Railroad Motor Car Operators Explore the Heritage Valley

By Sheryl Hamlin

While train aficionados know about the small vehicles used to maintain railroad infrastructure and others may have seen these curious vehicles in several popular movies, Santa Paula was fêted with the real thing during the first weekend of the year 2015 when the Motorcar Operators West or MOW came to town with 35 vehicles. Saturday’s route traversed the rails between Fillmore and Piru and on Sunday they came from Fillmore to Santa Paula. The MOW organization is “Dedicated to the Restoration and Safe, Legal Operation of Railroad Motorcars”.

The vehicle was invented by German Baron Karl Christian Ludwig Drais von Sauerbronn in the early 19th century. Called the ‘laufmachine’ (running machine) or ‘draisine’, they were used through the 1980’s for railroad maintenance but were phased out after that in favor of a street ready truck retrofit with equipment for traversing a railroad track. The English term was ‘speeder’ because they were faster than walking the tracks, although they are not high speed vehicles. There were dozens of shapes and models produced during the life of this vehicle.

The hobbyists/owners rent railroad time and trailer their vehicles to each excursion. The national organization NARCOA licenses the drivers and insures the vehicles. The national organization’s website has a FAQ about these vehicles, how to join and rules of the road.

The bright, winter day in Santa Paula, the train depot, the old Mill (Ag Museum) and the surrounding mountains provided a memorable backdrop.



















* All Photo Credits: Sheryl Hamlin

Sheryl Hamlin: With an MS in Industrial Engineering, Sheryl Hamlin spent years in technology with stints at Motorola, Tandem Computers and various startups. She has been on the boards of neighborhood organizations both in San Francisco and Palm Springs where planning issues were her specialty. She now resides in Santa Paula and loves the historic fabric of the city.  Ms. Hamlin’s blog Stealth Fashion  and  technology product ‘ Plug and Play Webmaster’.

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