Maintenance of Way in the 21st Century–Ballast Tampers and Beyond (updated)
By Bob Mintz, TCA#92-35064
(Article updated Spring 2023)(Special thanks to Art Muller, Gordon Wilson and Michael Rotolo in their contributions for this piece)
Gandy dancers carrying pieces of rail have all but disappeared, replaced by huge pieces of railway track operations machinery maintaining track from the ballast up rather than simply rolling along over the top of the rails.
Puffing Northerns and Mallets no longer regularly haul trains across Class 1 rails in North America, but the days of behemoths plying the tracks is not over. Using the assembly line method, these huge machines and trains of machines help railroads get the work done within today’s short windows of opportunity.
Modern machinery is enabling railroads to deal with those challenges. In one pass, these motorized units working in tandem, remove old ties, fishplates, pigtails and rails, prepare the track bed for new ties, lay new ties, threads in new rails, and leave behind high-quality trackwork.
Ballast Regulators, Tie Cranes, Yard Cleaners, Shoulder Ballast Cleaners, Switch and Mainline Undercutting equipment, Tie loading machines along with other maintenance-of-way equipment are available by manufacturers such as Plasser-American and Knox Kershaw Inc.
Yard cleaning services provide for material reclamation and improving yard track condition for train crews. Undercutting services improve track drainage, lower track and resolve clearance issues.
Plasser-American does not only sell individual pieces of equipment that includes tamping technology; ballast management; stabilization; ballast cleaning; track renewal; rail treatment, track recording; and catenary, but their entire line of products work in unison, such as the THS-2000 system, which is a tie handling and track surface system that includes all of the following individual units:
Spike Puller Loading car/Spike Collector Tie Remover TKO Tie Handler Anchor Spreader Cribber Tie Inserter Tie Handler Gantry Crane Tie Cars More Tie Cars Herzog Crane Workshop car Nipper/Tamping Machine Rail Lifter Spike Driver Anchor Squeezer Spike Driver Plow PBR Unimat 09-32/4S with Plow Trailer PTS 90 Track Stabilizer with Double Broom
See this link for more information and photos:
Of special interest might be the Switch/Production Tamping Machine Metro 4×4 ZW, for obvious reasons.
One fine morning while waiting for the LIRR commuter train to take me into Manhattan, I hit the proverbial pot of motorized unit gold, a caravan parked on a siding at my station. Talk about variations!!! And “whassup” with Gordon Wilson’s hockey stick in this cavalcade of cars???
I met a man on my daily commute who had some of the best credentials for a pal around. No, my buddy did not have a heated pool nor boat. He works for the Long Island Railroad and he got me a ticket to ride the geometry car in and out of the 4 tunnels leading into Penn Station NY while he examined the tracks below for stresses, cracks and imperfections using infrared technology.
Surprisingly, much of these maintenance of way equipment pieces are made in HO.
Lionel has recently produced some new categories to be included in their maintenance of way items made after the Postwar era. These include inspection vehicles, pickup trucks, rail bonders, speeders, and step vans.
This group will include the Postwar variety; remakes; as well as more current and prototypical versions.
18490 LCCA OVERSTAMP Union Pacific Ballast Tamper “Route of the Challenger”
18483 LCCA OVERSTAMP C&O Ballast Tamper “48”
This group has the original Postwar version as well as several remakes and one that was part of a set. This particular item could be used separately and was not dependent on another piece to operate.
This group contains the original Postwar version; remakes; one that was part of a set; another that could be considered a secondary set made up of separate sale items; as well as one never manufactured. The 1998 Service Station Set fire car could not function without the instruction/generator car. In the 1999 preview catalog, there was another firecar similar to the 1998 SSS, but in a different color scheme. This item also was dependent on the instruction/generator car to operate. In a bit of my own creativity, I purchased like separate sale identical items to make a second Lionelville Fire Company set to complement the first. #18412 Union Pacific fire fighter car as seen in the 1991 Book 1 but was not manufactured.
21753–1998 Service Station Fire Rescue Train Set:
11988–NYC Firecar and Instruction Car Set: (includes 18445 & 19857 only)
This group contains the original Postwar version and remakes. Possibly in a Cheshire cat (C&O) smile towards collectors, one of the remakes included the rare gray bumpers variation.
“Several years ago I obtained the archives of Lionel artwork from the estate of Hank Makowski, the Advertising Manager and later consultant to Lionel from the early 1970s until 1999. I went through a few hundred of his drawings from about 1991-1995. It should be noted that concept drawings, which this is, are in the early stages and do not have any product number. In most cases they did not have identifiable products. This drawing is then taken to the next stage at Lionel to approve or disapprove and turned into final artwork for the catalog.”
This group contains the original Postwar version; a “Mintz-Modification” variation; a regular remake; a remake of an archive sample and a street hot rod version.
I noticed a similarity of an Eastwood Memorabilia product and made some modifications here and there and created my own homage to Postwar Lionel.
This is a new category altogether. The first issue looked similar to a Checker station wagon, while the shells of the others were all Dodge® Ram 1500 V-8s
This group contains the original Postwar version and remakes.
This is also a new category, but includes a reverse color version done by LCCA, as well as a special convention issue overstamp for their 1999 convention.
This is also a new category of all similar shells.
This group consists of regular wedge plows as well as rotary snowplows. The confusion of the Postwar version relates to the so-called backwards “A”. Price guides refer to a backwards version and the correct version. The only problem is that the Rio Grande intentionally used the backwards “A” as part of their logo, so the forward version is actually technically wrong, not the backwards version. Even though the backwards “A” was prototypical, I suppose that the folks at Lionel, being politically correct way back when, felt that a backwards “A” would confuse small children and made a second version. One item comes from part of a set and is not dependent on any other piece to function.
This is also a new category of all similar shells. LCCA is offering a unique combination of a three part issue, a flatcar with both a powered and dummy speeder.
Like the pickup trucks, this is also a new category, and also includes a reverse color version done by LCCA, as well as a special convention issue overstamp for their 2000 convention as well as a third party repaint and a special commemorative done by the TCA Desert Division.
From Gordon Wilson: “ I know that there were 240 of them made for sale, first to TCA and then to the general public and some “special ones”. We ordered them from LIONEL, and I don’t remember what they charged us, but it was way under their normal price. They were delivered in FOUR boxes to my home in Fountain Hills. One box had the chassis/motor in them; one box had the truck cabs in them; one box had the compartment part of the truck in them. The last box had the headlights and tail lights in it. They were all made of GREY plastic, which sets them apart from all the other Step Vans that were made.
To prevent them from being swapped around and made into some “RARE” item at a later date, we had them LASER engraved on the two front doors and the rear doors of the compartment part. The front doors say “TCA” over capital “DD”. On the rear, the laser engraving says, “TCA (left door) DD” (right door) and under that on the left door is “5-11” and on the right door is “1996.” That was the day of our Silver Anniversary Party. The Holographic decals were made by a local vendor in Scottsdale and say the following: The Roof one – It has the TCA logo in one corner and the Desert Division Logo in the other. A Railroad track runs from corner to corner in a sort of modified “S” pattern. Each side of the Track’s remaining area contains, “25th Anniversary.” The colors move around according to the way the light hits it. The two side decals are the same on both sides. There is a railroad track which appears to connect to the track on the roof and swings around toward the front of the body in an elongated “C”. On the top section of that track is a rectangular black box with silver letters that say, “25th Anniversary”. Centered underneath that box is in full caps, “DESERT DIVISION” and under that is “Train Collectors Association” and finally, under that are the dates “1971-1996”. The Desert Division was founded or acknowledged as a Division by the TCA BOD in June of 1971. The decals were the stick on type, as were the decals on the rear. Each Step Van was personally numbered, from #1 #240. These decals were made by the same firm and were translucent, except for the numbers on them. The numbers were attached to the left of the left hand door and done vertically.
I remember that Bob Caplan, then TCA President Elect, was the successful bidder on at least one of the “special ones”. Here goes for the special ones: At each banquet table there was ONE special van. The instructions at each table said: “Banquet Table Prize Step Van in Special Chrome Scheme. A lucky attendee at each table will win one! Additional Vans will be auctioned at the end of the evening.” There were 12 tables, so there were 15 of these Chrome ones. Then something else, “ONE of a KIND Banquet Step Van Shells.Reverse Colors with Blue Cab and Silver Van”. Also: “Set of Gray unetched shells, just as used for our regular run of Division Cars, but neither Cab or the Van Has been laser etched. The graphics are the final prototype provided by the decorating firm. They chose # 275 because it was outside the range of Production Units”. And final factoid: “One of a kind Test Sample with Laser Etching on the Front Panel of Van. No other shells were marked in this fashion—TCA – DD and date being placed on rear doors for all other shells. The Vinyl Material is a test sample of pattern not used. The clear graphic overlay was used to test appearance against different backgrounds and is unique”. To the best of what I know, that accounts for all of them and the extra unused parts that were left over. NO extra chassis were sent by Lionel- only what we paid for; I guess the plastic stuff was so cheap that they didn’t miss it.
BTW, the boxes were drop shipped to me from (DRUM ROLL) CHINA. So as far back as 1996 Lionel was having things made off shore. This was, we have been told, the final item made by LTI prior to the sale to Wellspring. That info did not come to me from Dick Kughn, but from a front office employee of LIONEL who is no longer associated with Lionel.
We had a “step van assembly party” at the house of one of our members. I seem to remember that the officers at the time were the ones who did all the work, and their spouses, if they attended. Those were in 1996: Gordon Wilson, President; Bill Mack, Vice President; Beth Stange, Treasurer; Fred Hunter, Secretary; Jerry Calkins, Member at Large; Peter Coleman, Member at Large; and Paul Wassermann, Member at Large; Spouses who attended: Christie Wilson, Connie Calkins, Shirley Hunter, and TOM Stange. If memory serves me correctly the “party” was held at the Stange home in Scottsdale.”
Command Control 1955 Maintenance of Way (MOW) Trucks:
Non-Command Control 1955 Maintenance of Way (MOW) Trucks:
58267 LCCA 2016 Registration Gift Kansas City Southern 1955 Inspection Truck
58268 LCCA 2016 Banquet Gift Kansas City Southern 1955 Inspection Truck
58269 LCCA 2017 Registration Gift Northern Pacific 1955 Inspection Truck
58270 LCCA 2017 Banquet Gift Northern Pacific 1955 Inspection Truck
STEPVAN UPDATE: From Bob Caplan:
“Stepvan #276, spray painted aluminum on gray plastic unlasered cab and van shells. This was the first van assembled as a trial to see how everything went together. It is marked with the limited run violet decorations made for the banquet cars.”
“Unique set of LTI shells provided to The Desert Division by Lionel in November 1995, to help in designing graphics, perhaps one of a kind color test shot. Thought to be one of a kind in blue as no production vans were made in blue. There are no part numbers on the inside (as are found on regular shells). No tabs to secure shells to frame. From Lionel to help design our graphics prior to production. A pre-production sample.”
(Monopoly stepvan photos courtesy of Bobby Striklin aka Trainbuddies.com)
This group contains the original Postwar version and remakes.
This group will include the Postwar variety as well as more current and prototypical versions.
EARLY ERA INSPECTION VEHICLE: