Rural Missouri - June 2017 - 9
Left: Mike Groves of Fulton pilots his restored Missouri-Paciﬁc railcar down the line. "It's a great way to see parts of the country you would never see by car," says Mike, adding the little cars
top out at around 40 miles per hour. Right: Members of the North American Railcar Operators Association manually reverse their poppers for the trip back down the rail line.
There also was a favorite run in South Fork, Colorado and yet another in
southern Georgia that left a beautiful impression as well.
"We pulled right into the center of downtown and went into this little place
called Mama's Cafe," says Mike. "It was run by the loveliest woman who served
the most wonderful home-style food."
Before letting them leave, "Mama" insisted they try her lemon meringue pie.
"I'll never forget it," he says. "I think it was the best food I've ever eaten."
Mike also recalls it was the Georgia trip where he met a father and his two
daughters standing by the tracks watching the parade of poppers. When he
stopped, he struck up a conversation with the family and explained to the girls
what a railcar was and what their role had been.
"It was pretty neat to share the experience with them," Mike says. "Teaching
them a bit of history."
His wife recalls an excursion where one of the other railcar operators was
"Any time we stopped, I'd ﬁnd these interesting rocks, and he could tell me
about them," Susan says. "You really get to know the operators in front of you
and behind you because if something happens on the tour, they may be the
ones pulling you back to the rail yard."
As interesting and adventurous as the tours may be, safety is of utmost
importance to the members of NARCOA. Riders must wear colorful vests for
easy spotting along the railway, and they are required to wear boots that cover
the ankle because the steep terrain around the tracks, paired with the uneven
footing of rail ties, can be difﬁcult to maneuver.
Also, all excursions are planned in advance by whichever regional chapter
sponsors a run, and permissions are secured from the rail line. If tracks inter-
sect with a major thoroughfare, plans are made with the railroad to utilize
crossing lights and safety arms. For smaller intersections and country roads,
the cars must slow, and each waves a ﬂag out the door to signal the drivers
behind them as to their intention.
To join NARCOA, an individual must have a mentor who will sponsor him
or her on their ﬁrst trip, teaching them the way of the rails. Tests for rules and
regulations are mandatory, as is national liability insurance.
"It's a very safe hobby, and NARCOA is a really well-run organization," says
Mike of the touring group.
The couple isn't sure where their 2017 schedule will take them, though they
have a few trips they deﬁnitely hope to make.
"One of our favorite trips is still the tour that runs to Fort Leonard Wood
here in Missouri," says Mike. "It's just gorgeous. And when you get into those
Ozark Mountains, you can almost believe you're in the foothills of a Colorado
They would also like to join the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad excursion
in central Iowa, which winds through the beautiful Des Moines River valley
and crosses a 156-foot railroad trestle. Other than that, the Groves are still
"Our dream run is up in Montana," says Mike Groves. "It's 500-plus miles
with several overnight stays. It's on my bucket list, but that one might still be
a few years away."
For more information about the North American Railcar Operators Association, go to www.narcoa.org.
Bethell is a freelance writer from Fulton.
Below, top: A parade of poppers travels down the tracks. Bottom: Those who operate the poppers must be trained to use the controls that speed them down the tracks. Bottom right:
A group of pop-cars waits at a railroad crossing on the Columbia Branch Railroad, a 21-mile short line between Columbia and Centralia.