Dan Willey

“There’s usually some beauty out there that’s only accessible by railcar.” 

–Dan Willey, North American Railcar Operators Association member

Former service motorcars became obsolete when railroads advanced. Nowadays, enthusiasts seek these relics as vehicles for excursions, sometimes using them for journeys as long as 10 days. Raleigh native Dan Willey is one such enthusiast, and it’s led him to explore the beauty of North Carolina along the way, he says. When Willey was first introduced to the pastime by a friend more than a decade ago, he thought to himself, “If I ever retire I’ll have to revisit this hobby.”

He retired from IBM in 2011, revisited the hobby, and four years ago purchased his own motorcar. Willey found his Canadian Woodings railcar, of which he’s the fifth owner, and it weighs over 1,500 pounds. It took some work, but after a few years of TLC the car was up and ready to explore. “A lot of these cars are at least 35 years old. They were made to last 10 or 15 years. … Many people don’t modernize it. They want it exactly how it was. I’m more about operating the car. I just want the thing to run properly.” He says the hobby has opened his eyes to undiscovered territory across the state. “There’s so many areas that are untouched by humanity, except for the railroad tracks.”

As a member of NARCOA, the North American Railcar Operators Association, Willey has a network of other aficionados. Together, they seek out excursion opportunities; outings on small railroads near and far can bring up to 35 railcars. The trips usually consist of a lunch stop, and sometimes an overnight stay. “The hobby seems a little goofy until you get out into the country and experience the beauty.” –Catherine Currin

photograph by Terry Lillich / Carolina Media Star