What is a Doodlebug?

What is a Doodlebug?

By Roger Heid


Have you ever heard of a ‘Doodlebug’? No, it is not some silly insect. Doodlebug is an American slang word for a self-propelled rail car. In German it is called a ‘Triebwagen’. Such a vehicle provides space for passengers and possibly small amounts of freight or luggage; plus it also contains some kind of motor or engine to propel it; no separate locomotive is required.

The history is quite vivid; a whole book could be written. The first one of its kind was built and delivered in England in 1848. It was steam powered and saw service for about two years.

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Typical early Doodlebug pulling a non-powered car

During the following decades, in many countries around the world, more and more railroad companies felt the need for such a vehicle, as it was able to economically provide service on branch lines during slack times.

In the U.S., during the first part of the 20th century, there was an increasing demand for this type of rail vehicle. Many different types, in varying sizes, were built and put into service by the late 1910s. Many of them initially had a gasoline powered engine which turned a generator providing electricity to axle or truck mounted electric motors.


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In Europe, steam powered doodlebugs were built in countries like Germany, France and Czechoslovakia. They were generally referred to as a Kittel rail car. Gasoline and diesel powered models were also developed.

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Some of the larger doodlebugs were powerful enough to pull one or two unpowered cars.

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Later model diesel powered German Rail Buses, such as the VT 75 and VT 135, are essentially doodlebugs.


Maerklin VT75


Maerklin VT135

The gradual development of doodlebugs finally led to very modern trains like TEE and ICE.


Maerklin #36711 ICE

The steam powered Kittel, however, is a real European classic. It was put into service in many places throughout Europe. Maerklin currently offers such a model. Of course, I have one in my collection. It is the smallest steam locomotive I have, also the cutest. It is strong enough to pull 2 small passenger cars I have, matching the style. This is the cutest train I ever did see. It fits perfect into my Era I arrangement.


Maerklin #37258 Kittel

I do not know if anyone makes a DC 2-rail model. I think Roco might do so now, or did at one time.

One Response to What is a Doodlebug?

  1. Ernest Robl says:

    Roco currently offers/offered several versions of the DT1 Austrian dampftriebwagen (steam railcar) in DC. These were walso used by the DRG durigng German control of Austria. (I think this is a re-use of the toolings that Roco acquired from Klein Modellbahn, when it went out of business.)

    This small steam unit did not carry passengers but did have a compartment for baggage on one end. (In German, any propulsion unit that also meets one or more of the following criteria is considered a Triebwagen: carries passengers, carries baggage, has an office for the conductor.)

    The DT abbreviation for this unit gave it an unusual nickname. DT, of course, stood for Dampftriebwagen (steam railcar). But as these small engines ran back-and-forth and back-and-forth over the same short line segment, DT was also converted to Dorftrottel (village idiot!

    – Ernest

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