People waved and snapped photos Saturday as tiny railway motorcars, lights flashing, zipped along the railroad tracks from Napa to St. Helena.
The 32 restored, gas-powered railroad speeders, which once transported railroad crews along rail tracks until they became obsolete a few decades ago, were traveling through the Napa Valley with the green light from the Napa Valley Wine Train personnel.
“It’s fun,” said Elizabeth Monhoff of Calistoga, as she and her husband, John, and the other hobbyists gathered for a safety meeting at Napa Valley Wine Train’s yard.
The group gathered before the speeder cars headed Upvalley at 12 to 15 miles per hour or so, drawing the curiosity of walkers, motorists, cyclists and others.
Bob Courtemanche, a retired high school teacher, came with wife Eileen Keaveny, a retired psychotherapist. Courtemanche became interested in the hobby two years ago after taking a ride on a speeder car.
“It’s just really different,” added Courtemanche, of Pollock Pines, referring to his relatively new hobby.
“I’m not really a train guy. I’m a car guy — anything with a motor is kind of neat for me,” he added.
His wife, who helped paint the vehicle, enjoys the trips. “You get to see places that you wouldn’t normally see because we go where there’s no roads,” she said.
Mary Lou Corzine of Pine Grove said she and husband Bill, a retired truck driver for Safeway, have traveled in their motorcar in Saskatchewan, on Vancouver Island in Canada and in the United States.
Her husband was looking for a hobby both of them could do when he became interested in buying an old motorcar a decade ago, said Corzine, 74.
“Old people can do this,” said Bill Corzine, 76.
One of the organizers, Napa resident Carl Shellhorn, a member of the Pacific Railcar Operators, a hobbyist group, brought his 9-foot-long restored Kalamazoo speeder and a passenger trailer for a few guests for Saturday’s 18-mile run across the Napa Valley floor.
Shellhorn, who is also the longtime skipper of Sea Scout Ship Chaser, Napa’s Sea Scouting organization, grew up with a love for the railroads, trains and all things mechanical. As a boy, he rode speeder cars periodically in Alaska, where his father, Frank, worked for Alaska Railroads.
“I was born with rusty iron in my veins,” said Shellhorn.
Now 64, Shellhorn rebuilt his Kalamazoo box car in 4½ months in late 2010 and early 2011. He had spotted it a decade earlier in a Sonoma County field and obtained permission from the property owner to haul it away and save it from the junkyard. He and a buddy decided to restore the speeder car in 2010 to enter a run in Sonoma County.
“It’s just fun. You get to see different places because railroads go where roads don’t go. And in a lot of cases, you get to see scenery and country that you never see from the highway,” Shellhorn said Friday at his yard at Carl’s Welding and Repair Service.
The trip was coordinated with Napa Valley Wine Train personnel. Kira Devitt, director of marketing for the Napa Valley Wine Train, welcomes the speeder cars.
“Why not? It’s fun,” she said before boarding Shellhorn’s passenger car. “We like preserving parts of history.”
“Usually, people smile when they watch the speeder cars go by,” noted Tod Hill of Lodi, as his speeder car traveled toward St. Helena. “You’ve really got to be a grouch to be unhappy seeing these go by.”
For information on the old speeder cars, check narcoa.org.