Moving cars …(without a locomotive)


Using the old John Deere to position a BNSF box car at a rice mill in Beaumont, Texas 2007. photo by C. Hunt

It is fascinating all the different ways that have evolved to move or unload freight cars without locomotives, many of which weigh well over 100 tons.

Track Mobile in Winona MN.

Track Mobile in Winona MN.

The need arises in industries that need to shuttle cars for various purposes but the volume is low enough that the industry cannot justify having a locomotive on hand.  An example is an industry that unloads covered hoppers over one or a few unloading features such as a grate. 


Using a cable system to move sand cars in West Texas. Photo by B. Smith

Sometimes the unloading device can move so the cars don’t have to move.


Auger connected to tractor. Fosston, Minnesota 2010. Photo courtesy –


This auger was positioned to unload the below string of cars in Odessa, Texas June 21, 2008. Photo by C. Hunt

Cars awaiting unloading.

Sand cars awaiting unloading.

Lastly, one of my favorites…


The manual rail mover. Photo courtesy –

This devise is good for moving one car short distances at about five feet a minute.

This is the first installment of a three part series on this topic.  This post was a quick overview.  The second will focus on a couple of industries in greater detail.  The last will show how this aspect of railroading has been modelled on B. Smith’s LCN Railroad layout.

Note: The image of a tractor pulling a covered hopper is courtesy, Photo © –E. Clark


Revisiting one of my favorite spurs in Texas



View of spur from road looking west.

Along the Union Pacific in San Marcos, Texas, there’s an interesting short spur.  The spur was busy June 16, 2014 .  Two cars filled with what appears to be oats were spotted.  I discussed this same spur during the series on derails March 29, 2014.


CNW 490119 spotted in San Marcos, TX on June 16, 2014

The unloading operation is simple and great for a model railroad–lots of operations, little space required.  All you need is an auger.


There are no kits of an unloader of this nature.  It is a nice scratch-building opportunity.  Here is a post of one modeller’s efforts.


The oats unload into this bin.


Bin into which the oats are unloaded.

Then brought up the auger and put into a truck.


CGEX 1781 spotted at San Marcos, Texas, June 16, 2014

This time, there was a second car waiting to be unloaded.  It had an aging, but attractive Cargill logo.


The derail I discussed March 29 is still on the job!


Here is an aerial of the spur.


Aerial of spur

Here is a close-up.  Truck to which the oats are unloaded can be seen in this photo.


Note truck with red cab standing by to receive unloaded oats.

Short spurs like this can add a lot of operational interest to layouts.