Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe M160 Doodlebug

Posted by on Jun 17, 2013 in Blog | 5 comments

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe M160 Doodlebug, Grapevine Vintage Railroad, Grapevine, Texas

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe M160 Doodlebug

–  Click on the image to enlarge or purchase  –

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe M160 Doodlebug

In the United States, “Doodlebug” was the common name for a self-propelled rail car.  Developed during the early 20th century these rail cars, most of which were powered by gasoline engines and not diesels, enabled railroads to reduce operating costs associated with light branch and secondary lines that saw either little passenger and/or freight traffic.

The earliest history of the doodlebug can be traced back to the General Electric in 1904.  It was then that the company’s engineers realized that there may be a market for a self-propelled rail car.  They were quite different from the rail cars of similar appearance used by the interurban and streetcar industry, which were powered by electricity.  These cars would utilize some type of self-contained engine for power.

The original test car, constructed in 1905, was a standard baggage car retrofitted with an automobile gasoline engine from the Wolseley Motor Company of Great Britain.  GE decided to use this specific engine for two reasons; first, it contained adequate power for their experiment but at the same time did not need the high horsepower as a standard locomotive engine given that it was only to be used for light passenger and freight duty.  As it turns out their hypothesis proved to be correct.  Using two, 75 horsepower traction motors and a 600 volt generator this test car was able to carry nearly 70 tons of cargo.

This self-propelled test car, known as GE #1, was tested between Saratoga and Schenectady, New York where it reached speeds upwards of 40 mph.  A year after this car was tested, engineers further improved on the original design and built GE #2, which used a V8 engine that was much lighter than the Wolseley engine.  This second experiment used a car built by the Wason Manufacturing Company from Springfield, Massachusetts and overall was more than 50% lighter than its predecessor.  Around 1908 the company debuted GE #3, a third demonstrator that was more powerful and a bit lighter than the previous cars.  It also saw more publicity than its two predecessors.

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe M160 Doodlebug, Grapevine Vintage Railroad, Grapevine, Texas

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe M160 Doodlebug

–  Click on the image to enlarge or purchase  –

In the end, when General Electric concluded its rail car business to focus on main line electrification projects it had sold more than 100 doodlebug units, many of which were custom tailored to individual railroad’s specifications.  Soon after, in 1922, the Electro-Motive Corporation was founded in Cleveland, Ohio picking up where GE had left off with the express purpose of marketing self-propelled rail cars.  During EMC’s tenure of doodlebug construction, which is often considered the era in which the car truly came of age, it utilized car bodies built primarily by Pullman Standard, J.G. Brill, and the St. Louis Car Company (the latter two of which were of interurban and streetcar fame), featuring the same setup as GE had used; baggage/combination designs with a sliding door for freight/mail and a rear area for standard coach seating.

The doodlebugs found use on many Class I railroads as well as many numerous smaller operations.  They were used to service the lightly used branch and secondary passenger and freight lines.  The Transportation Act of 1958, which attempted to reinvigorate commercial railroads in the US, doomed doodlebugs as it decreased the power states had to regulate railroads in providing passenger services over these lightly used branch and secondary lines.  As a result, these routes either ended passenger operations or were outright abandoned thus removing the primary need for the car.  While most were gone by the early 1960s, Sperry Rail Service found a second life for some cars, which were retrofitted and operated into the 2000s checking for internal rail-line defects.

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe M160 Doodlebug, Grapevine Vintage Railroad, Grapevine, Texas

Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe M160 Doodlebug

–  Click on the image to enlarge or purchase  –

The doodlebug in these images is a M-160 Class built in 1931 utilizing a Brill Motorcar Company body.  It was used on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe’s vast network of rural branch lines firstly in the area of Amarillo, Texas and later around Wichita, Kansas.  Seen here in the red and silver “warbonnet” paint scheme, this unit is now owned by the Museum of the American Railroad who’s new site in Frisco, Texas is scheduled to open later this year.  During the move from its original site at Dallas’ Fair Park, the doodlebug was stored at the Grapevine Vintage Railroad where these images were captured.

Please click here for more information on Doodlebugs

5 Comments

  1. Great write-up and images Jimi. i love these trains. Nicely done.
    Len Saltiel recently posted..Waiting for the FerryMy Profile

  2. Great read and images, Mark. Love these old trains, man. Its great to see these historic machines preserved.
    Jimi Jones recently posted..Condominium EntranceMy Profile

  3. What a great series of a great machine, love that color! awesome work
    Michael Criswell recently posted..Old MoneyMy Profile

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