Touring the back yards of America
behind Building 3 at the City of Prineville Railway, speeder car enthusiasts loaded their small rail-ready vehicles onto the track.
Clad in orange or yellow reflector vests, the group comprised of people from multiple states mingles and tinker with their cars, prepping them for a roughly two-hour long, out-and-back tour of the 100 year-old short line.
Dressed in attire best suited for a train conductor, Guy Howard waits to address the members of the Pacific Railcar Operators and Motorcar Operators West clubs before they head out.
"I have been doing this for 18 years," he says. "My wife and I were at a railroad event in Elbe, Washington, and when we were leaving, speeder cars were arriving to run the next day. My wife said, 'We could do that.'"
The Junction City resident, who originally hails from Liverpool, England, said it took them years to find a car, but once they did, the couple found a great hobby that they indulge in about four or five times a year. This is their first visit to the Prineville railway.
A few cars away, Mendocino, California, resident Stella Wells is waiting to take in the sights between the freight depot and Prineville Junction, about 15 miles west. Like Howard, it's her first time on the local railway.
"It is a hobby my husband got into years ago," she recalls. "He always watched YouTube videos on this and always wanted to do it. So when we got married, he said, 'Why don't we do this for a hobby?' I said, 'Sure, let's try it.'"
Speeder cars, which are no larger than a standard smart car, were originally used by many railways to shuttle staff members to different maintenance jobs, explains Carl Shellhorn, a Napa, California, native who has driven them for about a decade.
"Most of them have been replaced by the high-rail pickups," he went on to say, noting that it reached a point where the cars got so expensive to make and operate that railways moved away from using them. They have since become primarily a vehicle for recreation.
"There are three basic car types," Shellhorn says, noting that two of them are two seaters, one that is enclosed and the other that is open on the sides. "The next one is what they call 'gang cars.' Gang cars were made for carrying large numbers of railroad workers to go do maintenance."
About 20 speeders cars, most of them sporting a yellow paint job except for a couple painted silver or red, bunched up on a short rail spur at the Prineville Freight Depot Sunday morning.
Leading the way was Dave Balestreri, who is one of the few speeder enthusiasts familiar with the Prineville track. He led a group on a previous visit about five years ago.
"It's been a long time, and we have been trying to get back," he said.
The request for the excursion was greenlighted by Railway General Manager Matt Wiederholt who enjoyed a pleasant experience with the group when they booked the line previously. The group took two trips out to Prineville Junction, each time taking a small group of local residents and city officials free of charge. The first tour took off in the morning and then early in the afternoon following a barbecue lunch hosted by Crook County 4-H, the group enjoyed an encore excursion.
For Glen Ford, who has owned his speeder car since 1994, each tour provides him a new view of the landscape that can only be seen by rail.
"Highways travel through the front yard of America," he said. "Train tracks go through the back yard of America."