This newspaper article by Robert Davis was originally published in the Columbia County Review on Wednesday, September 16, 1998. I originally posted it on my website on June 1, 2005; I had very closely replicated the original layout of the article, but it didn’t translate into this new format.
COLUMBIA COUNTY REVIEW
Wednesday, September 16, 1998
Members of the Motorcar Operators West club based in Sacramento, Calif., made a pit stop on the Pacific and Western rail line in Rainier on a weekend outing that took them from St. Helens to Wauna to Banks. Photos by Robert Davis
Motorcar club toots through Rainier
By Robert Davis
Special to the Review
Nearly 30 motorcars, along with 50 of the 300 members of the club participated in the 200-mile journey.
Downtown Rainier was slated as a pit stop for the members of Motorcar Operators West based in Sacramento, Calif., much to the good fortune of one of the operators of the club.
While members stood by anxiously, motorcar mechanics worked feverishly to repair a sheared bolt in one of the lead cars of the 28-car brigade in an effort to get the procession back on track.
Fortunately for the brigade, the Coast to Coast Hardware store was within 50 feet of the breakdown and had just the right bolt to repair the disabled motorcar.
The nearly 300 members of the club travel on private rail lines throughout the Pacific Northwest and Canada, said club member and dentist Bob Church, and this was the first motorcar group to travel on the line through the city of Rainier.
Through the efforts of club member Denny Anspach, also of California, and Bob Melbo, president of the Willamette and Pacific Railroad, club members took excursions from St. Helens to Wauna and from St. Helens to Banks, all during one weekend, Church said.
"If it weren't for people like him (Melbo), we wouldn't have a club," Church said. "He has been extremely cordial to us and is cooperative in working out trips on lines he operates."
The motorcars vary in size, style and engine type. While some of the cars sport fancy interiors with some of the latest gadgetry, most stick to the historical aspects of the era of the motorcar and are quite simple.
Fortunately for the operator of this motorcar, members of the Motorcar Operators West club made a scheduled pit stop in Rainier in front of the hardware store. Several club members pitched in to replace a sheared bolt in this newer, twin-cylinder motorcar, and within minutes the brigade was on its way. Photo by Robert Davis
The cars rumble down the tracks at a cruising speed of approximately 22 to 25 mph, Church said.
But on rail lines that are in top condition, it would not be unusual for one of the cars to reach a top speed of 45 mph.
At those speeds however, the cars have a tendency to "go hunting," or seeking their own way, which can and does result in derailment.
The biggest hazard for the motorcars is derailment, Church said.
The "flange-gate" on the wheels of the motorcars requires a certain depth below the m to allow full contact with the rails. Where that depth is impaired, such as at automobile crossings, motorcars can derail.
"How do you turn around," a curious onlooker asked. "We carry a turntable that fits on the rails," Church explained. "The cars are light enough two people can then pick them up like a wheelbarrow and turn it around on its front wheels."
The cars also come equipped with handles that can be used for rotation.
Historically, motorcars were used by the rail lines to transport track and signal workers from their line shack to work areas.
Of course, prior to the advent of motorized cars, workers traveled to their worksites by handcars.
Each engineer is licensed and insured, Church said. Potential operators must pass a rigorous safety rules test and be mentored on a trip or two before the national organization will recognize the individual as a licensed engineer.
The cars must be modified to ride the rails nowadays, Church explained. "We have had to add several safety appliances, particularly brake lights. Motorcars have to know when the car ahead is stopping.
"While seat belts are not mandatory, we do use them. These things (motorcars) have been known to tip over and safety is number one with us."
Members of the club said they had a safe and pleasant weekend in Oregon, despite the "re-bolting" development.