The Story of Appalachia’s Buda Motor Cars

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ewv-114The Buda Company, based in Chicago, Illinois, rose to become the nation’s largest manufacturer of railway products by 1921, boasting that their products were used “on over 98 per cent of the railroad mileage of the United States.”

Among their many products was the Buda Motor Car, which was powered by various means through the year, including hand crank, gasoline and diesel. The cars were designed for the purpose of transporting small gangs of railway workers along portions of train tracks.

Often referred to as “Speeders,” the open air railroad cars were manufactured by several companies until the early 1970s, when major railway corporations by in large ceased the widespread use of the vehicles.

One individual, Truman Koehn, remembers riding the “Speeders” as a child:

“During the fall, when I was older, my Dad would borrow a gang motor car and on weekends during pheasant season, a half- dozen of us would climb on the motor car… There was no problem with rail traffic as no trains operated on weekends on one or both of these north lines. The railway permitted this; my Dad would always get a clearance from the operator on duty [telling him that] we were out on the line hunting in a motor car. We’d travel well over 100 miles in that motor car…”

Though certainly outside of their intended design and often without approval of railroad companies, employees and local families throughout the Appalachians would often commandeer the small vehicles in order to travel distances locally, trusting that the posted train schedules were accurate.

One of the most common of these vehicles was Buda’s “Motor Velocipede.”

Ads targeted at train signalmen appeared in publications throughout the early 1900s, alleging that the vehicles were “Simple enough for a boy to operate.”

One ad which appeared in the January 1909 edition of The Signal Engineer explained how the cars worked:
“There is nothing intricate about a Buda Velocipede Car. Al you have to do is to propel the car about 25 feet with the hand lever (just as you do an ordinary speeder) then reach forward and pull back on a small lever and you’re on your way.

“The hand lever is next thrown out of gear and automatically locked in any position desired, giving a rigid hand hold and foot rest. No – cranking – no pushing – no leap frog. It is just the car you have been looking for. Everybody who has seen one of these cars is enthusiastic about it.”

The Buda Company even allowed financing of the vehicles to “properly accredited signal men.”

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