A little known piece of railroad equipment has been added to the display at Pacific Station Plaza.
Jim Schwinkendorf, retired BNSF Railroad executive, arranged for the acquisition of a railroad motorcar, a small Fairmont track inspection car, which was delivered to the plaza May 16.
Very small by railroad standards, the orange and white box-shaped car looks like a toy, but Schwinkendorf points out they were seen as energy-saving breakthroughs for the men who inspected and maintained railroad signals.
Before the manufacture of the cars, signal inspectors powered their way between signals on hand-cranked carts.
“These cars were the little putt-putt cars used by the track inspectors and signal maintainers to move about the railroad, prior to the hi-trucks in use today,” Schwinkendorf said. “Ours is a former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Model T-19 inspection car built by the Fairmont Motor Car Company of Fairmont, Minn.
“It would seat between one and four people, and was very easy to get onto and off of the track to let trains go by,” he said.
Thousands of the cars are owned and maintained by members of the North American Railcar Operators Association (NARCOA).
“Occasionally they gain permission to run them on the tracks and you can see a couple of dozen of them running on a section of track,” Schwinkendorf said.
Bob Knight, an avid motor car collector, delivered the car. Knight is one of 1,800 members of the NARCOA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and safe operation of railroad equipment historically used for maintenance.
In the 1920s, the gasoline powered rail motorcars replaced the hand-powered pump cars to transport line maintenance personnel. In 1954, the more versatile Hy-Rail truck was introduced for rail maintenance.
In 1985, the motorcars were retired from service in favor of Hy-Rail trucks and the hobby of recreational restoration and operation began.
Knight and other NARCOA members acquired thousands of the colorful little cars, restored them and run them on railroads across the country.
Schwinkendorf said a chance conversation with Knight made him aware of the motorcar that could be acquired for the Plaza.
Schwinkendorf and Partnership Treasurer Don Hazelwood helped unload the small car and set it on wood rails near the front fence of the plaza, at the base of the water tower.
“We will set it up close to the front of the plaza, and it should be an interesting addition to the railroad items there,” he said. “It’s our goal to continue to develop the plaza as a rail-watching center.”