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Motor Cars from McAlester to Red Oak, Oklahoma 6/24/2023

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I arose and following our Intenet duties, left our hotel and went to Denny's for a good breakfast. I then drove us over to the grade crossing on 5th Avenue in McAlester where the members of the group were assembling and setting their motor cars on the tracks. We parked along the railroad grade with the other cars.

This was an excursion organized by the North American Railcar Operators Association in conjunction with the Oklahoma Railway Museum, a 92 mile round-trip from McAlester to Red Oak and return, on the Arkansas-Oklahoma Railroad. The Excursion Coordinators were Drake Rice and Tom Harrington. Elizabeth had been in contact with Mr. Rice, who was successful in getting us two seats about a week before the event.

North American Railcar Operators Association, or NARCOA, is a non-profit group dedicated to the preservation and the safe, legal operation of railroad equipment historically used for maintenance-of-way. The key phrase in this description is "safe, legal operation". NARCOA members operate their own privately owned railroad motorcars on railroads throughout the United States and Canada during railroad-sanctioned NARCOA excursions. Members travel through some of the most picturesque areas of the North American continent. Excursions vary from one-day, 25 mile trips between two towns to multi-day, 1000 mile trips covering several states or provinces! These excursions are organized by NARCOA Excursion Coordinators. All excursions are approved by and coordinated with participating railroads.

Railroad motorcars or "Speeders" were used by the railroads to inspect the many miles of track for defects and to handle track maintenance. Speeders have been phased out by the railroads in favor of Hy-Rail Vehicles, which are standard road vehicles with retractable guide wheels that can operate on road or rail. Railfans bought the scrap speeders and organized NARCOA in the mid 1980’s. Running a speeder costs considerably less than boating or golfing although some think it’s a hot, noisy and smelly hobby! Some members also own and operate more modern Hy-Rail vehicles.

Arkansas-Oklahoma Railroad

The Arkansas–Oklahoma Railroad started on March 3, 1996, when David Donoley began operations of the line that was once part of his former employer, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Donoley hired out of the Rock Island Line in 1974, leading to a career in various positions with several railroads in the industry. Over the years, he kept an eye on the line that went through his hometown of Wilburton. By 1986, the 71-mile Howe to McAlester section was sold to the State of Oklahoma in the aftermath of the Rock Island shut down and abandonment. The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, later the Union Pacific Railroad, operated the line until the contract was transferred to Donoley. The Arkansas–Oklahoma Railroad expanded on July 7, 2000, by taking over an additional 34 mile segment from the UP between Shawnee to Midwest City.

The details of the trip were: From the set on location in McAlester (mile post 366) we will go east towards Wilburton (mp 335.6), where we will have a rest stop. From Wilburton, where the A-OK offices and shops are located, we will continue on east to Red Oak (mp 322.8) for lunch. In Red Oak across the highway from the small rail yard is a service station that has lunch items. The lunch break will be 1 hour. Then we will proceed back to Wilburton for a short stop and then return to McAlester. We should return around 4:00 PM and be clear of the tracks by 5:00 PM.

Our Trip

Here we met Drake Rice and talked briefly then watched as the speeder car owners unloaded their cars and moved them onto the rails. Once everyone was ready, a safety meeting was held and the final checks were done.

Two pre-trip pictures in McAlester. Everyone boarded their motor cars, with me riding in the rear car with Drake and Elizaberth riding with Guy Lynn in the car in front of us. We then took off with the proper spacing between each car.

Each time we approached a grade crossing, red flags were used to signify that the cars were slowing to a stop. Since Drake and were the last car in the pack of ten cars, we did not have to do this.

The cars were rolling east down this railroad which Elizabeth and I had never ridden.

A bridge across a rural road.

Below this bridge was a road.

We continued eastward.

We ran through Alderson, Oklahoma.

At a few places, everyone stopped so the tracks could be cleared over the rural crossings.

Back on the move eastward.

We ran by the milepost 360 signpost.

Rolling down the miles of track.

Rolling by the milepost 357 signpost.

Crossing a small creek.

Still rolling eastward down the railroad.

Traversing Brushy Creek and its bridge at MP 354.6.

Rolling around another curve.

Passing the Milepost 352 signpost.

Wildflowers were in bloom along our route.

Milepost 351 signpost, approaching Hartshorne.

Slowing down again.

Taking another curve on this railroad.

Crossing another unnamed creek.

Taking another curve on this line.

Crossing Gaines Creek on a 150 foot Pratt through truss bridge.

Gaines Creek.

Rolling eastward down another straight track and past Milepost 344.

Heading by the Milepost 341 signpost and yard limits sign.

Crossing another unnamed creek.

Bandy Creek was crossed next.

We ran by the derail sign for the siding.

Tank cars at Limestone siding in long-term storage since there are no placards on their sides.

The motor cars all took this curve on the way to Wilburton.

The east end of this siding, after which we came to Transload Terminal, built for the movement of frac sand, where there were locomotives.

Arkansas and Oklahoma GP30u 2442, ex. Larry's Truck and Electric 2442, exx. BNSF 2442, exxx. Santa Fe 2472, exxxx. Santa Fe GP30 2743, exxxxx. Santa Fe 3242, nee Santa Fe 1242, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1963.

Arkansas and Oklahoma locomotives waiting for me to pass.

Arkansas and Oklahoma GP35u 2504, ex. Larry's Truck and Electric 2504, exx. BNSF 2504, exxx. Santa Fe 2804, nee Santa Fe 1304, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1964.

Arkansas and Oklahoma GP35u 2511, ex. Larry's Truck and Electric 2511, exx. BNSF 2511, exxx. Santa Fe 2811, nee Santa Fe 1311, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1964.

The red flags came out as we approached Wilburton.

Santa Fe caboose 99284 see below.

Arkansas and Oklahoma B40-8W 567, ex. BNSF 567, nee Santa Fe 578, built by General Electric in 1992.

Arkansas and Oklahoma 50 ton switcher 50, ex. Lone Star Cement, nee Pittsburgh Plate Glass 102 built by General Electric in 1948.

Arkansas and Oklahoma 45 ton switcher 45, ex. Lone Star Cement, nee HJ Kaiser Shipbuilding number unknown, built by General Electric in 1945.

Arkansas and Oklahoma SW1 536, ex. Dowdle Butane Gas 536, nee Chicago Rock Island and Pacific, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1942.

Arkansas and Oklahoma business car 306 "Choctaw", nee Pullman 13 double bedroom sleeper 306 built by the company in 1941.

The Wlburton station and Arkansas-Oklahoma Railway headquargters, where we all could use the bathroom and get a cool drink out of the cooler on the porch.

All of the motor cars in Wilburton.

The car in which I was riding.

My loving wife was riding in this car.

Arkansas and Oklahoma B40-W 581, ex. BNSF 581, nee Santa Fe 581, built by General Electric in 1992.

Elizabeth at her car.

The author at his car. We continued eastward toward Red Oak.

We ran by the Milepost 355 signpost.

We passed the Milepost 354 signpost.

Slowing for a rough crossing of this road.

I would cross this bridge after my wife.

We all went through the 151 foot long, six-panel connected Pratt through truss bridge across Fourche Maline River, which translates into either "Wicked Fork", "Bad Fork" or "Treacherous Fork". The design was created in 1844 by Thomas Willis Pratt and his father Caleb Pratt. and was one of the first that could span distances up to 250 feet.

We slowed down for a rough crossing of the road.

Heading for the next siding.

In the Panola siding were more long-term storage tank cars.

The east end of Panola siding.

We crossed this bridge on the way to Red Oak.

Slowing as we passed Milepost 328.

We rolled by the Milepost 327 signpost.

A mile later was Milepost 326.

Milepost 324 as we parallel Oklahoma Highway 270.

Our car passed Milepost 323 signpost.

We neared Red Oak with a little way to go east.

A pond before we arrived into Red Oak. Elizabeth and I led the way to the Shell station where we enjoyed some snacks then the others followed after they turned their cars.

The lead car from the eastbound trip is now the rear car and the tenth.

Car 132-36 is the ninth car now.

The open car is now the eighth.

This car is now the seventh.

The RPI Car is the sixth.

This Fairmont is now the fifth car.

This blue car is now the fourth.

This Union Pacific car is the third.

Elizabeth's car is the second.

Drake's and my car was now the first car and we would be flagging the entire way return trip.

The cars waiting at Red Oak for the owners to return. We all reboarded then departed back west.

The view before our lead car departed.

Elizabeth was right behind us. We stopped again at Wilburton for a restroom and refreshment break on this very warm day.

Arkansas and Oklahoma caboose 17001, nee Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific 9585 built by the railroad in 1969.

Southern Pacific transfer caboose 1 built by the railroad in 1980.

This is former Louisville and Nashville caboose 6284 built by the railroad which has been lettered and painted for Santa Fe and "Pratt Foods".

A view on the return trip.

The warning signal for the Union Pacific crossing, after which we returned to McAlester about 5:30 PM

Drake Rice and his motor car. A special thank you to Drake for letting us ride with the group today. Elizabeth and I had a fantastic time and thoroughly enjoyed our experience. After thanking Drake and Elizabeth thanking Guy for her ride, we left here and went to Denny's for a good dinner then returned to the La Quinta for the night.