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McKeen Motor Car

McKeen Motor Car is a nationally important self-propelled gasoline engine railway vehicle built by the McKeen Motor Car Company of Omaha, Nebraska. The Virginia & Truckee Railway Company ordered it in October 1909 at a cost of $22,000. The McKeen Car entered regular service as V&T Motorcar #22 on June 2, 1910, operating between Carson City and Minden, Nevada. Number 22 operated on the V&T until it was sold in 1945, a remarkable record spanning thirty-five years and well over 500,000 miles of service.

The car is an example of McKeen's largest motorcar design. It possesses an overall length of 72 feet 9 3/4 inches, a maximum width of 10 feet 2 3/4 inches, a height of 11 feet 9 3/16 inches, and a gross weight of 68,000 pounds. It could carry a maximum of eighty-four passengers and was operated by a motorman and a conductor/baggage man.

The McKeen design incorporated many innovative elements. Its overall shape was an early exercise in aerodynamics. The front of the car is tapered to a knife-like vertical point much like the prow of a ship. The rear of the car is rounded in keeping with early-twentieth-century ideas about air resistance. The roof and sidewalls are curved to avoid sharp angles and the riveted exterior steel sheeting is left relatively free of projections. The car body is braced structural steel with roof and walls of unitary construction, much like a modern airplane.

McKeen Motor Car is most significant as the best remaining example of the first commercially viable use of internal combustion propulsion in rail transportation. Prior to the McKeen Car, railroads relied mostly on steam locomotion. The McKeen, however, utilized a 200 horsepower water-cooled gasoline engine as its mode of power. This presaged the rise of internal combustion locomotion, an innovation that swept rail transport worldwide in the mid-twentieth century.

McKeen Motor Car is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is presently under renovation at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City.

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