Memories of the Old Rail Bus

Memories of the Old Rail Bus

By Roger Heid

 

Sometime, during the summer of 1953, I think, something new was introduced to our local railroad branch line. They called it a rail bus. At first, I did not get to see it. It would come through twice a day, once around 8:30 am, going south, and once around 4 pm, going north.

Before I got to actually see it, I could definitely hear it. One afternoon, I heard some strange roaring noise coming from the South. I looked up to the sky to see if there was a large low-flying airplane approaching. There wasn’t. Then the noise abruptly stopped. My heart pounded. It must have crashed somewhere nearby.

“That must be the new rail bus. It sure is loud, isn’t it?” my Mom said.

Shortly before 4 pm, the following day, there was bunch of us kids lined up along the iron rail fence outside the station, anxiously awaiting the arrival of this new railroad thing. It wasn’t long before we could hear this rumbling noise coming closer. There it came. Some red in color contraption I had never seen before. A sign on the front of the car read ‘VT 95’. It consisted of two cars, the front car with a diesel engine in it, and a trailer, which was a little shorter. The whole thing was bigger than an ordinary road bus, much wider.

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That same night, I impressed on my Mom that I needed to ride in it, as soon as ever possible. About two painful weeks later, she gave me enough money for a return trip ticket to the next town north of us. After the mandatory hugs and kisses, I took off and headed toward the train station. I had some very important traveling to do, don’t you know.

Finally, it arrived. It stopped right in front me. Immediately, I noticed there was no handle on that strange looking door. Before I had the time to ponder on this, it hissed at me and opened by itself. Something new I had never experienced before.

Once inside the front car, the one with the motor in it, I took a close look at these new surroundings. It was very similar to a regular road bus, just wider. Right away I noticed a single seat, mounted sideways to the right of the driver. An older man sat in it. He looked at me, got up and mumbled something like he knew that I wanted that seat. This was real nice of him.

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Immediately after the station master blew his whistle, the noise from the diesel engine changed from a low rumble to a roar, and we started to move. You can imagine that this was the most interesting train ride I ever had, in spite of it lasting only a few minutes. I knew I had to do this again, but for a longer stretch.

Starting in spring of 1954, I got my chance, numerous times. That was when I started to commute to school daily, Monday – Saturday. There were emotions attached to this, good ones and bad ones. If I caught the morning bus to school, it would mean I had overslept and came late to school, not a good thing. When I caught the afternoon bus to go home, it would either mean we got out early, a good thing, or I else had gone shopping for goodies, after school, an even better thing. You see, twice a week, school lasted until about 5 pm.

The earlier versions of this Railbus proved to be underpowered. There was a stretch of rail, about 20 miles southwest, where they could use only the powered car. It did not have the stamina to drag the trailer up them there hills. Later versions, such as the VT 98, sported a lot more horsepower, often pulling two trailers, when needed. In some places, you could also see these railbuses consisting of four cars, two powered, two trailers.

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As far as I know, these railbuses were decommissioned in 2000, to make way for newer, more modern and efficient versions of this type of train. Needless to say, in my collection there is a Maerklin VT98, pulling two trailers. It has all the lights and sounds. It is charming. Once in a while, I run it for a while, reminiscing the days of youth.

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I know that Fleischmann makes a DC 2-rail model of the Rail Bus VT 95. I saw it on the Reynaulds web site.

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