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Doodlebug/Motor Cars FAQ

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What are Doodlebugs?

Also visit -Matt Conrad, Artist, J.M.Conrad Co., writes:

Doodlebugs are essentially self-propelled coaches (or rather baggage-passenger combines, as most had a coach section and a baggage section). Usually, they had gasoline generators and electric transmissions, but a few later ones were diesel-powered, and a few were built with mechanical transmissions. There's one still stored in the engine house of the Hampton & Branchville RR in SC that has the engine mounted under the floor of the car on the front truck, and geared directly to the axles. There's a good picture of it in the book "Logging RR's of SC" by Thomas Fetters, which is a *great* book, BTW.

There are a few other doodlebugs around, one PRR unit on the Wilmington & Western in DE that runs, another under restoration on the Black River & Western in NJ (also Pensy). I rode that one in the early '80s. The EBT has a narrow-gauge doodlebug that the company built from Brill parts, it's used occasionally. I think there's an unusual all-baggage AT&SF one in Texas, I could be wrong about the location.

Johnathon Kruger adds this info to Matt's discussion:

The "Skunk" rail-cars in CA were operated by the California Western. There is one of them in regular excursion service on the Niles Canyon Railway in California. It is the number M-200 and was built in 1926 by the Skagit Iron Works in Washington. The "rail-bus" is owned by the Pacific Locomotive Assn. (which I am a member of, I am also one of the Brakeman who operates and maintains the M-200).

I have a floor plan of SRS 118 on my Web site).

I think the resemblance to a doodlebug is functional, not because doodlebugs were used as starting points. The propelling engine is up front, next to the driver, just like in a doodlebug (Sperry cars used to have Hercules gasoline engines, they now all have Cat diesels). The radiator is over the engine, with a fan over that. The driver sits on the right, with the engine in the center. This is a design dictated by the practical limitations of where you can put stuff, so naturally Sperry cars and doodlebugs would use the same solution. If you look closely at a Sperry car you'll see it's very specialized and the resemblance to a doodlebug is cursory at best.

Also, most of the cars in service in the '60s are the same cars in service today! Very few have been retired, although a number of cars have been added to the fleet. The older cars you're referring to are the lower-numbered cars, 118 to somewhere in the mid-30's.

---- -Matt Conrad, Artist, J.M.Conrad Co., Providing fine art and Mac software for train nuts like myself. The gelding's name is "No Steam." ======================================================================= writes: Sperry owns many detector cars. Every (and I mean every) car from 118 (the oldest existing) to 138 were doodlebugs. Look up any roster of gas-electric St. Louis Car Company cars and you'll see how they were disposed of. Lehigh Valley 15 was a gas-electric doodlebug. Seaboard Air Line 2003 was a gas electric doodlebug. Cars after and including 139 were scratch built, from prints obtained from Saint Louis Car Company. Car 140 is a hybrid, built from a New York City M40 subway car. All cars (118-139, and 141-149) are built from or modeled after St. Louis Car Company doodlebugs. All 5 Star and Hillebrand cars were built from scratch. Starting from 2 pieces of 12" x 62'6" channel iron placed on saw horses, the floor rails were welded on, and the car body was built. No coaches were used to make Sperry cars. Sperry cars are more doodle bugs than sperry cars. Front truck, body, framework, and propulsion were kept original. Nowadays they use diesel electric propulsion, but even until the late 70's and early 80's, they were still "gas electric." I maintained the roster at Sperry =======================================================================

Evan writes:

It's probably worth noting that, for many railroads, doodlebugs were the first internal combustion power of any kind on their roster. They were, for better or worse, a tentative first step on the road to dieselization. Santa Fe, for instance, bought their first McKeen cars in 1909, 26 YEARS before their first diesel. Heck, in 1909 no US railroad had diesels, and wouldn't for another decade. I wonder if railroads' experiences with doodlebugs eased their minds about placing diesels in passenger service early on, giving us the diesel-powered Zephyrs and City trains years before road freight diesels.

Nicholas L. Pitsch - writes:

Some time ago, I received a printed sheet titled:"Sperry Rail Service Induction Detector Car Rolling Stock Specifications and Service Data" I can only guess it was an official Sperry document of some sort as it lists no copyright date, only "Source: Engineering Files and Car Files".

It lists several cars, including what I would call glorified track speeders built by Kalamazoo and Fairmont to the much-discussed Doodlebugs.

Also see SPERRY RAIL Roster

A listing of the "Doodlebugs"........

105 - Brill 11/29 - became 120
107 - Brill 11/29 - became NYC X8015 
108 - SRS ??/30 - became ??
115 - Brill 8/30 - became 121
116 - Brill 8/30 - became 122  
117 - St Louis Car 8/34 - ex B&O 6005 (Baltimore & Ohio)
118 - St Louis Car 8/34 - ex B&O 6006
119 - St Louis Car 9/34 - ex B&O 6003
120 - to Remington Arms
121 - to Remington Arms
122 - to St Louis Scrap dealer
123 - ex LV 14 (Lehigh Valley)
124 - ex LV 20
125 - ex LV 26
126 - ex CNW 9900 (Chicago & Northwestern)
127 - ex B&M 1151 (Boston & Maine)
128 - ex LV 15
129 - ex LV 29
130 - ex LV 28
131 - ex LV 27
132 - ex SAL 2003 (Seaboard Air Line)
133 - ex SAL 2002
134 - ex SAL 2022 - wrecked on B&M 12/63
135 - ex SAL 2023
136 - ex NYC M-11 (New York Central)

SRS627 Chase Car
Per Jan Olejnik:
This is what they call a "chase car" the large truck runs along testing, and if there is anything that needs to be looked at and hand tested, the mileage and paint mark information is transmitted via a FM data link to a laptop in this vehicle. We find the correct paint marks and mileage and hand test. Then the Test vehicle can just keep going along without stopping.
Per Bob Tegtmeier:
The SRS 107 was built for Sperry in 1930 by Brill and it was a model #75. It was outfitted with a Sperry rail flaw detection system (induction). It was sold to the New York Central as there X-8015 but I do not have that date. It may have been June of 1930 as that is when it is listed as going into service. It worked for may years as a rail test car. It was sold back to Sperry at some point as our X-107. In 1987 Sperry sold it to the museum in Essex, CT where it resides in the weeds somewhere today.
Per Bob Tegtmeier:
SRS 145 was refurbished in Danbury in 1998. It is unlike any current 100 Series Detector Vehicles. It runs with a chase car and there are no sleeping quarters so the crews stay in motels at night like the hi-rail detector vehicles. It is named for Bob McGuire who worked at Sperry for many years.
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