September 29, 2005
Wilcox Co. -- It's amazing how the little things in life can make a lasting impression.
Many children think that working on the railroad, driving the trains and waving to people at crossings would rate as the greatest job they could have.
A southwest Georgia man once thought that same way, especially since his dad worked on the railroad. He never did, but comes as close as anyone to having the best of both worlds.
In the edge of a yard sits several railroad motorcars in various states of disrepair, with two of them ready to run the rails. Some may look like junk and an ideal place for snakes to live, but Larry Crowe sees a gold mine of memories. "My daddy rode me on one when I was 10 years old," says Larry, as he gets the cranking handle from the cab of a Fairmont motorcar once owned by the Southern Railway Company.
Larry has the car's birth papers, the original order form that tells all about the little car that weighed 840 pounds at birth. With two turns of the handle, the little yellow motorcar putt-putts to life, as if waking from a short nap, even though it's 48 years old.
He can always connect with his father's memory through the one-cylinder motorcar he rebuilt, just like the one his late father drove to work sites. Larry remembers vividly that his dad broke the railroad's rules one day by letting him ride in the two-seater, and that short ride made a lasting impression on Larry.
He collects and rebuilds railroad motorcars decades later because of that single ride. "I've got about 10," says Larry, who thought he'd never get to own a motorcar. In the 70s, American railroads sold their motorcars and replaced them with pick-up trucks fitted with special railroad wheels, a much more comfortable ride to work sites.
Canadian railroads retired their motorcars recently and were quickly sold at auction. Larry's luxury model carries five people, and they ride the rails as a family outing three to four times a year, with about 40 other motorcar enthusiasts from throughout the country. "An enjoyable, feel good time. Brings back the days of the old railroad, too," says Larry as he drives the dark red car.
Maintenance crews commuted to their work locations in the little cars for decades, and now, Larry and his family ride those same rails the workers traveled. "First time we've been able to make this run on the HOG, or Heart of Georgia, railroad," says Larry, as they depart eastward from Pitts.
Before sundown, they will travel 136 miles that only a train lover could love. 'It will go faster than you want it to go," says Larry when asked how fast it will go.
The door-less car, with only a windshield and a rear window, seems to travel much faster than it really is. The trees whiz by. Crossings disappear in a blink of an eye. Silhouettes of grain bins and augers stand like skyscrapers.
The motorcar has a top speed of 20 miles per hour, with safety chains to keep the passengers from falling out. "Like driving a truck," says Larry as he presses a clutch, gently pulls the hand brake to slow down and shifts gears.
He slows at every crossing to make sure they can safely cross. Few people get to see America like motorcar enthusiasts get to see it. "You get to see everybody's backyard," says Larry "And, you might see an old motorcar sitting at someone house."
People trackside welcome the convoy, people like Carol Harden who, along with several others, spent a Saturday morning cleaning near the railroad tracks in Rochelle. "I thought I'd like to get on one and ride. I wanted to be part of the party," says Carol. All day they relive railroading history on rented tracks, paying $150 a car to have hundreds of miles of fun.
People like Larry Crowe won't let the motor cars fade away. They are on the right track to keep the memories alive, like a little boy's special experience with his dad. Larry says each motorcar has its own identity. Railroad workers would often etch the name of the car somewhere in plain view of all who would ride it.
Many motorcar enthusiasts belong to North American Railcar Operators Association that organizes excursions.