Motor Cars / Trains of the Panama Railroad

Common labor traveled on labor cars converted from either 40' standard flat cars or from the old French 6 meter dump cars. The middle echelon American employees rode the passenger trains of the Panama Rail Road. The executives at the head-quarters at Balboa made their inspection trips using a fleet of motor cars.

Goethals had started his inspection trips each morning on the Panama Rail Road's morning passenger train. When the motor cars were built he had one reserved for his private use. This car also served as transportation for the important people who came from Washington.

The motor car became a commercial reality on the main line railroads of the United States beginning in 1905. William R. McQueen started building them for the Union Pacific Railroad where he was the Superintendent of Motive Power. By 1907 six of his cars were in operation on the Union Pacific.

The cars used by the I.C.C. were based at Balboa. They were weird and wonderful contraptions with the six cylinder gasoline engine's radiator perched on the roof. The passenger car body towered over the tiny gasoline motor housing and was styled in the best tradition of the previous century.

Because they ran on the Panama Rail Road they complied with the rule book requirements for designating a train They had marker lamps, sockets for flags for daytime operation designating the class of train, headlights, and a compressed air horn.

Narration and some photos from Charles S. Small's "Rails to the Diggings".  Newer Motor Train photo from the collection of Bob Karrer.

Click the thumbnail to view a larger image.

Return to Index