On prototype railroads, vegetation control is essential for several reasons. Perhaps most important, it allows ballast to do its job: draining water away from the track. A weed-choked right-of-way would be highly vulnerable to problems in wet weather, probably leading to derailments. In addition, vegetation control increases the life of ties, helps prevent wheel slippage from material on the track, and improves a railroad's appearance. Beginning around the 1950s, trains spraying herbicides replaced manual labor and burning as the primary means of weed control.
Weed spraying trains are generally home-built in a railroad's shops, and no two look alike. The common thread is a funky looking sprayer unit followed by a string of old tank cars; occasionally a crew car of some sort is tacked onto the end.
The weed sprayer is the runt of the litter of rolling stock - so ugly you've got to love it. While our model follows a Union Pacific prototype, similar trains operated and still operate across the nation. Our sprayer/power car has that "cobbled together from what we had in the junk pile" look that characterizes the most endearing maintenance of way gear. The most readily identifiable pieces look like they came from an old boxcar and a flatcar, and the trucks appear to have come from a wrecked or retired first-generation diesel. This MOW train is appropriate for any railroad and any period from the late1950s through today.
For the model railroad operator, a spray train opens up some neat possibilities. On real railroads, an issue with sprayers and other maintenance-of-way gear is keeping them out of the way of mainline trains. Adding to the problem is the low top speed of most MOW gear, and the very low speed required when the spray train is actually applying herbicide. If you operate with the M.T.H. Digitial Command System (DCS), you can limit the top speed of this train, and, using the speedometer on the handheld controller, enforce a lower spraying speed - 15 mph, for example. Then give the operator of your spray train the job of maintaining the right of way while ducking into sidings to get out of the way of revenue-producing trains.
Separately-applied details on our model sprayer/power car include grab irons, handrails, horns, spraying apparatus, roof hatches, headlight, see-through grilles on the left side of the body, and a clutter of equipment on the rear deck, including a complex piping array. A driver sits at the detailed control console, coffee cup in hand.
The PFA ("Passenger/Freight Announcements") sequence on our powered spray train simulates a crew performing a spraying run; it's a neat little drama that will delight visitors to your layout. The crew tests the compressor, turns the spray on and off, warns a group of railfans to get out of the way, and then finishes the operation. The lighting on this model also adds to the fun. The front end sports five red lamps, a bright headlight that operates when running forward, and cab illumination. There's also a flashing warning beacon below the front windows. If you're looking for something completely different, this is a great piece of equipment: odd-looking, fun to operate, a bit whimsical, and a great sideshow next to flashy mainline trains.