Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rail Car Cuties

SCIO: They looked like a row of Tonka trucks on the railroad tracks along Route 19 in Scio on Saturday afternoon. Clean and shiny in the afternoon sun, these little yellow, orange, green and red cars were surrounded by men and women in glowing yellow safety vests. What were these machines that look like fun on metal wheels?
            Gary Gadziala was watching some people putting one back together but he took a few minutes to talk with me. He identified these nifty vehicles as rail cars. They were used by the railroads until the 60s when they were cast aside in favor of trucks that could run on the rails or drive on roads.
            “Easier,” he said, “for the crews to get around and not have to schedule clear tracks for them. This way the trucks could get off the tracks and the trains could run.”
            When the railroads solved one of their problems, they also created a recreational opportunity for train enthusiasts. All the people mulling about were members of the North American Rail Car Operators Association - rail car owners out for a weekend spin. They’d stopped for lunch at the Mahogany Ridge in Scio when I found them.
            They were on one of the hundreds of excursions organized by NARCOA. This particular excursion was named “Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad” and involved a round trip from Olean to Hornell on Saturday and then on Sunday another circuit from Olean to Emporium. Gadziala drove from his home is Ellicott City, Maryland to join the group of 37 rail cars.
            Most of the cars in this outing were made in the 1950s or 60s but some were older, rounder, louder and even cuter. NARCOA sponsors excursions like this all over the country and people register for the rides that interest them.
            Gadziala has been part of the group since he bought his rail car in 1980. He said it’s a fairly expensive hobby with the acquisition and maintenance of the rail car and then the cost of participating in excursions.
            The rail cars have 2 cylinder gasoline engines and some of the nicer cars have heaters, no small matter for some of these winter excursions. The organizers work out the trip with the railroad and arrange for a representative to lead the run in one of the modern road/railroad trucks.
            Later that afternoon I was behind our house clearing some branches downed by last week’s snow and heard a clanking noise. Sure enough, there were bits of yellow, orange, green and red zipping over the railroad tracks behind the trees – rail cars headed back to Olean.

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