Did you love trains as a child? Maybe still do? Do you know how you can ride the rails in your own vehicle? Check out NORCOA, North American Railcar Operators Association. Driving through Centralia on a recent I saw splashes of color out of the corner of my eye. As I passed over the railroad tracks on Main Street, I saw a row of colorful little “cars” stopped on the tracks. I quickly pulled over to find out what they heck they were.
Everyone was very friendly, willing to give information and let me look over their cars. NORCOA is a non-profit group of people who just love the old “railroad motorcars” (also known as “speeders”) that were used at one time to inspect railroad tracks for areas that needed repaired. Each car is privately owned. NORCOA arranges excursions around the country, renting lines from the owners. The trips can be as short as 10 miles or as long as several thousand miles, and run throughout both the U.S. as well as Canada.
NORCOA has about 1,700 members around the world. There is a cost to participate, from $10 up to nearly $2,000 for the very long excursions. Any member/owner can go on any excursion that they want, however, they do have to pass a certification test.
Owners trailer their cars to the beginning destination of the excursion. Each person is then responsible for their food and accommodations. Some stay in hotels, some go on excursions that take them near family or friends that they can stay with. Jerry and Karen Wagner of Eagle, Idaho, took this particular trip because they were both originally from Centralia and still have family in the area. They are very proud of the lovely hand-painted eagle on their car, created by local family member, Dale Harris.
Excursions are slow, leisurely events, stopping for sightseeing and food/restroom breaks. While the cars could go about 35 miles an hour, they typically only go 15-25 miles an hour. If you like traveling on Amtrak, this is an even better way to see different views of the countryside in an up-close and personal way.
So if you ever see these little cars out and about, be sure to stop and talk to the owners. They are more than happy to share their story. And if you do decide to check out the NORCOA website, be careful when you start poking around on it – there are motorcars for sale! Before you know it, you may have a new hobby!