Early in the 20th century, railroads were looking for a way of to reduce costs for passenger service on secondary lines. A conventional passenger train composed of a steam locomotive and a few passenger cars had high operating costs due to the crew size, fuel consumption and equipment maintenance. The rail equipment industry tried to satisfy this need by inventing all sorts of machines that were propelled with steam, gasoline motors with and without electrical transmissions. The gas electrics were nothing more than a interurbans without wires. Instead of drawing 600 volts DC from the trolley wire or third rail, the motor and a generator created the power.
Early experiments were not the most reliable much like early automobiles which often were towed to the garage by their four-legged predecessor. Railroads had to send a locomotive to complete the run. Over time the machinery became more reliable and the gas electric became a viable alternative to the costly conventional passenger train. A wide variety of railroads relied on this type of passenger and express conveyance.
Northern Pacific B-18 was photographed at the Kelliher, MN depot towing a boxcar to handle LCL freight
I have always admired these machines. The Northern Pacific Railway had a fair number of gas electrics providing service on branch lines often towing a freight car or two. I really like the later cars such as B-12 and B-14 and along with the larger B-20 through B-23 cars. I have been collecting information sufficient to build a car. While I don’t have a perfect amount of data, I do have enough to get on with it. My good friend, Rick Leach, has been a great help in finding technical data and photos of these wonderful cars. He just completed a new set of passenger car decals which included lettering for several of the Northern Pacific gas electric cars.
The B-20 pictures shown above were taken in Brainerd, MN awaiting scrapping. The car served lines in North Dakota for many years. St. Louis Car Company built the car in 1929 for the Northern Pacific. All of the larger cars were rebuilt with diesel power plants replacing the gasoline motors in the late 1940s.
Jim Fredrickson shot the B-14 car in Lewiston, ID. It ran between Spokane and Lewiston until replaced by a RDC. It is a classic design with shutters for the cooling system and even a snowplow pilot for winter. This would make a great model in P48. Another favorite of mine is the B-23 which ran on in Montana and Idaho and later in Washington state. B-23 replaced a conventional train on the Tacoma to Grays Harbor run for a short time.
The B-23 has been illusive in terms of gathering data. I did find a few drawings for details but no overall plans. More information on B-14 was uncovered which would make it easier to do. Both cars were built by St. Louis Car and have very similar features. It may be possible to make a slight leap to use the B-14 information to do B-23. I was able to purchase a number of detail shots taken at Brainerd of B-20. The images are directly relatable to B-23. They show the sides, windows, ends,roof and underframe details.
The above photos are three examples of the collection I purchased. They will be very useful in planning and building my gas electric car. Unfortunately, it will have to wait until my move is complete and I settle into a yet-to-constructed new shop.