Montana Western 31

With the help of Winton, the Electro-Motive Company pioneered and developed gasoline-electric railcars. Hundreds of these cars were built in the 1920’s-1930’s, and were an important stepping stone in the development of the forthcoming Diesel-Electric generation of railcars and locomotives.

Only a small handful of these cars remain, including Montana Western #31, at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin. #31 was donated to the museum in 1965.

The car was built in 1925 for the Great Northern Railway as their #2313, and was sold to shortline Montana Western in 1940. Only the front truck on these cars is powered.

While the date on the plate is 10/1925, the car’s engine was not shipped until 4/1926, leading me to think this may have been a contract date.

Inside, the car is essentially 100% original, including these lush purple velvet walkover seats. A small smoking section is in the compartment forward of this one.

Ahead of the smoking section is a baggage room, as well as being home to the cars heating boiler.

The rear end of the car features a control stand, as well as a small bathroom opposite of it.

Forward of the baggage room is the engine room, home to the 6- Cylinder Winton 106A gasoline engine and control stand.

Stepping back a few feet gives us a better overall view of the engine, showing the central carburetor and intake manifold. These early engines used General Electric electrical gear. The three exhaust pipes head straight up to the roof.

Forward of the engine is the engineers corner with the various controls and brake system, note the use of a “trolley” style controller. My ears bleed just thinking of being this close to the engine!

The engine in #31 is a Winton 106A, a 7 1/4″ bore x 8″ stroke, 4 stoke, 6-cylinder gasoline engine. The engine was rated for 250HP at 1200RPM. Previous model 106 was a slightly smaller, 7″x8″ engine, rated for 200HP at 1000RPM.

What is interesting is the Winton record for this engine lists it as a 106B. It is likely this is simply a typo on the record sheets, as other engines labeled 106A are listed with the same shipping date.

Looking toward the magneto side. While you can access the cab through doors on either side, or by climbing over the generator – it is still an extremely cramped space.

A better view of the engine from the Winton manual for these engines.

Special thanks to Bill B. at Mid-Continent for arranging a look inside this rare piece of equipment. #31 is currently not in operable condition, however the museum does have a 2nd spare parts engine it obtained from Sperry Rail – once a large user of Gas-Electric railcars. Be sure to stop by the museum if you are in the area, they have an amazing collection!

Video of a Winton 106A engine on youtube, by user Taitset.

A Home-built Locomotive – Southern San Luis Valley D-500

In Blanca, Colorado, East of Alamosa and at the start of the D&RGW’s La Veta Pass line, was the interchange with the San Luis Valley railroad, a 30 some mile shortline, operating a mix of hand me down steam power. In 1950, the railroad purchased former D&RGW idler car #010798, which started life as D&RGW 2-8-0 964. These idler cars allowed standard gauge engines to bring narrow gauge cars between Alamosa and Antonito Colorado, and vice versa.

The SLV had a crazy idea, and opted to create their own locomotive. They had the notion to use rubber tires for traction, placed between the sets of freight car trucks. A Ford Flathead V8 engine powered the contraption. Be sure to check out this link for an Otto Perry photo of this engine –

Well, it did not work. The tires apparently were not up to this task and would blow out often on the 30 mile railroad, and the engine was sidelined as a switcher before being taken apart.

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In 1953 the railroad was reorganized as the Southern San Luis Valley, with new traffic shipping out chilled lettuce as the main industry served. The old idler flat car was retrieved, and a new locomotive idea was brought to the table. The old rubber traction system was removed, and a chain drive directly to the axles was used (more on this shortly). By 1957 the railroad was reduced to just a few miles in the Blanca area.

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The new locomotive, dubbed the D-500, was powered by an International Harvester UD-24 diesel engine…

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…which in turn drove a Cat hydraulic turn feeding into a Euclid truck axle. This truck axle was connected to a sprocket turning a double roller chain, which was reduced down to another sprocket, that went down onto one of the trucks.

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The main drive chain (visible just over the brake lever) drove the wheel, with said wheel also chain driving the wheel on the adjacent truck. Holy moving parts, Batman! This system must have been an absolute nightmare to keep in check and working correctly, but apparently it did just that..

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Inside, the D-500 is pretty spartan..a handbrake wheel, and the assortment of shifters and throttle levers. Pretty good view though!

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Looking down from the engineers seat, is a small little sliding window to look down at the engine.

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A pile of old sprockets sits in side..

Both sides of the locomotive have ballast boxes, with one side full of freight car axles and old chains.. and the other various chunks of metal and cutup wheels.

Here is a 1978 photo by Jim Gavin of the D-500. Note the large double roller chain visible.

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The Southern San Luis Valley would continue to operate until 1996 when they shut down, and essentially left the equipment abandoned. The “assets” and ROW were purchased by the San Luis and Rio Grande Railway in 2007 simply for car storage, with the two SSLV locomotives left to rust away..

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The second SSLV engine on the property, sitting next to the D-500 is former US Army/Utah Power & Light Plymouth ML3 #1. They purchased this in 1977 in non running condition. An engine was found, but the project was never finished, and the engine sits sans hood.

The pair of SSLV engines sit abandoned in a lot today. I sincerely hope that the D-500 can be preserved. As ugly as it is, it is a true testament to shortline railroading and the ingenuity put forth to keep operating on a shoestring budget.

Bob Griswold called the D-500 the “Slow moving conglomerate of Caterpillar, International Harvester, Euclid and other assorted moving parts and mechanisms” in his book Colorado’s Loneliest Railroad – the San Luis Southern. I found a copy of this on my way home and immediately picked it up. While I have yet to fully read it, its a fantastic look at this little railroad.

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One last look at the D-500. Unfortunately the sun was not in my favor for my visit to these relics. I wonder if you rev it up and dump the clutch if it will do a burnout..