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Railroad motorcars roll through Delavan, Easton

By Staff | Jun 21, 2009

You might say it was a family reunion of sorts.

Railroad motorcars from as far away as California and Florida – as well as one province in Canada – were brought back by their owners to the place where they were manufactured – in Fairmont, Minnesota.

Fairmont Railway Motors, Inc. (now Harsco Rail) celebrated their 100th anniversary last weekend with events that included a display of restored Fairmont motorcars and a 120-mile motorcar excursion on the Dakota, Minnesota, & Eastern Railroad (now Canadian Pacific owned) between Fairmont and Albert Lea.

This route took them through the towns of Granada, Huntley, Winnebago, Delavan, Easton, Wells, Baroda, Alden, Armstrong and Albert Lea. A brief stop was made in Delavan where people had a chance to mingle with the owners of the 41 motorcars making the trip.

The owners belong to several clubs which are under the organizational umbrella of the North American Rail Car Operators Association (NARCOA). The track is rented from the track owner for the excursions which usually take place on weekends when the track is not in use.

Jim and Cindy Ebele traveled from Manistee, Mich., which is located across Lake Michigan from Green Bay.

“The early motorcars had a 1-cylinder, 2-cycle motor, while later the motorcars were equipped with Onan 2-cylinder, 4-cycle motors. The motorcars were used for track inspection and maintenance,” Ebele explained.

Production of the Fairmont motorcar came about when a railroad section hand by the name of Fred Mahlman, Sr., tired of pumping his hand car by hand. He found out that the Fairmont Machine Shop was putting out a two-horsepower upright engine. Working with the shop superintendent, they tinkered and tested until finally they had what they considered a ‘pretty good motor car.’

The 1970s saw a decline in the use of motorcars. The railroad network was getting smaller and was switching to HY-Rail Vehicles, which are the heavy duty trucks that can travel on both track and roadways.

Almost 73,000 Fairmont motorcars were manufactured with the last one rolling out the door in 1991.

Many of the motorcars need restoration when they are purchased by a private owner. Steve Comer of Jamestown, N.D., restored his motorcar to look like a police car.

“I had purchased a box of stuff at an auction and I came home from work one day and my kids had found a siren and lights in the box – I knew then how I wanted to restore my motorcar,” commented Comer.

The operators of the motorcars have to go through training and become ‘licensed’ to operate the motorcar on the track. The motorcars had averaged about 25 mph as they traveled from Fairmont to Delavan. Most cars can reach a top speed between 35 and 50 mph although some can squeeze out a bit more speed.

These excursions are not a race, however, and safety is a high priority. Besides, if a car is the last one to leave the starting point, it will be the last car to arrive at the destination. Passing is nearly impossible.

For more information check out the NARCOA website, narcoa.org.