Model railroad gang car by Lionel. These were replaced eventually by cars with flanged wheels — even Minis.
Photo by David Schwartz
They’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad
by David Schwartz
My introduction to railroad track maintenance vehicles was the Lionel #50 Section Gang Car. This small motorized unit was manufactured from 1954 through 1964. My father bought the gang car to supplement the Lionel train set he gave me in 1959. I was only two years, old so the trains were really for him. My father used to play Gomez Addams: the locomotive chased the gang car and vice versa. Lionel also produced the #68 Executive Inspection Car (modelled after a 1958 DeSoto station wagon), a handcar, and several other maintenance vehicles.
Handcars were used for railroad maintenance starting in the 1860s. Two operators manually pumped up and down on handles for propulsion. They fell out of use around 1920, replaced by motorized track cars. Basic track inspection vehicles (known as speeders) are completely open and powered by small engines. The earliest speeder was built in the 1890s.
By 1915, the Ford Model T had been converted to an inspection vehicle. Luxurious executive track cars followed, built by Buick, Cadillac, Packard and other companies. Modern car or truck-based maintenance vehicles have retractable flanged wheels, the idea being you drive the vehicle to a railroad crossing, lower the flanged wheels onto the tracks and away you go.
There is a community of hobbyists that collects, restores and operates inspection vehicles, with clubs arranging for track time. My friend George Contrada owns several track maintenance vehicles and once took me for a ride on his speeder at the Connecticut Trolley Museum. George’s speeder has a 5hp two-cycle engine, is completely open and lacks a reverse gear. Retractable handles are extended to pivot it around or lever it onto the tracks (shades of the Peel P50!).
George recently sent me a link to the Railroad Motorcar/Speeder Operators Facebook page that featured a photo of a classic Mini with flanged wheels. The Mini did not have regular wheels or tires and was sitting on the tracks. The Canadian National Railway (CN) once owned ten classic Minis adapted for riding the rails.
CN Mini inspection car dedicated to rail use with special flanged wheels.
Photo courtesy Railroad Motorcar/Speeder Operators
While searching the web for Mini track car information I came across several websites documenting Australian Railway Mokes. Mokes too were used as track inspection and maintenance vehicles. Of course, there were Moke variations due to track gauge differences across the country. The rail Mokes featured retractable flanged wheels that were lowered onto the track.
Several other Australian railroads also owned rail Mokes. The Tasmanian Government Railways (TasRail) purchased 16 to 26 Mokes between the late 1960s and late 1970s. TasRail Mokes had special rail wheels with tires that ran on the track and were backed by steel flanges. To accommodate the rail wheels, the Moke front end was modified by moving the shock-absorber mounting points inboard by about 2”, and the rear subframe was narrowed by 3 1/4”.
The rail wheels could not be used on roads. All four wheels had to be changed out for rail use, then changed back for road use. A jack channel was added in the middle of the Moke to raise the entire side at once. An experienced operator could change out all four wheels in eight minutes. Radial tires were used for their improved durability on the steel rails.
Some TasRail Mokes were fitted with steel canopies. Their bodies were painted yellow. Before driving on the tracks, the steering wheel was locked in the forward position.
Moke in Australia fitted with retractable rail wheels.
Photo courtesy The B.M.C. Experience
The last reported sighting of a rail Moke was at the 2009 MiniFest in Tasmania. Several of the CN Minis are in private hands and have been restored. Since NEMO is now the authority on Mini variants, we should be prepared to help with class assignment if a Mini track car or rail Moke registers for Stowe’s British Invasion!
[References: Railroad Motorcar/Speeder Operators Facebook page, Moke Werx, “Railway Mokes” from The B.M.C. Experience, and The Section Car Pages: Mini Mokes.]
Virtual Annual Meeting Apr. 25!
We usually hold the NEMO Annual Meeting in March. It is a good time for socializing, event planning and club business. Once again, COVID has thrown a spanner in the works, so instead we will hold a Zoom meeting on Sunday, April 25th, at 7:30 p.m. And we hope that “normal” events can resume by late summer or early fall.
Many New England spring and early summer car events have been postponed or cancelled. Last year numerous NEMO members participated in socially distanced drives organized by other groups. I would like to schedule a NEMO group drive and picnic for May or early June. We can discuss the details during the Zoom meeting. I will send out a Zoom invitation in late March and a reminder in April. —David Schwartz
MME2021 Website Now Live
The website for Mini Meet East 2021 in Dayton, Ohio, is minimeeteast.com (or https://minimeeteast.regfox.com/2021) and you can fully register on the site.
This year’s event will mark the Ohio Mini Owners’ 50th anniversary, and is shaping up as follows.
Friday, July 2 — Registration will be open in the afternoon for pre-registered participants to pick up their materials if they want. Drive ’n Dine at 7 p.m., for small groups (10-20) at local restaurants.
Saturday, July 3 — Registration opens in the morning, Group Tour to the Packard Museum, then to the British Transportation Museum, lunch (included), “Mixed-up Car Show” and outdoor tech sessions. Drive ’n Dine at dinnertime, for small groups (10-20) at local restaurants, and Young’s Jersey Dairy Ice Cream Run.
Sunday, July 4 — Kids’ activities (USAF), Concours, swap meet, Funkhana, RC races, rocker cover races, tech sessions (hotel parking lot). Box lunch from Jason’s Deli (included).
Monday, July 5 — Panoramic photo, tour/rally, then parking lot party at the hotel in the afternoon. Dinner at 6 p.m. (banquet, included) and Hot Wheels competition.
Please note this year’s event includes three meals as part of your registration. Looking forward to seeing you all in early July in Dayton. —MME2021 Committee
The joint Victoria and Vancouver Mini Meet West 2021 team has been monitoring the prospects for the Canada/USA border opening to non-essential travel, as well as the restrictions on public gatherings and event sizes, and the vaccination roll-outs.
Consequently, the Victoria and Vancouver Mini Meet 2021 team has made the hard decision to cancel MMW2021 in Victoria, B.C. We do not feel that we will be in a position to hold the event, given the increases we are seeing in cases and variants, border closures, and the slow process of vaccinations.
We do not make this decision lightly, but we realize that protecting the health of our Mini friends and their families, as well as our sponsors and partners, is a higher priority than holding the Meet.
In B.C., we will not see the majority of the province vaccinated until late in the year. There is no target date from the Health Authorities on when we may increase numbers for events. Currently we are not allowed any large events, especially one that would have 250 people and the general public attending.
What happens next?
The MMW2021 team will be closing the registration page and issuing refunds to the attendees. The fees paid will be returned as paid in Canadian currency through PayPal (minus the PayPal fees, which PayPal keeps) in the next few weeks. Please note that with currency fluctuations between the Canadian and U.S. dollars, the USD refund amount may vary slightly from when you registered. It will take some time to process all refunds, so please be patient.
The block booking for the host hotel is cancelled and all reservations within the block will be cancelled at the same time. Attendees do not need to call in. However, if you had made extended reservations or other reservations for accommodations or ferry reservations, you will have to cancel these yourself.
The Vancouver Mini Club and the Victoria Minis Car Club hope to host a Mini Meet West in the future so you can come and enjoy what B.C. has to offer. Thank you to everyone for your support and for your understanding.
Any questions, please e-mail Mike Smith at MMW2021.email@example.com.
Thank you to our sponsors, Seven Mini Parts and Cedar Valley Alignment, for their support of MMW2021. Please continue to support our sponsors as they help keep your car running or complete your rebuild for next year’s MMW! —MMW2021 Organizing Committee
MINI Won’t Take the States
Announced February 15th: Due to COVID-19 individual state restrictions that remain unknown and vaccine status nationwide, the 2021 “MINI Takes the States” has been postponed until 2022.
No new 2022 date is available. MINI says the route may be changed to be more “geographically inclusive” also. —Dave Newman
Show and tell via Zoom: Iain’s rally plate from the 1992 London-to-Brighton Mini Run.
Photo by Iain Barker
Virtual Holiday Get-together
by David Schwartz
On December 6th a small but enthusiastic group of NEMO members gathered on Zoom for a virtual Holiday Party. Clearly all of us have spent too much time on Zoom, as technical glitches were few. We sent out a list of Party activities ahead of time, and there was plenty of unstructured time to catch up with each other.
Attendees voted on the most festive outfit. Bill Gaudreau won with a Yoda theme. Nuala Barker dressed as an elf (not the Riley variety) and was the runner-up.
Several members reported on socially-distanced drives and car projects. Ken Lemoine has been making steady progress on his 1924 Model One Bay State sedan, a rare automobile built in Framingham, Mass.
Faith Lamprey and Bruce Vild created a NEMO trivia quiz, which Iain Barker won. I put together a slide show with photos from the past year. Many of the photos previously appeared in the newsletter, though it was fun to see them full screen-size and in color.
As a special treat I included go-kart racing photos from Mini Meet East 1998. (Bruce forgot he gave me copies a few years back.) This took place at the Seekonk Speedway’s “slick” track, which was oiled so the karts would slide, spin and, if you were good at it, drift. The object soon became bumping Faith’s kart as opposed to winning a race, as the slideshow photo album at https://photos.app.goo.gl/rKhByGy2LuywoPHc8 will reveal. Feel free to add comments.
We invited everyone to share Mini memorabilia. Iain displayed a rally plate from the 1992 London-to-Brighton Mini Run, the event for which he hastily rebuilt an Mk3 Austin Mini 998. Details are in the June 2017 newsletter, which you can view at http://www.nemomini.org/nemo/nemoweb_archives.cfm.
I shared a Morris Mini Traveller “Wizardry at Work Again!”’ advertising brochure from the early 1960s.
Since we can’t hold an in-person Annual Meeting, we hope to hold another Zoom get-together in April. We should have a better handle on the event season by then.
Show and tell, part two: David’s brochure.
Photo by David Schwartz
Tentative 2021 NEMO Calendar
June 11-12 — BMCNE’s British Motorcars in Bristol, Colt State Park, Bristol, R.I., www.bmcne.org.
June 18-19 — MINIs on Top, Mt. Washington, N.H., https://www.minisontop.org/.
June 18-20 — Mini Meet North, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bowmanville, Ont., Canada, firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 3-5 — Mini Meet East, Dayton, Ohio, https://minimeeteast.regfox.com/2021.
July 17-25 — MINI Takes the States, https://www.minitakesthestates.com/.
August 29 — CT MG’s British by the Sea, Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford, Conn., www.ctmgclub.com/BBtS.html. Rescheduled from June 6th.
September 2-6 — Lime Rock Historic Festival 39, Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Conn.
September 5 — Sunday in the Park Concours & Gathering of the Marques (part of the Lime Rock Historic Festival), http://limerock.com/labor-day-historics.
September 10-12 — British Invasion, Stowe, Vt., http://www.britishinvasion.com/.
September 17-19 — New England British Reliability Run, https://www.nebritishreliability.org/.
See the NEMO website, http://www.nemomini.org/nemo/nemoweb_events.cfm, for the latest information.
Hrach at a local autocross circuit.
Photo by Bruce Vild
Remembering ‘Mr. Mini’
by Faith Lamprey & Bruce Vild
On October 31st, Cesar Chekijian posted the following message on the NEMO Facebook page, which NEMO’s Iain Barker copied to our Google group:
“It is ten years ago today when my brother, Hrach Chekijian, passed away. The BBC in a documentary called him ‘Mini Enthusiast Extraordinaire.’ Between 1970 and 2010, he owned over 50 Minis, drove coast-to-coast with a Moke, was involved in re-introducing the MINI with BMW, and in his last decade, sold several hundred new ones at Peabody MINI in Massachusetts.
“Over 700 people came to his wake, funeral and memorial, with a long procession of Minis from all over New England, New York and as far away as Ohio and Virginia. No doubt he has replicated it all in Mini Heaven by now!
“Anyone remember Hrach Chekijian?”
Remember Hrach? Who can forget him? For some of us he was our first contact with the world of Minis, and for others already involved with Minis the man to see for parts, advice, and Mini-oriented fun.
There’s a rumor that when the film that became the Mark Wahlberg/Charlize Theron version of The Italian Job was first being considered, the cars pulling the heist would be VW’s New Beetles. Hrach, the story goes, would simply not have that, and he lobbied and pulled whatever strings he had to make sure those cars would be MINIs — and Paramount Pictures had no choice but to go along.
Hrach clowning around amidst his Mini memorabilia. Yes, that’s a bed.
Photo by Faith Lamprey
Whether that’s just a tall tale we suppose we’ll never know, but it certainly goes along with Hrach’s larger-than-life persona and reputation worldwide as “Mr. Mini.” It is true that he counted rally legend Paddy Hopkirk among his friends, and that at a Mini Meet in Charlestown, S.C., he had to work his way through a crowd, all delighted to see him and to shake hands, to get to where the Meet’s welcome reception was taking place. He made it, but it took a while.
It was Hrach who gave NEMO, at the time just a fledgling group, the courage to host our first Mini Meet. This was in the Boston area in 1998, and it included a police-escorted parade of Minis down Commonwealth Avenue that took everyone in the city by surprise. Ask anyone who was privileged enough to participate what a wild ride that was and how amazing it was that Hrach pulled it off.
Privileged? We all were privileged to have had Hrach as our “Big Guy,” the President of our club, from its very beginning. At MINI of Peabody, he was the man who sold us our first MINI — and was nationally recognized as one of the top, if not the top, MINI salesmen around. The parties at his home in Watertown, Mass., were legend, the Mini-styled jewelry he crafted was exquisite, and if he took you for a ride in one of his cars it was… well, exhilarating.
Hrach, Mr. Mini. Remember him? Of course we do.
[Contrib. Ed. note: You can find the documentary and other videos by searching youtube.com for “Hrach Chekijian — BBC Profile.” —DS]
Installed, a truly high-mount brake light. All three brake lights here are in the ‘dim’ mode.
Photo by George Sykes
Installing a High-mount Brake Light in a Classic Mini
by George Sykes
Classic Mini brake lamps are only 22” off the ground, which is pretty low. Replacing the standard bulbs with bright LEDs improves safety, though a driver in a large SUV or pickup may still not see you brake. A high-mount third brake light is the way to go.
However, most third-brake-light solutions in Minis mount the light on the rear parcel shelf. This is still only 36” up, which is lower than a modern sedan’s brake lights (40” on my Ford Focus), and several feet lower than a full-size SUV or pickup.
After some Internet searching, I found the Morimoto “5Stop Brake Light,” a universal third brake light. They’re designed with five 5W LEDs with a rated lumen (lm) output at 12V of 400lm in dim mode (running light) and 800lm in bright mode (brake light), with a 4-amp draw. The LEDs are enclosed in a machined aluminum waterproof casing. I bought mine from The Retrofit Source for $40. I decided to mount the light near the top of the rear window, at 45” for maximum visibility.
I removed the rear window and edge of the headliner to aid in fishing wires along the roof. The Mini roof has a cavity between the inner “skin” and the outer roof, which is where I planned to attach a custom bracket for the light. I made a cardboard template for the mounting bracket to get the size, dimensions, and angle correct before cutting any metal.
The Morimoto light comes with a bracket, but because of the angle of the roof and window I couldn’t make it work. The light has two threaded 5mm x .8 holes in the back, perfect for mounting to flat sheet metal. For the bracket I used 1/16” 304 stainless sheet that I bent on a sheet metal brake. However, a vise and rubber mallet can be effective in shaping a piece this small, especially if you use mild steel.
After cutting the cardboard template and adjusting the shape and angle, I transferred the shape to the sheet metal. I used a 4 1/2” grinder with a cutoff wheel to cut the stainless, and finished the edges and final shape on a belt sander. For a bit of style, I drilled “racer” holes in the bracket. I thought about bead blasting the stainless and painting it satin black, but ultimately decided to polish it.
Once I was satisfied with the fit and location, I carefully cut holes in the edge of the headliner to expose the area where I planned to install two 5mm x .8 Rivnuts (rivet nuts.) The roof cavity lends itself to using Rivnuts. It is deep enough to drill into without getting near the outer roof skin. Rivnuts are blind installed and provide a machine thread hole in sheet metal. Installation requires a Rivnut tool with the correct mandrel. There are numerous videos and graphics on-line if you are curious. McMaster-Carr sells the tool and nuts.
Inside view of bracket and wiring.
Photo by George Sykes
A pet peeve of mine is people always saying, “Ah, English cars have Lucas electrics, the Prince of Darkness, blah blah blah.” My experience is the electrics aren’t the problem, it’s the mechanic(s) who previously worked on the car! The first question to ask when you have an electrical problem in an old car is, “Did you check the ground?” But I digress.
The wiring is pretty simple in a Mini and there are multiple sources for wiring diagrams. The Haynes manual has them, and the Mini Forum has excellent redrawn wiring diagrams. I’ve used both. The most difficult thing is knowing the correct year of the car. The color of the wires is laid out in the BS-AU7 standard (Google it or see the Mini Forum.) The brake lights use a green wire with a purple stripe and grounds are always black. For the sake of the next owner of my car, I used the correct color wire to connect the high-mount light.
You can spend most of a night reading about the “best” way to connect wires. Crimp, solder, a combination of both, or the evil Scotch Lock (don’t use them!). My preferred method for splices is solder and adhesive-lined heat shrink.
The Morimoto light has three wires coming from it, black (ground), red (dim), and yellow (bright). I decided to extend the Morimoto wires by 4 feet so they would reach the Mini’s right-side brake light. I used nine-strand green/purple wire (rated for 5.75 amps) purchased from British Wiring in Pennsylvania. I spliced green/purple wire to the red and yellow wires to provide the ability to change the brightness. Obviously, black was used for the ground.
I pulled the wires through a PVC sleeve (also from British Wiring) to protect them in the roof cavity and rear pillar. At the Mini’s rear brake light, I spliced a female connector to the green/purple wire to allow switching between the two brightness levels. I soldered an eye to the black wire, insulated it with heat shrink, and attached it to a clean ground on the light casing. I connected male connectors to the other wires (green/purple) and labeled them with regard to their brightness.
In hindsight, I could have saved some time and just done the low setting, which is really bright. The high setting is super bright and not necessary for this application.
Nearly finished bracket with LEDs.
Photo by George Sykes
When you’re working by yourself it is difficult to check your brake lights. My method was to jam a block of wood between the driver’s seat and brake pedal. Once I was satisfied that everything worked correctly, it was time to reinstall the rear window.
I don’t profess to be an expert on Mini window installation, but I’ve put in a few and have a preferred method. First off, the rubber seals sold by most of the Mini suppliers are stiff and don’t last. I happened upon a supplier of Japanese Mini parts called Classic Minis Japan. The gentleman who owns it is David Ainley. He sells an excellent window seal and locking strip, plus a bunch of other cool bits that are made in Japan. (You can find him on Facebook or classicminisjapan.com.) The seal is very pliable and easy to work with, and the locking strip is much brighter.
The only tools I use are a soft rubber mallet, a plastic bicycle tire lever made by Pedro’s Bike Tools (this brand only, the tip is flat and smooth), a Lisle 48600 offset locking strip tool (much better than the type most Mini suppliers sell), and a tube of “water soluble personal lubricant” such as K-Y. Some say to use soapy water — but dishwashing soaps can contain salt, which you don’t want trapped anywhere near the steel window opening. Others say to use a string. This Japanese window gasket doesn’t require the string method and running the risk of cutting the seal.
If you’re using a seal from the U.K., soak it in warm water to make it pliable. If you’re using the Japanese seal, warming is unnecessary unless it’s really cold in your garage. Place the seal into the opening and gently tap it home with the rubber mallet.
Use a little of the lube in the window slot. Place the window in the opening and use the Pedro’s tire lever to work the edge of the seal gently over the window. Patience is important. Work a little at a time, with the goal of getting the window in without breaking the glass.
Once the seal covers the entire window edge, manipulate the window and seal to make sure it’s fully seated and centered. Determine which opening in the Lisle tool is closest to the shape of the locking strip. Lube the groove for the locking strip, start at the top in the middle, and gently push the locking strip into the groove with the tool. About halfway around you’ll get the hang of the tool and things will go smoothly.
Trim the locking strip a little long as they always seem to shrink. Remove the tool, and push the last bit in. I generally wait a few days to install the half-round stainless seam cover over the locking strip. Cleaning fingerprints from the window will probably take as long as the installation!
[Contrib. Ed. note: George owns a 1992 Mini 1275 carbureted saloon, the last version before single point fuel injection. —DS]
[Exec. Ed. note: Mention of any product in this article reflects the opinion of the writer and should not be construed as an endorsement of that product by this publication. (Standard disclaimer language.) —BV]