As railroads developed the problem of maintenance also surfaced and required attention.  Getting a workcrew to the site was a problem as there were rarely roads near the adjacent track.  So crews would ride the track to the site with the tools to do the work.  However if the track is live the car that transported the crew would be in the way.  Then someone came up with an idea of a lightweight car powered by humans that could be pulled off the track as needed.  The first cars used cranks but that caused fatalities.  Then Sheffield came up with an idea of pumping the car which proved to be a lot safer. The idea caught on and were used until small gas engines became available.

Above is a pump car in the Yakima Canyon prior to 1920 directly below where the the abandoned Yakima Tunnels are today.






Yes women, families, and children can operate pump cars

Above: working pump car in the yard

Left: courtesy of the Mason collection

Pump cars are not the only human powered vehicle used by the Northern Pacific

The velocipede, albeit also a bicycle, for rails was a 3 wheeled track car pumped by hand.  It is supposed to be a one man vehicle but on occasion men would dress up in their Sunday best, anything to get their picture taken.




(Public Domain)




The pump car met its demise as the gasoline engine became more available.  To the right is the 1913 Adams car with an engine directly coupled to the wheel  (there was no clutch).




I want to thank Mason for allowing me to use some of his pictures and sharing his Northern Pacific pump car.  Please visit his site to learn more about the history of pump cars.

SHORT HISTORY OF MAINTENANCE VEHICLES courtesy of Nevada Northern Railway Ely Nevada