|Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)
Railbuses, Doodlebugs, and RDCs
The advent of gas, diesel, gas-electric, and diesel-electric motive power allowed railroads to stop keeping little steam engines maintained for routes with few passengers or goods. Put a truck motor on the front end of a passenger car and drive a single unit to all of those jerkwater stops.
Traction companies, also, profited by being able to field vehicles when the catenary wires were out of order, or to use non-electrified lines to connect electrified segments.
Out of Production - Within our discussion of these vehicles, we will also be discussing examples of North-American-inspired railbuses and related vehicles that have been produced for Large Scale. As far as I know ALL of the following products are out of production. My apologies.
But like the prototypes the Large Scale models are loosely based on, almost all of the products shown were built by adding motors and other bits to preexisting products. So don't despair if you find the one you want is out of reach or if you want something different than the ones you can find on eBay or elsewhere.
What Model Railbuses, etc., are Good For
In the meantime, railbuses and their kin:
In addition, many have room to add batteries and sound/remote-control boards, which has made them popular among the battery/RC crowd.
Were There Euro Railbuses? - Yes. LGB and Piko have made several configurations over the years, based, as far as I can tell, on relatively modern German prototypes. I don't cover those, though, as the wide modern windows on those are a "dead giveaway" that they don't belong on my pike except as visitors.
RailbusesThe first advent of such vehicles used automobile or truck engines fastened to the front end. The drive wheels were powered mechanically, unlike the later "doodlebugs" (below), which tended to use gas-electric or diesel-electric drive mechanisms.
Nomenclature - This class of vehicles is sometimes included in the "railcar" or "rail motor car" categories. For the sake of this article, the name "railbus" means you almost always see a car or truck front end sticking out the front.
The photo to the right shows a railbus that was built for a logging company that operated in what is now the Smoky Mountain National Forest. It is unusual for a railbus in that the engine is located within the chassis (a universal practice in "doodlebugs").
Like most railcars and many railbuses, this was built in the company shops.
The same company later adapted a Studebaker by replacing the front axle with a freight car truck and replacing the rear drive wheels with railcar wheels.
I include these just to show the kind of transportation such railroads used once steam wasn't the only option.
The Little River Railroad also built "Track Inspection Cars" (below) out of Model Ts and other commercial road vehicles.
As another example, the 2-foot Maine railroad, the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes built at least three railbuses to run over sparcely-traveled routes in the summer (in the winter, they ran steam because the railbuses didn't have enough weight to plow the snow off the rails).
As the Maine 2-foot gauge railroads shut down a little bit at a time and rolling stock was sold off or scrapped, one of those railbuses, built on an REO chassis, was converted to standard gauge and used/abused in other service until it was eventually restored to operability by folks associated with the White Mountain Central Railroad, an 2.5 mile railroad on the grounds of Clark's Trading Post near Lincoln, NH.
Among the SR&RL 2-foot-gauge rail buses that were scrapped when the Maine 2-foot rail system dissolved was #4, shown at the right. We included this photo to show how widely the railbuses on the same railroad could vary from each other. For more information on #4, please visit the Maine Memory Artifact page.
One prototype that is especially interesting to this old Pennsy fan is this Lewisburg, Milton & Watsonville Passenger Railway rail bus, built in 1921 for a PRR-owned traction line. It was originally painted in PRR Tuscan Red livery, though labeled LM&WPRY as shown. Between 1928 and 1931 it was repainted for PRR (#4738). After that, the Depression caused Pennsy to consolidate and divest itself of many unprofitable small lines. Countless non-standard vehicles ended up in the scrap yard. This one survived somehow. The last I heard it was being restored at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. For more information about this railbus, including a sort of blueprint, visit the Buffalo Creek and Gauley "Railbus A" page.
This photo is also useful because so many of the railbuses built for garden railroads were based on the Mac-built chassis - note the distinct "nose" of the vehicle. (The body was built by Brill.)
Pulling Other Cars? - Railbuses occasionally pulled a second car. So when you see a modeler using a railbus to pull a coach in the same livery, there are prototypes for that. However, railbuses equipped with car or truck engines could hardly pull more than that, any more than your minivan could pull two loaded trailers behind it.
Near-Infinite Variety - Unlike steam engines, which had many hundreds of specialized parts and had to be built and repaired in highly specialized shops because of the dangers they posed, rail cars, rail buses, rail trucks and similar vehicles were either ordered as "one-offs" from companies like REO or Mac or hacked together in the local repair shop as they were needed. So the same railroad might have any number of totally different rail cars doing duty in different parts of its system.
Scant Documentation - In addition, since they didn't require the same huge investment as steam engines, many railbuses were barely documented. So, if you're trying to model a specific railroad as accurately as possible, you may not be able to find documentation or photos of any rail cars, rail buses, or rail trucks they used. That doesn't mean they didn't use rail cars, rail buses, or rail trucks on at least part of their line - it just means you can't prove they did. Or didn't to be honest.
As an example, you'll have trouble finding the PRR-owned LM&WP railbus above in any Pennsy manifest. I didn't know about it until I stumbled across it on the Buffalo Creek & Gauley web site. So I could, technically, have a PRR-liveried railbus and claim I was being prototypical. Your favorite prototype railroad may have the same kinds of vehicles, and there just isn't any record of them.
The "Delton Doozie"As far as I know the first US-style railbus built for garden railroads was built by Delton Locomotive Works in the late 1980s. Product designer Phil Jensen came up with the idea of putting a Mac hood on the front of Delton's popular shorty combine car, along with other tweaks. He even negotiated with Mac for the right to put the Mac logo on the front of the hood.
Since most of the railbuses built for Large Scale use Mac front ends, it's worth pointing out that one author claims that virtually all of the Mac-based railbuses were factory built. But from the windshield on back they could vary widely, so any of the Mac-based examples shown here are possible. If you're interested in Mac railbuses specifically, you might want to track down a copy of an out-of-print 68-page self-published book, Randolph L. Kulp's History of Mack Rail Motor Cars and Locomotives.
The "Doozie" was driven by a single power truck at the rear. Six-wheel power pickup helped the Doozie over less-than-optimum trackage.
The stock "Doozie" was available in several paint schemes, including a bright red Santa Fe. The most popular were probably the DSP&PRR version shown below and a silver Rio Grande Southern version. We know Rio Grande Southern used rail buses, though I haven't personally seen any evidence that they used one that resembled the "Doozie." No matter. By the time this came out, countless garden railroaders already had southwestern-themed railroads, and most of the southwestern-themed "Doozies" found homes quickly, including the silver ones.
Though the "Doozie" was very popular, it was not popular enough to keep Delton out of the red. In 1990, they dissolved and sold off their molds. This, as you'll see resulted in two subsequent railbus products.
The Aristo RailbusMany of Delton's molds were purchased by AristoCraft, who specialized in standard gauge trains. Some were put into production to make the Aristo "Classic Line" (later discontinued). Aristo did not purchase the coach molds, however, since they already had a line of old-timey coaches (their "Sierra" line). Somehow they did end up with the mold for the Mac hood, though not the right to use the Mac logo. That's why the Aristo version has an A on the front.
Since there still seemed to be a demand for something like the "Delton Doozie," Aristo responded by putting the Mac hood on the front end of one of their "Sierra" ("woodie") combines. The wider windows of the Sierra combine are more in keeping with the era of most rail busses, though there is relatively limited room for passengers. And not many railbuses actually had curtains. Still, it's a fun model.
The Aristo version met with generally positive response. The biggest negative seemed to be that the Aristo power truck made the back end ride a little higher than the front end, so the thing looked like it was going downhill all the time.
If you have or are considering one of these, the best reference information on tweaking and maintaining them is in George Schreyer's article here.
Brass Tacks - Aristo also produced a prototype (at least) of a brass railbus based on a New Jersey prototype. Though it received good reviews, it never made it into mass production.
Aristo did mass-produce two more modern RMCs, which we'll deal with further down.
The HLW "Doozie"The Delton molds that Aristo didn't want went with Delton designer Phil Jensen to Hartland Locomotive Works.
HLW always ran on a shoestring and largely depended on models that used existing molds from defunct manufacturers like Kalamazoo. They did get Delton's mini-coach molds. Phil also retained the license to use the Mac logo, so they, technically, could have replicated the Delton Doozie. Except that the mold for the Mac front end went to AristoCraft instead.
After some time, HLW did come up with a Mac front end and replicate the Doozie. If there are any significant differences, it's hard to tell from photos - I don't own either one of these, so I can't give you an A/B comparison.
"Gallopin' Geese"Rio Grande Southern, which hadn't been exactly flourishing before the Great Depression was especially hard-hit by diminishing freight and passenger traffic in the 1930s. They responded by building a number of railbuses with PIerce-Arrow front ends and box-car shaped rear ends. The ungainly shape, combined with the initials of the railroad led to the nickname "Gallopin' Goose."
These silver-colored railbuses and their kin have become favorites with model railroaders who fancy narrow gauge trains. They're also the reason Delton and HLW made silver versions of their railbuses, even though they obviously feature a Mac front end, not that long Pierce-Arrow hood.
These are all 1:20.3 models, which is the correct scale for running RGS prototype on G gauge track, but you should know that means they are much larger than the railbuses shown above. They are also metal models with a lot of brass and prices to match, so they are of interest mostly to people who want and can afford a museum-class replica of a specific "Goose."
Shown below is a profile of their model of Galloping Goose #2.
Because of the cost and somewhat limited availability, I'm not bothering to show all of the models they have offered except for linking to that catalog page. If you're interested in more information on this line of models, you should contact them directly.
Doodlebugs/RMCsRail Motor Cars (RMC) have a very similar history to the railbuses shown above, used to handle routes with so little passenger and freight traffic that a locomotive-drawn train was not justified.
RMCs came into their own with gas-electric or diesel-electric motive power. Unlike the railbuses that had car or truck engines on the front, RMCs had/have internal engines. This can make some of them look rather like "suburban" (inter-city) trolleys operating without wires, or coaches traveling under their own power.
It also means that modelers and model train manufacturers can often repurpose existing coach or traction models to represent these.
Pulling More Cars - Doodlebugs' gas-electric or diesel-electric drive systems made them capable of pulling more weight than most railbuses, so a doodlebug pulling two coaches would not necessarily be unprototypical.
RMCs still exist, though in a more modern form. In my part of the world, the newer ones are seldom called doodlebugs, just the old-fashioned looking ones. By the way, I have yet to hear a single convincing explanation for how this class of vehicles got its nickname. The longer ones did seem to have an awkward "waddling" motion as they negotiated tight trackage, but how that connects to the word "doodlebug" specifically, I'm not sure.
Hartland Locomotive Work's RMCUntil about 2019, HLW produced a very wide range of traction items, Drawing on that experience, and using tooling they created for other products, they introduced their own Rail Motor Car. Unfortunately, they didn't make it for long.
I have liked these for several years, but not been able to find one. When I contacted HLW about a year ago they said they had no plans to reintroduce it. Then in early 2020, they shut down production of all of their products, so these are among the hardest-to-find products on this page. They're also one of my favorites.
Note: - The RMC in the photo below is missing the little lamp that attaches over the bulb near the rear platform. These are stored separately in the packing material, so that's a common problem if you find one used.
You can see the dual power trucks in the photo above. This is an exception among HLW's self-powered vehicles.
AristoCraft's DoodlebugAristoCraft made an RMC based on their heavyweight passenger cars, most of which were based on 80' Pennsylvania prototypes. The cars were about 32" long, which means they could handle 10'-diameter curves, though they looked a little awkward. They looked their best on even wider curves, though some fans preferred the look of them "waddling" around 10' and even 8'-diameter curves. I never tried one on 8'-diameter (R3) curves, so I'm not sure I'm qualified to give an opinion on that.
These were a favorite of battery/RC modelers because there was so much room for batteries, control cards, etc. They are also very good representations of real-world gas-electric doodlebugs that Pennsylvania ran on routes that did not have enough traffic to justify a steam-pulled train.
Unlike the HLW RMC, this model had only one power truck (based on Aristo's diesel power truck). Still it could easily pull two or more matching heavyweights on level trackage.
Although this doodlebug is based on a specific Pennsy prototype, countless other railroads used similar vehicles on low-traffic routes.
If you own or are thinking about owning one of these, there are much good information, including tips and trips on George Shreyer's Aristo Doodlebug Tips page.
AristoCraft's RDCIf you want a modern-era equivalent of a gas-powered doodlebug, consider an RDC.
Rail coach manufacturer Budd built nearly 400 Rail Diesel Cars between 1949 and 1962, combining their expertise with stainless steel car bodies with WWII-era improvements in diesel-electric propulsion. Like railcars and gas-electric doodlebugs, they were used in routes whose traffic did not justify a locomotive-drawn train. A handful are still in use today, especially in Canada.
AristoCraft's version is visually very faithful. Like Aristo's Doodlebug, the power truck borrowed from their diesel locomotives enables it to pull additional cars. That said, the original Budd RDCs were relatively underpowered, so Budd recommended against pulling even one additional car (though it often happened).
Several of the other paint jobs included "warning stripes" on the front end, depending on the practice of the railroad represented.
If you own or are thinking about owning one of these, there are much good information, including tips and trips on George Shreyer's Aristo RDC Tips page.
Rail Trucks and Track Inspection CarsAt the opposite extreme from the 80' doodlebugs and 72' RDCs, are rail trucks and "track inspection cars," which were often built by repurposing commercial trucks and automobiles.
The Little River Railroad's first documented "Track Inspection Car" (right) seems to have been built by adding beams under the frame, and using a belt to drive the rear axle. Sadly, it was no match for the steam locomotive that destroyed in in 1910.
Bachmann Large Scale Rail Trucks - Between 2008 and 2017, Bachmann offered several different colors of their rail truck in Large Scale (about 1:20.3). Most of the last batch they offered were unlettered, probably a result of customer request. As of this writing, there are still some new ones in warehouses and stores around the country, but Bachmann has cut way back on their Large Scale manufacturing, and there are no new ones in their catalogs.
HLW Rail Cars The now-discontinued HLW Rail Car used their Mac Truck front end on a powered frame. These were commercially available in several colors.
The package behind the front seat hid a vertically-mounted DC motor that engaged a gear on the rear axle. To see that detail, click here.
K-Line SpeederUSA trains has advertised a speeder that, by the strangest coincidence, looks just like a (now-defunct) defunct K-Line speeder that was built for O gauge, except for the wider wheel gauge, the larger figures, and the DC motor. USA marketed it as Large Scale.
It was too small to look right with Large Scale narrow gauge equipment like the Bachmann Shay. That said, it was inexpensive, so if you see one and you like it, and the price is right, go for it. Or get a power truck directly from any Large Scale manufacturer and "roll your own."
Curiously, Bachmann currently lists a nearly identical Speeder in their 2020 catalog. Whether it's a reemergence of the K-Line/USA mold is anybody's guess until someone has them both in the train shed at the same time.
Galloping Geese ReduxAMS/Accucraft's line of Galloping Geese included one railcar very similar to the "Little River Flivver" shown above, and one truck-based vehicle. These were listed on Accucraft's web page in 2018, but I don't know about availability today (August, 2020).
Rolling Your OwnJust as countless real railroads hacked together railbuses and other vehicles in their repair sheds, many hobbyists have hacked together their own versions of these vehicles. Though the powered models shown on this page are in short supply, the coaches and other bits that the manufacturers used are still widely available.
One modeler - with a little help from his friends - created a very realistic railbus from an Aristocraft "Sierra" (wooden) coach by extending the frame and "borrowing" a Mac nose from an HLW Little Mac locomotive. To see his kitbash, click here.
A Google search for "kitbash railbus," kitbash railcar" and the like will bring up any number of similar projects. Most of them are in smaller scales, but the principle still applies.
With the proliferation of 3D printers among modelers these days, it's surprising that someone hasn't come up with a replacement Mac, Pierce Arrow, or REO "nose" for hobbyists who want to roll their own. Of course nobody's saying you couldn't cannibalize a Revell plastic car or truck kit . . .
ConclusionBecause time marches on and I have too many articles to constantly keep going back and updating, some of you may be seeing this a year or three from now and wondering why I left out a dandy current model that doesn't exist yet as I write this. Others may wonder why I'm including models that you can't purchase "for love nor money" anymore.
Again, the manufactured products are all just to give you an idea of what can be done and what many modelers have done on their own with a few old bits of other cars and trains.
Please contact us with any feedback at all. I am especially interested in seeing any examples of kitbashed models.
In the meantime, enjoy your hobbies, and especially any time you have to spend with your family in the upcoming weeks!
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