* Updated * Just the other day we featured a postcard of a McKeen Rail Car in Portland, Oregon and in this post can be found a number of interesting photos and patent application drawings covering the unique machines. The McKeen Motor Car Company of Omaha, Nebraska was the builder of most these internal combustion engine-powered railroad motor cars. The photo above shows one that was operated by the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Union Pacific management started the venture in 1904 by asking William McKeen to develop a way of running small passenger trains more economically than was possible with steam by using gasoline engine power. McKeen was the Union Pacific Railroad’s Superintendent of Motive Power at the time and produced a unique design that was ahead of its time. The Railroad built the first four cars, and subsequent units were constructed by McKeen in leased space at Union Pacific’s Omaha Shops.
The McKeen Motor Car Company was founded by the designer, and around one hundred and fifty units were built between 1906 and 1917. Gasoline engines as large as 5650 CI that produced between 100 and 300 hp were used, and speeds of over eighty mph were possible under ideal conditions. Over the years, a variety of drive mechanisms – gasoline-mechanical, gasoline-electric, and diesel-electric were tried. * Update * Read more about one of these machines below in the December 31, 1909 Railway World.
Unfortunately, it appears that McKeen’s internal combustion engine designs were not up to the task. The streamlined Motor Cars performance suffered due to power plant reliability issues and a lack of sufficient power in most cases.
For further information about these unusual machines visit the McKeen Car Website. Thirty-one patents received by the McKeen Motor Car Company and the drawings can be seen here. The Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, Nevada, has a re-powered restored McKeen Rail Car that you can also view.
- Self-contained Railway Motor Cars and Locomotives, 1921. –
- One of two McKeen Rail Cars in service in Australia – Photo courtesy of the Museum Victoria.
- An engine room photo courtesy of the McKeen Car Website.
- Self-contained Railway Motor Cars and Locomotives. –
- An interesting article in the December 31, 1909 “Railway World”.