SARANAC LAKE - A group of 70 railroad enthusiasts spent this past weekend riding the rails from Thendara to Lake Placid and back in a fleet of 29 small, motorized cars.
The trip was organized by New England Rail Excursions, or NEREX, an affiliate of the North American Railcar Operators Association, in partnership with the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society. It was the first such excursion on the track since 2002.
"They're called 'motor cars,' 'rail cars' or 'speeders,'" Rob Piligian, a NEREX excursion coordinator, said the morning of Monday, July 21 as the cars were parked outside Saranac Lake's Union Depot. "They were used to inspect the track, maintain the track and transport track workers to different locations. They fell out of favor when high-rail trucks (which can operate on road or rail) were developed in the 1950s and 1960s. They're limited because they can only go wherever there's rail."
Dan Peck of Peabody, Massachusetts, stands next to his 1973 Fairmont railroad motor car outside Saranac Lake’s Union Depot on July 21. Peck was part of weekend excursion of 29 motor cars that traveled the Adirondack railroad between Thendara and Lake Placid.
(News photo — Chris Knight)
Many of the motor cars were acquired by train hobbyists at surplus auctions and have since been refurbished so they can ride the rails again. Piligian said owners have to take a written exam before they can get an operator's card. They also have to buy insurance and have their cars inspected regularly.
"What we do is we go to different railroads; in this case we went to the Adirondack Scenic and asked them if they would allow us to operate a motor car excursion on their tracks," Piligian said. "We pay them for that privilege. We have two railroad employees with us as our pilots, and we have excursion coordinators with us as well."
Piligian said the gas-powered motor cars move as a group, generally at 20 to 25 mph. He said operators are very safety conscious and give the right of way to other vehicles at any railroad crossing.
Piligian, who is from Whitehall, Pennsylvania, said this excursion also included people from New York, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire. They put their cars on the rails in Thendara on Friday night and rode Saturday from Thendara to Remsen and back. On Sunday they traveled from Thendara to Lake Placid, stopping in Big Moose for breakfast and Lake Clear for lunch. They traveled back to Saranac Lake Sunday night, locked their cars up and spent the night at the Best Western Mountain Lake Inn. On July 21, the group was headed back down to Thendara.
"The sights that we saw coming up through your beautiful country around here - it's just amazing," said Piligian.
"They're all sold on coming back here," said David Link, an ARPS director and volunteer.