Vintage Rail Inspection Cars: We Have A New Favourite Option for Long Distance Travel

Ridin' the Rails… in style!

Our good friend lilwillie sent in these awesome photos of vintage rail inspection cars. He suspected, as do I, that these might be popular with the Hoons. All I can think is that these vehicles seem to embody the spirit of the Hooniverse pretty darn well.

An early Hooniverse article, circa 1939.

Think about it; this is some pretty clever engineering, but it sits in that oh-so-desirable “sweet spot” that every Hoon admires. You know the one, somewhere right between a duct-taped kludge job and the most confusing, over-engineered solution BMW has hidden behind a dashboard. Where the solution is so involved, so intricate that you can’t help but admire, and yet so simple and elegant you wonder why everyone didn’t do this.
On top of that, the work was done on some darned classy metal. Here we have some pretty beautiful cars, even for their day. There is a Packard in there, several Buicks, a few Cadillacs; I know it’s hard to believe now, but back when these cars were new, those were considered high-end and luxurious cars! Now the rationale for turning large luxury cars into work vehicles like that is actually fairly obvious. In the early days of motoring, from the 1930s up until the 1950s, there simply weren’t the heavy-duty trucks available like there are now. You had the option of a large truck, like a Freightliner or a Kenworth today, or if that wouldn’t do, you modified a luxury car. The Cadillacs and Packards of the world were the vehicle of choice because the same features that made them luxurious for wealthy passengers also made them heavy-duty enough to take on work duties. It is for this reason that Cadillacs were so often used as ambulances, hearses and delivery vehicles. And now, apparently, rail inspection cars.
Now, never mind the actual work duties. There’s a certain brilliance and an elegant appeal to the very concept. Imagine, sitting in a large vintage luxury car that’s capable of speeds in excess of 70 mph on the rails. It would require virtually no input from the driver other than to push on the throttle, and knowing that, I would not be surprised if some sort of locking throttle mechanism was installed. Once that was taken care of, the car can virtually be left on its own. Imagine using a vehicle like this for your holiday travel! Instead of all the hassle of an airline, or all the potentially-fatal diseases of a Greyhound bus, you could take a private luxury car at high speeds across the country without having to worry about accidents or injuries, or fatigue from driving.
We are looking at the future, my friends. The first person to make a system like this that can work efficiently will be rich beyond their wildest dreams, mark my words.

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29 responses to “Vintage Rail Inspection Cars: We Have A New Favourite Option for Long Distance Travel”

  1. dmilligan Avatar

    I've always thought these types of cars and trucks were really cool, and every time I've seen one I've wanted to ride in it. Or preferably drive it.
    I wonder what you're supposed to do if you meet a train when driving one of these things, especially the ones without a highway option.

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      Yield the right of way, I assume.
      Oh…. wait… I see your point…

    2. dwegmull Avatar

      These cars were usually used to drive railroad executives on "inspection" trips. I suspect the dispatcher in charge of a track with such passengers on it would be mighty careful not to send a train for a "cornfield meet".

  2. muthalovin Avatar

    C'mon 'N Ride It (The Train) by Quad City DJ's
    Not period fitting, but that jam got me set for the weeeekend, yo!

  3. Charles_Barrett Avatar

    "Man, that baby corners like it's on rails…wait, what…?"

    1. lilwillie Avatar

      HA, that made me laugh.

  4. dwegmull Avatar

    I've been threatening to do this to my friend's Honda Civic: the wheels are just the right distance apart! Yes I did check with a tape measure. Standard train tracks are 4'8.5" (1.435m) apart, in case your wondering or have some free time this weekend, an old car and some small train wheels lying around.
    The modern version of these cars is the high-rail truck:

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      These are usually in the parking lot of every greasy-spoon diner at any meal-time around here. Somehow, a fleet-issue F350 just doesn't have the same class as a 1939 Packard.

    2. Mister X Avatar
      Mister X

      HA! I had a '74 Honda Civic, and used to scare my girlfriend on Market Street in San Francisco by riding the muni rails and letting go of the steering wheel. A perfect fit to ride the rails!

  5. LTDScott Avatar

    You accidentally added an extra "eh" into favorite…. err I mean extra "U."

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      Don't blame me because your educational system gives you faulty knowledge.

      1. LTDScott Avatar

        Actually, the first 4 years of my education were in Australia, but I lost that habit.

        1. skaycøg Avatar

          Canadians put a 'u' in a lot of their wourds. I think that may be the reason they taulk so funny.

          1. BrianD Avatar

            Okay, Canuck here, but holy crap did I spit my Fruit Loops at the dog at this one.

  6. CptSevere Avatar

    These are some unspeakably cool rides. I think I saw an article somewhere about a VW bus conversion like this, and even that was pretty cool.
    Speaking of interesting rail stock, at the Nevada Northern Railroad Museum yard in Ely, Nevada, I saw a Ford flathead V8 powered railcar, I think it carried six passengers in an enclosed cab. Purpose built, not a Ford car. That was pretty nifty. In Colorado, starting in the thirties, the Rio Grande Southern built the Galloping Geese to replace steam trains on their narrow gauge line. These are some real funky contraptions.

    1. Feds_II Avatar

      I ate at a restaurant in Colorado that used to be a rail car…
      I have no idea what it was called, or where it was exactly, other than "near pikes peak", but it was a restaurant that used to be a rail car. In Colorado.

  7. Feds_II Avatar

    After the Zombie-pocalypse, I am going to make my living turning surviving vehicles into these.

  8. ptschett Avatar

    Here's a neat assortment of random rail-converted cars and trucks: Dark Roasted

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      Fucking. Awesome. The Volvo wagon! The mini! The bugbox!
      I need some time alone. You lot chat amongst yourselves for a while.

      1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

        Volvo wagon? Type 2? Now I'm'a have a look.
        Whoa, a Marathon wagon!
        Hey, for a modern equivalent of those rail-busses, have a look at this – Adelaide's guided busway.

      2. Tomsk Avatar

        Unimog! Forward control Jeep! Mini! '55 Chevy! GAZ Chaika!
        So much win for one site.

  9. ptschett Avatar

    Here's a neat assortment of random rail-converted cars and trucks: Dark Roasted

  10. ptschett Avatar

    Here's a neat assortment of random rail-converted cars and trucks: Dark Roasted

  11. highmileage_v1 Avatar

    That is an interesting chunk of history. Rail and road? Any one of those could be my Eleanor! All I need now is 30 acres, some track and an abandoned railway station.

  12. BGW Avatar

    I live a couple hundred yards from a very busy set of tracks- Amtrak's southernmost leg of the NW Corridor passes by 4x daily, as well tons of commercial traffic. This morning, I noticed what appeared to be a highrail Penske rental truck. I'm quite used to pickups and the occasional crane or cherry picker, but something about a schoolbus-yellow box truck chugging down the rails struck me as both awesome and a little sketchy.

  13. Maymar Avatar

    I am in lust with one of those Buicks. I also hope the Steamwhistle Brewery guys find out about these. Not that it'd do them any good, but when they're brewing out of an old railway roundhouse (complete with vintage trains out front), and run a fleet of classic trucks, it seems like a good fit.

  14. joshuman Avatar

    With apologies to the real gandy dancers:
    "O joint ahead and quarter back
    We all wanna ride the Caddilac
    Come on, move it! Huhn!
    Boys, can you move it! Uhmm!"

  15. engineerd Avatar

    Considering the modern equivalent to many of the cars shown above would be a Rolls Royce or a Bentley, I wonder if the salesperson at a Bentley dealership would balk at a request to equip a car for rail use. I kind of want to find out.

  16. Elida Hasek Avatar

    Retain functioning ,wonderful job!

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