- Associated Press - Saturday, October 1, 2016

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - If you played with trains as a child - or even as an adult - an excursion on a North American Railcar is a dream come true.

For Bob Wonderling of Lake Villa, Illinois, as a child, he would watch as small motorcars passed through the railway in his hometown.

“I grew up near the rail yards and I always saw these when I was a wee-little kid,” Bob said. “(I said,) ‘Someday, I’m going to have one of those. ‘And someday I did.”

His wife, Ainsley, who describes herself as a “fair-weather hobbyist” of the motorcars, says it’s the dream of every young boy to drive their very own train.

And with the North American Railcar Operations Association, this dream is made real.

“That’s what it is, they don’t grow up,” Ainsley said, jokingly, as she prepared to travel through downtown Kokomo in a two-tone, yellow and green railroad motorcar with her husband.

She added that now, with NARCOA, every boy gets to be their own engineer of their very own train.

Bob and Ainsley are on their 10th year of excursions as members of the NARCOA, a nonprofit group founded in the 1980s after rail-only motorcars were phased out.

The group is dedicated to the preservation and safe and legal operation of historical railroad equipment. And on these excursions, members operate railroad motorcars, or “Speeders” as the vehicles are also called, on railroads across the U.S. and Canada.

Each year, the group makes a stop through Kokomo. On Saturday morning, members began their journey at Kokomo Grain on West Morgan Street, through downtown on their way to Logansport.

And for local residents like Bonnie Boone, she appreciates traveling through back roads and discovering new parts of Kokomo she’s never seen before.

“Most all the people are a joy to be around,” Boone said. “And then you get to see a lot of country that you’d never see from the road going on the rails.”

Many years ago, these Speeders were used by railroads to inspect railway tracks for defects and to handle track maintenance, according to the NARCOA website.

Since then, Speeders have been phased out for a more up-to-date maintenance and repair car known as a Hy-Rail Vehicle that travels by road and rail. But those who remember the motorcars of before have kept the memory alive by utilizing these vehicles for a unique purpose.

“We can find an excursion pretty much anywhere in the U.S., almost every weekend,” said Jaime Samuell, excursion coordinator. “Some of them ranging from 15 to 20 miles, to hundreds and hundreds of miles that lasts weeks on end.”

The trips happen year-round in some of the most beautiful parts of America.

And you can do a New Years ride in North Carolina, or ride out in California all year round, Samuell added, as these excursions allow train enthusiasts to see the country in a more intimate and extraordinary way.

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Source: Kokomo Tribune, http://bit.ly/2cPXM1r

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

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