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Look Ma No Hands: Cleveland Railroad Inspection Car

For something, a little bit different today’s feature image contains an excellent view of a Cleveland Railroad Inspection Car. The circa-1922 machine was constructed by the Cleveland Motorcycle Manufacturing Company located in Cleveland, Ohio (1902 to ‘o5 and 1915 to ’29). It is not known at this time if this was a production machine or a prototype.

The power plant (above) appears to consist of a standard Cleveland 16.4 c.i. two-stroke engine backed up by a clutch and a two-speed transmission, followed by a shaft and worm gear drive to the sprocket shaft. The sizable horizontal lever on the lower left-hand center side of the machine is the kick starter. The transmission is shifted by a vertical lever on the side of the gasoline tank, the “handlebar” is located on the rear of the tank.

The frame and axles are a built-up weldment of steel tubing. The no-frills pre-OSHA seat is a piece of wood, and the foot rails are made of bent steel strap fastened to the frame by u-bolts. The rear axle brake assembly is actuated by a heel-operated pedal located on the left side of the crankcase. The massive built-up wheels acted as flywheels and consist of a pressed steel rim riveted to a substantial cast center section. Accelerating and stopping the machine is slow, much like its big brother, the locomotive.

Share with us what you find of interest in this photograph is courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

12 responses to “Look Ma No Hands: Cleveland Railroad Inspection Car

  1. On page 216 of the February 2, 1922 issue of Automotive Industries/The Automobile are additional details of the railcar. It shows this same photo next to the following text.

    “Lightweight Railroad Inspection Car. A LIGHT-WEIGHT railroad inspection car has just been put on the market by the Cleveland Motorcycle Manufacturing Co.

    “The powerplant of the inspection car is identical with that of the 1922 model Cleveland motorcycles, except that the gear shift is being operated by a lever instead of by the right foot pedal as on the motorcycle. The weight of the machine is hung low, a large part of it being below the top of the wheel. Both rear wheels are driven and all four wheels are the same size.

    “The speed of the vehicle is low, ranging from 5 to 20 miles per hour. This is advantageous for the purpose for which the machine has been designed, since proper inspection work cannot be done at high speeds.”

    There is also a photo from the right rear with some of the same text in the April 1922 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine on page 544. To view the link, replace the two instances of the word “dot” with a period.

    books dot google dot com/books?id=FjVLAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA39&dq=lightweight+railroad+inspection+car&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiEivDt3bjeAhWC24MKHcNSBKIQ6AEIRjAH#v=onepage&q=lightweight%20railroad%20inspection%20car&f=false

    Ads for the 1922 Cleveland motorcycle state that it had a 3 1/2 hp single cylinder motor, could go 35 to 40 miles per hour, had a gasoline filter, and it could get 75 miles per gallon of gas. Cleveland went to four-stroke motors in 1924.

    • I suspect that you are right. Note that one of the frame’s crossmember tubes has had half of it cut away to provide clearance for the chain.

  2. I’ve seen specially built bicycles that were used by the railroads for track inspection.
    Supposed to be a very unique ride feel.Theres a tiny group of enthusiasts today who ride them as a hobby,mostly on abandoned track.

  3. Is that a generator for the light or a magneto or both? It looks like the spark plug is hooked up to it.

    I see the foot peddle for the brake. I also see a switch on the left with two wires leading to it. I wonder if that is for the light.

    Is the tank in front of the engine for oil?

    Is it really two speed or is the lever a clutch?

    The track seems too narrow for the gauge. (Flanges on the wheels are very far inside of the rails.)

  4. It appears Cleveland lifted the engine and drive unit directly from their motorcycles of the time for this rail speeder, the engine countershaft having a worm gear to drive the primary sprocket. Looks like a standard fuel tank as well.

  5. More vintage rail stuff, please. While trucks are my primary interest, after moving to Colorado, and seeing what an impact railroads had on this area, is simply fascinating. How they built the rail road beds, and dug tunnels ( by HAND) really is a marvel in itself. This machine is a bit late for the Colorado mining boom ( late 1800’s to 1920’s) They would have loved something like this. All they had were hand carts, ( or walked) and I’m sure many track inspectors “pumped” their way through the Rocky Mtns. There’s a group that rides the abandoned rails in restored track cars, this would be a hit. Looking through Google images, there was more than one enterprising individual who said, “hand carts are for the birds”, and many renditions of these motorized track cars can be found. Any time vintage trains are featured, it’s ok by me.

  6. There is a club of hand pump rail car owners around here who ride on abandoned tracks throughout the state. Looks like great fun. I had a talk with an owner. His rail car had beautiful sounding air horns attached by a hose to an air bellows bolted to the floor. I would love to get into this hobby. Would have to get a pickup truck and a trailer too.

  7. As a practical matter as these cars were built with as little excessive weight as possible as they had to be placed onto and removed from the rails manually. A car like this needed to be light enough for a single man to put on the rails and remove in a hurry if operated under ‘smoke signal rules’* by himself. What was being inspected with a car like this was anything on the railroad, including a supervisor inspecting the work of others and/or railroad operations.

    *Watch for trains at all times. See smoke? Quick get off the track!

  8. I wonder, even with such an exposed cylinder, how the engine handled continuous slow-speed operation on a hot summer day without a cooling fan.

  9. This looks like a photo from my childhood! I built a little go-cart that looked remarkably like this, side-by-side seating and all, when I was 12. Of course, this thing probably outweighed my little machine by several hundred pounds! One of my more mechanically-minded friends thought it was hilarious to put a few drops of 40-weight on the brake band’s rawhide and watch me fly into the creek at 25 mph, furiously stamping the pedal all the way. Ha! Great fun (for him!) At at least 500 pounds, trying to stop this sweet little brute must have been a lot of hope and a slow coast-down…

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