Gentlemen (and ladies, too) start your engines!

That’s what happened Saturday morning at Fifth Street and the railroad track. Railway motor car enthusiasts gathered to take a trip down the railroad from McAlester to Red Oak on the A-OK line.

Railway motor cars are small four wheeled motorized vehicles designated to ride on railroad tracks. They were used by railroad employees to perform various maintenance tasks on the railroad property, such as track work, bridge inspection, and signal repair. They evolved from human-powered pump cars in the early 1900s and were eventually replaced by hy-rail vehicles (pickup trucks with small railroad wheels).

When they were replaced, the cars were simply retired. Hobbyists have been gradually finding the cars and repairing and storing them. Cars represented Saturday were from Missouri Pacific, Union Pacific, M-K-T and Rock Island.

One of the main activities the hobbyists look forward to is actually taking the cars out and running them down the rails. “It’s a chance to get your car back out and get on the rail,” David Donoley, owner of A-OK Railroad and an enthusiast, said. “You look at it in your garage and work on it but this is where the fun is,” he said as he looked down the tracks.

Drake Rice, from the Oklahoma Railway Museum, said, “This is like Christmas to us.”

Most of the cars were 20 to 30 years old. Rice noted his car was a Southern Pacific, built in 1980 in Minneapolis. Buddy Presnell, a firefighter from Kansas, noted his Missouri Pacific car was unique in that ran on diesel fuel. “It didn’t start out using diesel,” he explained, pointing out various parts of the two-cylinder engine. He was the one who redid the car to run on that fuel.

The North American Rail Car Operators Association has many safety rules for the operators to follow including having so much space between cars to allow for stopping times. Also, the cars must stop at crossings if there is traffic.

In addition, if a train comes down the track, the cars have to move off the track. But that didn’t happen Saturday. As owner of the A-OK, Donoley said his cars were all off the track. “This is their day on the A-Ok,” he grinned. “We’re here for the ride, the enjoyment and the foliage.”

The operators planned to only go about 10 miles an hour on the trip to and from Red Oak. However, they can go up to 40 miles an hour.

The trip was also noncompetitive — if you were in the last car beginning the trip, you were in the last car finishing the trip.

About 20 cars took part in the Saturday event along with several hy-rail vehicles. Rice said many of the operators spent Friday night in McAlester. “There’s lots of good shopping,” he said adding the people were very friendly.

This was the group’s first time in McAlester — hopefully after Saturday’s ride, it won’t be their last.

Contact Teresa Atkerson at family@mcalesternews.com.

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