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Bernard Sampson suggested I start a new topic showing photographs of homemade US rail racing cars built in the late 1950s through the early 1960s.

Some 20+ years ago I became fascinated with the subject and began collecting all the period books, magazines and information I could find. That gave me a reference of all the names, cities and even some of the addresses of all the early rail racers. As this was long before the functional internet as we know it today, I started the search using directory assistance. Back then for 35 cents, you were given a maximum of 3 numbers per area, per call. Since some of the names were quite common, there might have been 10 John Doe's living in even a small city. Needless to say I accumulated hundreds of dollars worth of directory assistance calls and hours of research, where today the same searches would take only a few minutes.

Even 20 years ago, I was surprised how many of the early racers had passed away, and of the remaining, how many had long ago disposed of their rail cars. But almost everyone I spoke with was more than happy to talk about the past. Almost everyone... After years of searching I believe I have located all of the surviving cars built by racers who raced in clubs, or were connected with the clubs, that were mentioned in publications of the period. Sadly, the numbers are quite small.

I'm starting with my favorite car, the Mercedes 300sl built in early 1958 by Harry Hedges of the famed Kalamazoo Club. Mr. Hedges unfortunately passed away in the early 2000's. This is the car that appeared in "Table Top Car Racing" by Richard Dempewolff. The building of the body is pictured on pages 116 & 117. The March 1959 issue of "Model Maker" magazine has an article written by Mr. Hedges (pgs. 118-120) on the building of the car. The car is in original condition except the motor, a Pittman DC60, was removed for use in another car. Mr. Hedges was an engineer, and kept quite detailed records. Notice the original pinion gear is wired to the chassis for safe keeping.







 

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Bob Chapman
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Very nice post of the car and pic's.
Rare as hens teeth I bet.
Thanks for posting Phillip
Bob
 

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redstar
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Wonderful car to start with Phil.Its in such nice condition and the history is all documented. You have a very unique collection of these railcars and I hope you will show us all of them. I still have all the photos you sent me years ago. Lets see some more. This is what this section of slot forum is really about.
Thanks,Bernard
 

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Amen, very much looking forward to this Phil.

If that's the original condition of the car, it's in amazingly good shape...

Not really surprising that motors were transferred to the next car: a Pittman cost at least $5, which was a lot of money at the time, even for an engineer...

Don
 

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Hello, and thank you to everyone for your interest and comments!

Don brings up two very good points. The cost of the motor was something I never thought about, however most of these cars were raced, and parts were likely switched back and forth as needed. Clubs awarded concours points, so cars may have been redecorated or even repainted to look their best, and modified to run their best. Many of the cars I've been able to locate were purchased directly from the original owners, so they are all original in that sense, but may have been modified multiple times. Mr. Hedges wrote me a letter regarding the 300sl and told me it was in the exact condition as when it came back from Southport, except for the missing/borrowed motor. However, if you compare the SMEC rims on the car to the rims in the photograph of the car, you will notice the ones in the photograph have drilled holes. Mr. Hedges kept records, but this was all a very long time ago and memories become clouded with time and age.

I hope to be able to post a new car every weekend. A Scarab I'm planning to post was extensively modified and redecorated by Mr. Hedges when it came back to the states after being proxy raced at Southport. He wrote a multiple page letter describing the work. If anyone is interested, I could post some of the details...

Phil
 

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Thank you Philip for this great post. I'd be more than pleased to see what Harry Hedges wrote, and some more pictures too.
This takes me back to my club's second open event, the "Aintree 200" in 1960. A few cars from Kalamazoo were sent to be driven proxy by Brit drivers, and most were of similar chassis construction to the Mercedes in the picture, brass tubular rigid frame, no steering, no independent fron axle movement, 2 pin guides, and Pittmman DC60 motors. These proved to be very fast down the straights but, (like real american cars of that time), poor at cornering and a real handfull to control on the Aintree track.
I think the US tracks tended to be larger than UK tracks, with longer straights and sweeping bends, often banked, and their cars were more suited to that environment.

One such Kalamazoo sports car was entered with the proviso that if it was not very successful, the proxy driver could sell it instead of posting it back to USA.
The proxy driver offered the car for £10, which was quite a lot in those days, and well beyond my budget. I asked if he would sell the Pittman DC60 motor separately, which he agreed to do for £2. So, I now had a second hand motor to replace the Triang MK4 in my Auto Union.

Don Siegel thought that "$5 was a lot to pay, even for an engineer".
Well Don, in those days there were $4 to the Pound, so I paid the equivalent of $8 for a second hand mootor. A new one in UK cost the equivalent of $26 at that time, and were hard to find.
My "Apprentice Toolmaker" wage was £3.26, of which I had £1 to spend each week, so this was an expensive purchase, but worth its weight in gold, as its success over the next 3 years proved.
I'm just completing an authentic replica of my Auto Union using the same tools I used in 1960, (with a "new" DC60 motor this time!)

Keep up the good work!

Geoff Taylor
 

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Thanks Phil,
If my memory serves me well, the Scarab was finished in light metallic blue, with white stripes. It was probably the best looking model at the event, and was one of the few glassfibre bodies around. I think Bob Braverman also made some excellent bodies in glassfibre and Lawrie Cranshaw of Aintree MRCC imported a few for sale in the UK.
I can't wait for a good colour photo of this.

Geoff
 

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Attached are photos of a Scarab rail racing car built by Harry Hedges of the Model Auto Racing Association of Kalamazoo, and proxy raced by Colin Sinclair at Southport in 1959. I obtained the car directly from Mr. Hedges approx. 25 years ago. In a six page letter accompanying the car, Mr. Hedges was kind enough to take the time to describe his thoughts on the construction of the car, the modifications, and his thoughts on rail racing in general.

Built in early 1959, Mr. Hedges describes the car as handling well, with a pivot (swing) front axle, and being faster than the Mercedes 300sl due to lighter weight and Pittman 62A motor. Due to his schedule it was sent to Southport without "competition tuning." He describes the car as the fastest, and most touchy car he had built to date due to the low profile. Because it was so low, the motor needed to be moved further to the rear, which lightened the front of the car and caused some balance issues.

When it was returned from Southport Mr. Hedges removed the swing axle as it had been soldered stationary, and changed the lead weights. He replaced the white striping and numbers because they had been "really chipped up" during practice runs and races. Additionally, he repainted the driver and replaced the steering wheel. Mr. Hedges speaks of corresponding (I assume with Colin Sinclair?) after the race regarding the handling of the car, and speaks of the differences between English and American tracks, drivers, and their preferences. In one paragraph I find particularly interesting, Mr. Hedges describes giving the people at Southport "the right to modify my cars as they saw fit since they were driving them" even though he disagreed with some of the changes. Other entrants refused to give this option, so their cars were raced as received.

Phil







 

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Hi Phil,

Yes I was at Southport when this Scarab was raced. It was in the cafeteria area of a model village called "The Land of the Little People" in the "Winter Gardens" in Southport. I was barely 15 at the time and this event was my first "open" race meeting.
The venue was closed many years ago and became the site of a Safeway supermarket, now Morrisons supermarket.

I'd love to see what Mr Hedges wrote about this.

Geoff Taylor
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Hi Geoff,

I'm amazed that you can remember an individual car after all these years, especially with all the cars you must have seen at Southport. You have an incredible memory! I would love to hear more about your experiences in rail racing. I will send you a PM regarding the posting of Mr. Hedges letters on the forum.

Phil
 

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Hi Bernard,

I received this unpainted driver figure from Mr. Hedges. It appears to be molded from fiberglass (?) resin. Unfortunately, I don't know if this was molded from a carved master or whether it was a copy of a commercial item. As all Mr. Hedges driver figures seem to be different, some may have been carved from wood, or molded from a carved master.

Phil



 

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Hi Phil,
In post#9 you mentioned that the wheels on the Merc had been changed from those in the photo in the book. I think it is most likely that it is only the wheel inserts that were changed. The wheels are from an S.M.E.C. kit of a car with spoked wheels. The inserts from the photo in the book were most likely from an S.M.E.C. mercedes Benz W154 kit, as it's inserts were made to look like the drilled drum brakes of the GP car, along with the spokes. I had one of these as my first serious rail car as a 14 year old.

Regarding to your Harry Hedges models, do you have his Kurtis 500 which raced at Southport GP in 1960?
It struggled with the top and bottom of the sharp drop at the end of the top straight, due to its length and front and rear overhang resulting in the chassis touching the rail at start of the drop, which resulted in the guide missing the rail, and at the bottom of thedrop, where the car's long rear end caught the rail again.
I learned this lesson with my Merc W154, and decided to build an Auto Union C Type, with minimal overhang front and rear, and a low polar moment.

Keep them coming!!

Geoff Taylor
 
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