Though we aspire to make lasting memories with our own vintage cars, we don’t always require them to embark on awe-inspiring journeys. One such opportunity is offered by the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in the town of Ely. It has recreated the Fairmont A34 Hy-Rail Inspection Motor Car Pontiac station wagon that the railway had ordered new in 1956, and you can ride the rails in it when visiting the museum on certain days, or even drive it for an additional cost.
The Hy-Rail’s purpose was to ease track inspection by providing a means for which the same car or truck could operate on the road or the rails, by attaching an apparatus to the front and rear of the frame to facilitate the latter. The vehicle would access the track (or leave it) at railroad crossings. With the tires positioned on the rails, the flanged guide wheels of the Hy-Rail were lowered, locked in place, and the steering was locked, to make the car track ready.
Fairmont Machine Company, which was established in the early 1900s in Fairmont, Minnesota, became Fairmont Railway Motors Inc. in the 1920s, and it developed the Hy-Rail in the 1940s. During the 20th century, the enterprise became a leading producer of railway service and maintenance equipment, which was sold worldwide. Fairmont was acquired by the Harsco Corporation in 1979, and Hy-Rail system production continued. Among the various vehicles that were converted over many decades by Fairmont were 1956-1958 Pontiac station wagons
With this Pontiac’s front bumper removed, the Hy-Rail assembly can be viewed easily.
According to the company’s brochure, the Hy-Rail employed a hydraulic pump driven by an electric motor, and at the front and rear of the car was a pushbutton to actuate them, a lever to control a hydraulic valve, and a hydraulic cylinder to raise and lower the guide-wheel and arm assemblies. Mechanical locks (with a safety pin) secured each Hy-Rail unit in the wheels-up or wheels-down position and were engaged by a centrally located lever in front and a lever at either side in the rear. A manual steering lock was also employed and featured a light on the dashboard that indicated when it was in use.
The guide-wheels carried a portion of the vehicle’s load when on the track, and Fairmont explained that it was applied through adjustable rubber-cushion torque units, which aided in maintaining a smooth ride. However, the tires, which also rode on the rails, still supported most of the car’s weight and provided the traction for driving and braking