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Antique Trackmobiles in railroading for the modeler to savor

By Steve Sweeney, Trains.com Digital Editor | April 25, 2022

Quirky street locomotives for modelers to savor

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Antique Trackmobiles in railroading: black and white image of traction engine moving freight cars.

Antique Trackmobiles in railroading, is one way to describe them. The photographer of Pennsylvania Railroad No. 445 uses “doodlebug” in his caption. They’re more descriptively described as “rubber tired switchers” on a Pennsylvania Railroad railfan site.

Antique Trackmobiles in railroading: black and white image of traction engine moving freight cars.
“Ever see a locomotive like No. 445 that doesn’t need tracks? This is one of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s ‘doodlebugs’ — real gasoline diesels with regular Pennsy numbers — that weave, on solid rubber tires, through heavy traffic on Baltimore streets. They spot cars in the industrial area where clearances are limited. Notice the regulation couplers. The steering wheel is like the spoked steering wheel of a ship.” H.A. McBridge photograph

Whatever you call them, the trackless locomotives once employed by railroads are clearly ancestors of today’s Trackmobiles and similar mobile railcar movers.

I bring this to your attention, not to show you that you can move freight cars without a locomotive. No, Timken demonstrated that with its famed roller bearing publicity stunts back in the day.

Instead, I present to you this photograph and accompanying links as positive proof that railroads (no lesser a railroad than the Standard Railroad of the World, mind you) used something other than diesel-electric boxcabs, 0-4-0 switchers, GE 25-tonners, and the occasional tank engines long before “Trackmobile” was a proper noun.

I have re-printed the caption as typed by the photographer and corrected in ink decades ago.

The date stamped on the image is Dec. 24, 1952 … meaning this weathered locomotive has been plying the rails for years and as late as 1952. According to the railfan site, Pennsy’s first rubber tired switchers started out as electrics in 1912, but were later converted to gasoline. They served in “Jersey City, Baltimore, and Philadelphia”. So, from 1912 to at least 1952: 40 years of service.

They are oddballs, yes, but 40 years make these worthy of duplication on a model railroad somewhere. Don’t you think?

Now, before you say that’s too hard to kitbash, I’ll give you a head start: It looks like a cross between a steeple cab and an early solid-tired Mack truck. Really, Ford Model TT solid tire wheels could work too. Add styrene bits and there you go: A prototypical, early 20th century rubber tired switcher.

So remember, before you roll your eyes, guffaw, or waive off in exasperation — there’s a prototype for everything!

2 thoughts on “Antique Trackmobiles in railroading for the modeler to savor

  1. Can’t speak for Baltimore or Philly, but they were a fixture in Downtown Jersey City until Colgate Palmolive closed down in the early Eighties. I actually got a ride on one when I was 10 years old.

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