HAMLET, N.C. — Hartsville resident Phil Gandy’s bright yellow railway motor car, a Fairmont Speeder, is now on display at the Hamlet Depot and Museums’ Tornado Building.
On loan from Gandy, the speeder is the eight-man rail maintenance and repair vehicle that replaced the venerable hand cars of days gone by.
“This speeder is a model S2 section car,” Gandy said. “The section crews would use it to go out and do track maintenance. It was built in 1952 and under optimal conditions, fully loaded with an eight-man crew, it could run 40 miles per hour or better. It replaced the pump car, where you’d have someone pulling a lever to make it go.”
As for the terms of the “loan” to the Tornado Building, Gandy was explicit.
“As long as they want it,” he said. “I have nine of these cars, and that’s really too many.”
Gandy said he always loved the Seaboard Coastline Railroad and used to bring his two sons to Hamlet often for a visit to the railroad museums.
“Back in the ’70s and ’80s when the National Railroad Museum and this one were both here in the same place,” he said, “we’d drive up here and spend the whole day just watching the trains go by.”
Hamlet is where Gandy met his wife, after all. She attended the Hamlet nursing school for a year before the two married, and she completed her training elsewhere. But something about the Hamlet railroad found a special place in his thoughts.
Now that his sons are grown and busy doing their own things, Gandy said his two granddaughters are the most likely to become his new trainspotting companions.
As for what kind of man has the time and financial resources to invest in buying unused rail cars, his career as an independent car specialist hasn’t hurt.
“Most of my career, I’ve been a service specialist for luxury German cars,” he said. “I didn’t work for a company, just did it on my own. I’m interested in all things mechanical.”
Gandy is involved in a hobby called recreational railroading and is active in the North American Railcar Operators Association, NARCOA. According to its official website, “NARCOA is a nonprofit group dedicated to the preservation and the safe, legal operation of railroad equipment historically used for maintenance of way.”
Few people outside the rail enthusiast circles realize that it is indeed legal to own and operate rail cars on designated tracks, or that long-distance journeys are available for those who enjoy a breezy roll through North America’s diverse landscapes aboard them.
“NARCOA members operate their privately owned railroad motorcars on railroads throughout the United States and Canada during railroad-sanctioned NARCOA excursions,” the website explains. “Members travel through some of the most picturesque areas of the North American continent. Excursions vary from one-day, 25 mile trips between two towns to multi-day, 1,000 mile trips covering several states or provinces” and are coordinated with participating railroads.
“Once I got a ride on one of these that belonged to someone else, I had to have one,” Gandy said. “Lots of them were available in the ’90s, the early ’90s. I also have a caboose that I bought in 1989 from the Hamlet rail yard.”
Also a member of Red Springs and Northern Railroad Foundation Inc. in North Carolina, Gandy said his group there owns 12.5 miles of railway. From Hartsville, that’s about an hour and a half drive. Even driving to Hamlet is almost an hour from home, but that doesn’t stop Gandy from enjoying his hobby.
“We just go and have a good time doing recreational railroading,” he said.
To learn more about recreational railroading, visit www.narcoa.org and redspringsandnorthern.com.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @melonieflomer.