Back in the late 1950s, Mantua was one of the major players in the emerging HO scale model train market. They quickly earned the reputation of producing top quality locomotive kits and nicely detailed rolling stock... most of the time. But model railroad enthusiasts were somewhat perplexed and were no doubt scratching their heads when this little gem appeared on the market.
It is a Clearance Car. It's purpose was rather simple... it was put in a train and if there were any obstructions that might affect the operation of the train, it would run into them. This could be a tunnel that was too low, a bridge that was too narrow or even a model structure that was placed too close to the track. Whatever it was, the Clearance Car would immediately tell the model railroad operater that he/she needed to move the obstructing object.
Well, that was all fine and dandy but come on... really... What self-respecting railroad would have such a Rube Goldberg contraption on their line? Surely, the engineering department knew enough to make tunnels & bridges wide enough and to not set things like loading platforms too close to the track. No doubt, those who tried to model the prototype were left scratching their head for sure.
My mother used to tell me that when you were looking for one thing, you would very often find something else that you have been missing. So I set out today looking for a Nickel Plate photo book that is part of my collection but cannot be found. While thumbing through one of the books I have, I ran across this picture...
Why, I do believe... it's a track clearance car! And it would appear that it serves a very similar purpose... to make sure that the large load immediately behind the car doesn't run into anything that may damage it. Once again, the "real thing" exists which just goes to show you that there is a prototype for (almost) everything!
Actually, the train appears to be a special movement that is carrying some kind of unique load. The locomotive is followed immediately by the "clearance car." This seems to be built on a standard flat car; note that the sides of this car don't look uniform and neither does the roof. Next comes a gondola that is probably simply serving as an idler car. This no doubt allowed for stopping distance should the clearance car detect a problem. The special freight itself follows with a passenger car. I'm guessing that this passenger car would hold the staff that was accompanying the special load to wherever it was headed. Finally, the train is followed up by a caboose. Remember, we are talking about the days when cabooses were standard on almost all freight trains.
So the next time you see one of those really strange freight cars at a swap meet or listed on Ebay, don't laugh too hard as there just might be a prototype for it... or at least something close. Like I say, you never know what you will find Along the Right of Way...