Motorcars, Speeders, and Inspection cars

By Wayne Parsons

What work is needed to fix up a motorcar and get it ready for NARCOA inspection?


The restoration of UP-2644.


Car costs then and now:

    At the beginning of the hobby, say around 1988, motorcars were bought mostly at railroad surplus auctions.  MT-14 and MT-19 cars were put up for sale one at a time just like the other equipment.  Later when the railroads were getting rid of all speeders, cars for sale were grouped together in auction lots of up to thirty-five.  In either scenario, they generally sold for around $800, had to be paid for immediately, and removed from the property within two days.  Railroads probably thought the cars would be dismantled for their Onan engines which are a standard industrial motor used in welders, pumps and cement mixers.  The railroads certainly did not foresee the use of motorcars as a hobby.  Dick Ray tells me "that back in '85 the UP in Omaha was selling cars that they had collected there.  But, they cut the axles and frame members, presumably to prevent individuals from being on their track.  Real dealers like Newman (Machinery, Phoenix, AZ) and Brown (Railroad, Glen Carbon, IL) could get them undamaged but, they did not need hundreds of them."

    The last Rio Grande auction in Denver with a big collection of inspection cars was held in October 1992.  Two partners were the winners of one lot of thirty-three cars for $28,000.  When they returned to pick them up several of the better cars had been "substituted" and others cannibalized for parts.  After paying for their travel costs, the brokers fee, a fork lift to load, and gypsy truckers to ship them home, the partners were into the cars for over $1,250 each.  In February 2006 the last six of those Rio Grande speeders, fixed up enough to move under its' own power and no where near NARCOA ready, is available for $1,950 "as is and where is" from Sal Jacobs of  Larkspur, CA (415-924-4701).  For the partners that's a loss considering the capital invested, storage, parting out of cars, and labor over the last thirteen years. 

    Today speeders are occasionally found at railroad auctions, but even the ones in bad condition go for prices north of  $1,500.  Cars that meet NARCOA mechanical rules are advertised for sale on the NARCOA site for a wide range of prices. 

MT-19 February 2006 on NARCOA site for $4,800.  Looks very "rail" but is in great running condition, has a factory turntable, meets all NARCOA rules, and is perfect for a first car.
MT-19 February 2006 on NARCOA site for $10,500.  Has a better paint job than Fairmont ever did on any car, a factory turntable, new seats, lots of new parts, original lights (very nice!) and meets all NARCOA rules.

The three steps of restorations:

    Going from an auction value of $800 to a restored price of $8,000 involves three steps: repairing and replacing missing parts, adding equipment required by club rules, and upgrading the car to a desired level of detail.  First, repairing often involves installing new brake parts, fixing the wiring, lights, horn, and getting the motor running again.  Second, club rules require additional equipment including a stop light activated when the brake lever is applied, a front hitch for towing, and a spark arrestor.  Third, upgrading the car usually involves installing seats, a strobe, an intercom system, a 45 watt radio, sound proofing, new rubber around the windows, new safety glass, painting the car, and ... are we out of money yet?  How about a GPS system and some chrome diamond plate? 

    If this is your first car the sequence is usually repair and add the required equipment so you can get out on the rails.  A complete tear down to the last frame member, powder coating everything, over hauling the engine and transmission and totally rebuilding the car usually happens after you own a second car to operate while the first is restored.

Fixing up a MT-14M.  One cars' transformation from rail to club:

In April 2004 I purchased a MT-14-M (left) that, based on the engine serial number, was first delivered to the Union Pacific sometime in 1986.  It has a heater but, the factory turntable and wipers have been removed.  The rest of this page is about fixing up this car and getting it "club ready.".

As a comparison, the car on the right was listed on the NARCOA web site in February 2006.  Based on the car number of 2537 I think it was first delivered to the UP in 1985.  It looks in worse condition (needs rail sweeps - new glass - installation of  interior sound deadening material -  some body work - lights), but it still has the factory turntable and thus may be a better value for the price.  It appears to need similar work to that listed on the rest of this page.





Wheels & Brakes



   The first thing to do on any car is examine the wheels and brakes.  On this car the wheels had OK thickness and profiles but, the brakes were shot. 

   So, the first parts order is for all new brake shoes, bake hangers, a couple of pivot studs, pins, all new bolts and cotter keys.  I like the larger S2 style brake liners (left) for increased braking surface and recommend them for all cars.


Note that on the MT-14, the brake toggle arm with the "U" shaped yoke is on the front axle side of the rigging.


Removing the heater


The heater is removed to make more room inside the car.  The heater fuel pump (below) was mounted next to the muffler.

With the heater gone, four holes of different sizes are closed with round blanks normally used on electrical panels and junction boxes.  Now, getting to the oil filter access panel is much easier.


Replacing the gas tank


The gas tank had been patched several times and is replaced with a new 4.5  gallon tank.  On a MT-14M the six gallon tank is too long and blocks battery access.

Note the lift handles that came with the car.  Replacing them would cost about $180.

This photo shows the gap needed for battery removal.  Strips of leather are used to line the tank mounting hardware.

The number one problem I have observed on the rail is contaminated fuel.  Rust particles in the fuel tank end up in the carburetor jet.  A new tank, a new sediment bowl, and a fresh inline fuel filter solve the problem.

The UP car number written in magic marker is discovered inside the car. Close examination of the exterior revealed the placement of the stencil.

Chain repairs & adjustments

The number two problem on the rail is lost chain.  The axle sprocket had slipped on the axle and needed careful alignment with the idler sprocket and transmission sprocket.   The white surface of a new plastic dampener rail is visible below the chain.  I clean the chain in a parts washer after every few runs. 

I also carry a new spare chain, chain breaker, and master link.  I do not pre-cut the chain.  A pre-cut chain may solve your problem, but can't be given to someone else who is broken down while on a run.  Instead, be prepared to give them the new chain and they can cut it to their length.



Miscellaneous repairs

Twenty six feet of new rubber seal is needed for the roof and doors of a MT-14M and is available from Les King.

One electric wiper CC894050 and one mechanical wiper CC811298 from J.C. Whitney replace the missing original equipment Bosch motors.

Adding  Required Equipment

Lever activated brake light

Mounting the brake switch is a custom installation in every car.  This bracket is made with one inch "T" stock.

The lever activated switch shown here (available from Les King and NAPA) has become a standard solution for all types of cars.

I prefer one stop light that does not flash.  This housing is similar to the original style metal lights.  Sealed Beam #G/E4414R and Fog Lamp # GRO64123.


Spark arrestor


A local muffler shop removed the Fairmont muffler and welded into its' place a NAPA spark arrestor rated for 20 HP motors. The shop did a nice job custom fabricating a support bracket.

 The original tail pipe goes back onto the spark arrestor to direct the exhaust down. 

My other MT-14 has a larger NAPA spark arrestor rated for a diesel engine that runs quieter than this smaller unit. 


Front hitch

This front hitch is a Nick Rost of Bakersfield, CA design.  Note the D ring for attaching a winch hook and how the hitch is used to hold the car on the trailer.

The car was wired for a horn!  All I did was install a new horn (black) seen in the left photo under the lift handle.


Miscellaneous items

Other required equipment includes lights.

Fortunately, the original round driving lights and bee-hive red aspect lights and all the wiring is still on the car!  I had to track down and fix bad grounds on the bee hive lights.

The 2.5 lb ABC fire extinguisher is mounted inside the operators' door.  Some of the sound insulation is removed to mount the bracket.

Other safety gear such as flashlight, first aid kit, and tool kit, along with spare parts, rides in boxes under the seats.



Upgrading the car


Electric fuel pump and fuse block

The B48G vacuum fuel pump is fragile, impossible to replace in the field, and requires quite a bit of cranking to prime.  I replaced it with an electric pump.  The outline of the removed vacuum pump is on the right front of the blower housing.  Plugging the vacuum port on the gear case is time consuming because the blower housing must be dismounted for access. 

As expected, the carburetor jet was blocked with rust particles from the old gas tank.

The mechanical pump on a CCKB is reliable and easily accessed on the top of the engine.  For the CCKB, add a filter to the fuel line and forget the electric pump.

An orange in color aircraft type fire sleeve (Stratoflex 2650 made of silicone covered fiberglass) protects the fuel line now routed across the top of the engine and the intake manifold, but under and away from the hot exhaust manifold.. 

After the stock vacuum pump is removed, a low pressure electric fuel pump and metal fuel filter are mounted on the transmission and powered from the near-by fuse block.

The wiring on Fairmont motorcars is not easy to work on because it's all located under the control panel.  Worse, as the cars got more complicated, Fairmont would just attach new power connectors to the ignition switch or daisy chain things like the turntable alarm and wipers.

The solution is a connector block with automotive blade type fuses.  I bought a six position block (and wish it was 12).  Moved from connections under the control panel are the alternator exciter wire, positive coil wire, strobe power source, and the turntable alarm / wiper circuit combination.  New items powered from the block are the stop light and fuel pump.



Strobe and mirror


The Target Tech Firebolt Plus strobe light (TAR220200-02) is one-third the size of the original bubble gum machine rotating beacon.  It flashes at a  pleasant 60 times per minute, enough to be very visible but not annoying to the operator behind you.  The Firebolt sits in the middle of the now sealed three holes from the old unit. 

The strobe and the mirror are available from (562-903-8100).

This mirror assembly is made up of: a L Bracket #CHA70401, an Elbow #CHA70101, and Mirror Head # GRO12073.




Seats are not required equipment, but they're a necessary upgrade for any trip longer than a few hours.  I bought mine from of Grosse Pointe Park, MI.

The left seat cushion is removed to see the support bracket.  The right bracket is a mirror of this.

The seat brackets are custom made so that the back of the seat is one inch lower than the front.  This gives the seats a slight tip and makes them more comfortable to sit in compared to "level" seats.  The seats are positioned four inches forward of the rear wall to allow room for shoulders and heads.  The rear of the seat is high enough so the edge of the tunnel cover does not rub the passengers' hips.

Seat belts 90" long (CC142254 from J.C. Whitney) are mounted with the shorter release buckle strap attached to the yellow painted diamond plate.  The longer securing end strap is attached to the floor frame member where an existing bolt is replaced by the slightly larger grade 8 bolt provided with the seat belt.



MT-14's are too heavy for one person to safely lift and turn alone.  You must have a turntable. The Fairmont design, using a hydraulic cylinder to provide lift, goes higher and operates faster than the screw jack design.  This superior performance is justification for the expense of a hydraulic unit.  Complete Fairmont turntables are available from time to time as "take off" units when someone parts out a car.  Or, you can assemble a Fairmont turntable by scavenging for support brackets, turntable bases, etc and adding a new Monarch power unit. 

The new old stock hydraulic unit mounting plate (410231) on the left came from Brown Railroad Equipment, Inc (618-797-5484). 

Note the original Fairmont muffler prior to installing the spark arrestor.

Despite looking for over a year, I could not find a good used OEM pump or the Fairmont control valve assembly.  My local hydraulic shop is Taylor Steel & Welding in Oxnard, CA (805-492-7868).  Tim VonRader there found the perfect replacement in a Monarch Dyna-Jack 12 VDC Power Unit, manufacturer number M-310, number 250-528.  This hydraulic unit comes with a 4-way valve and cam-actuated motor start switch.  You just move the double acting lever up or down and the motor runs creating 2000PSI.  The reservoir holds 2.1 quarts; the unit weighs 35 pounds, is 18 inches long, and attaches easily to the Fairmont plate after drilling three additional holes.  The control valve and the piping to the pump required some modification to fit in the available space. 

On the left is the turntable support bracket (410203), hydraulic cylinder (410212), and turntable base (410220) that I found with the help of the Speeders list.  Today these used parts are available from Newman Machinery in Phoenix, AZ (602-952-0035).

Check out my article on scavenging for a turntable in the NARCOA Setoff for additional photos.

Above the turntable has been cleaned up and repaired by the hydraulic shop.  Note the notch in the motorcar frame.  This is your guide for where to mount the unit.  The brake handle and brake rod are on the right of frame.


First run at McCloud, CA


February 24, 2006 - McCloud, CA.  The speeder has just rolled off the trailer at the McCloud River Railroad for its' first hobby run ever!  UP 2644 begins its' second life.  During its' first event the car tracked perfectly and did not hunt; no additional axle or wheel work is needed..  McCloud has several straight mile long stretches of track enabling a couple of "speed runs" where each time the car did a mile in 1:43 which is 35 MPH.


Sold to museum

UP 2644 is now owned by the San Diego Railroad Museum at Campo, CA for use in fire speeder duty.  Two man crews, equipped with water packs and other gear, follow the weekend trains looking for fires.  Despite it's hand clutch, UP 2644 is easier to operate than the A cars.
The museum has many speeders that need restoration.  The other working speeders they have are two A cars without turntables. 

UP 2644 is used for runs both to Miller Creek and Division.  At Miller Creek the speeder uses the siding to run around the train.  At Division the turntable is needed for the speeder to set-off and allow the train to pass.

If you have any questions about UP 2644 and it's restoration, feel free to e-mail me!


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