall the gauge and give it a whirl!

Final Step: Switch crews between locomotives

Final Step: Switch crews between locomotives

And the trains go on.

And the trains go on.

So, sometimes it’s the little things, but they provide an opportunity to share some of the details of running an historic railroad.  And if you were a visitor today, you were able to enjoy seeing two different locomotives in action, maintenance activities in the roundhouse, and tours of the cab of a steam locomotive while the repairs were occurring, all without missing a scheduled train.  Almost makes you hope we’ll break something when you visit, doesn’t it?



For a complete discussion of how Westinghouse air brakes work we suggest this article.

‘Crew for a Day’ Program at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

Taking on water at the historic water tank

Taking on water at the historic water tank

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is proud to offer a special “Crew for a Day” program perfect for those interested in a unique, hands-on experience.  The exciting new offering helps to raise much-needed funds for the Park, and makes a memorable gift.

As honorary Railtown 1897 SHP crew members, “Crew for a Day” participants learn about historic steam engines in an up-close and personal style, engage in hands-on locomotive start-up procedures — that include lighting the locomotive with a burning rag, lubricating, fueling, and taking on water at the historic water tank — and have the opportunity to watch the operation of the historic Sierra No. 3 steam locomotive from the engine cab.  The fun-filled experience ends with participants joining the fire crew and tailing the steam engine in a vintage track car.  All “Crew for a Day” participants receive a special “Crew for a Day” certificate and have their photograph taken with the members of the Railtown 1897 SHP crew.

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The day-long VIP program is available to adults ages 18 and older and can accommodate up to two guests at one time. The cost to participate in the unique “Crew for a Day” program at Railtown 1897 SHP costs $500 for one person or $750 for two individuals.

More information about the new “Crew for a Day” program offered by Railtown 1897 SHP is available at www.railtown1897.org/crew-for-a-day or by calling 209-984-8703.

End your shift with a run with the fire patrol in one of our historic 'speeder' cars.

End your shift with a run with the fire patrol in one of our historic ‘speeder’ cars.

Railtown 1897 Celebrates Railroading As Part of “National Train Day” on May 10!

Special Activities Include Steam-Powered Excursion Train Rides Behind Sierra No. 3 and Caboose No. 7, Historic Locomotives on Display, Historic Speeder Car Rides, Behind-the-Scenes Shop Tours and More!

Plus a Special Opening Reception for the Second Annual “In Train View” Photo Exhibition Featuring Rail-Related Works by the Sonora Photo Club!


JAMESTOWN, Calif. – California State Parks and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (SHP) will proudly participate in the seventh annual National Train Day on Saturday, May 10, 2014.  Designed to celebrate American railroading, trains and train travel in cities all across the country, the event offers a variety of special activities at Railtown 1897 SHP that remains as the only intact steam-era roundhouse and shop facility in California, and one of just two in the U.S.

Celebrate National Train Day with a visit to historic Railtown 1897

Celebrate National Train Day with a visit to historic Railtown 1897

On National Train Day, visitors to Railtown 1897 SHP will enjoy steam-powered excursion train rides behind the “Movie Star Locomotive” Sierra No. 3 and aboard the famous Caboose No. 7.  To the delight of visitors, behind-the-scenes tours of the historic Roundhouse and Shops will also be available. A number of historic locomotives, equipment and vehicles will also be on special display, historic track “speeder” car rides will offered from noon to 3 p.m. and Amtrak goodie bags will be available while supplies last. Also, the historic the blacksmith forge will be open and operating — which was once used to produce hardware and some parts for locomotives and cars.

Railtown 1897 also invites park visitiors to a special kick-off reception for the second annual “In Train View” photo exhibition with works by the Sonora Photo Club. Visitors can join the photographers for an opening reception at 11 a.m.Once debuted, the exhibit will then be on display at Railtown 1897 SHP through Labor Day weekend. The rail-related photographs will also be offered for sale, with proceeds to benefit the Park. The photo exhibit is presented by the Sonora Photo Club, founded in 2005 in the California Gold Country town of Sonora, to promote the art of photography.

Photo by Dave Henry

Photo by Dave Henry

Except for steam-powered excursion train rides, all National Train Day activities are free to the public with paid Park admission.  Railtown 1897 SHP admission costs are as follows:  $5 for adults, $3 for youths ages 6-17 and free for children five and under.  All train ride tickets are available for advance purchase online as well as at the ticket window beginning at 10 a.m. the day of the train ride (based on availability). Capacity is limited for tickets for the steam-powered excursion train rides so visitors are encouraged to arrive early. Excursion train rides are available hourly from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and tickets aboard “Movie Train Consist” (enclosed suburban car and caboose)” are $15 for adults, $8 for youths ages 6-17 and kids five and under are free.   Train ride tickets are available online at www.railtown1897.org and more information about Railtown 1897 SHP is by calling 209-984-3953.  More information about National Train Day is available by visiting www.nationaldaytrain.com.

Sierra No. 28 Repair Project- Preparing the Locomotive

Sierra No. 28's sand dome

To start work on repairs to the locomotive’s boiler and firebox, we need to be able to access those areas.  This means removal of a number of appliances, including the bell, sand dome, plumbing, jacket, lagging (cement and fiber insulation), and even the cab.

Rear Headlamp from No. 28.

Rear Headlamp from No. 28.

Parts are labeled before removal to aid in reassembly

Parts are labeled before removal to aid in reassembly

Removal of the cab allows easier access to the backhead and firebox

Removal of the cab allows easier access to the backhead and firebox

Previous Sierra No. 28 Post:  Getting Started

Next Sierra No. 28 Post: Removing the Jacket

Sierra No. 28 Repair Project- Getting Started

No. 2 Shay on the turntable

No. 2 Shay on the turntable with the Plymouth

In preparation to begin work on the Sierra No. 28, the work space needed to be prepared.  Our goal is to be able to have visitors observe the work as it progresses, in the historic roundhouse.  It was decided to switch the Shay No. 2 with the No. 28, because there is an excellent viewing area in front of stall 2, and there is more work space on either side.  The challenge was how to move the two locomotives.  Neither is able to move on its own power, so whatever is used to pull the locomotive out of the stall, must also be able to fit on the turntable with it.  The only option was our little Plymouth yard mule.  But would it fit?  And was it powerful enough to pull the Shay and its tender?

The little Plymouth that could-- barely fits on the turntable with the locomotive and tender!  Tight squeeze.

Tight squeeze.

With some huffin’ and puffin’ and ‘I think I can’ attitude, the switcher was able to pull the Shay No. 2 onto the turntable.

No. 28, tender removed,  being pulled out of its stall by "the little engine that could"

The Sierra No. 28 was a bit simpler– the removal of the tender reduced the length.  It was pulled out of the roundhouse. . .

Sierra No. 28 on the turntable, Plymouth waiting

Turned on the turntable. . .

Sierra No. 28 returning to the roundhouse, facing outwards.  Tender outside.

Then pushed back  into the roundhouse, in stall 2.  With the tender stored outside, this is where it will sit for the next 10 months.

2013 August 366

And now park visitors (like you!) can see the work up close as it progresses.  For a detailed look at the work, join us every Tuesday at 10AM for a Behind-the-Scenes Shop Tour.



Previous Sierra No 28 post:  Restoration Work Begins

Next Sierra No. 28 post: Preparing the Locomotive

Railtown 1897 Offers Behind-the-Scenes Shop Tours every Tuesday Morning!

Visitors Will See the Famous Sierra No. 3 Up-Close & Personal Plus Learn About Current Projects Underway


 Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (SHP) will now offer special, behind-the-scenes Shop Tours on Tuesday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon on an ongoing basis beginning March 26, 2013. Interested visitors will be treated to an up-close and personal view of routine maintenance and specialized work happening on current projects in the historic Roundhouse as well as in the Tri-Dam shop (a Cold War-era machine shop used to repair, replace or service parts for operating equipment, cars, steam and diesel locomotives). Keep in mind, parts for steam engines — and sometimes vintage diesel locomotives — cannot be purchased and must be manufactured on-site making Railtown 1897 SHP one of the most accessible places around to watch this specialized work being performed.  Along with educating visitors about our fascinating rail history, maintaining and repairing steam engines and diesels is an important part of the mission of Railtown 1897 SHP.

The weekly two-hour Shop Tours begin with a brief slide show that provides background of current projects to date.   After the video, a knowledgeable volunteer host will guide visitors to the historic shops to meet and ask questions of skilled paid and volunteer staff who are actively working on projects and activities that keep the historic shops alive.

Open daily, Railtown 1897 SHP Shop Tours are included with Park admission, which is as follows: $5 for adults, $3 for youths ages 6-17 and free for children five and under.  More information about the Shop Tours or Railtown 1897 SHP is available by calling 209-984-3953 or visiting http://www.railtown1897.org.