Cart Cruises Abandoned California Rail

Southern California is known for its nearly perfect year-round climate, excellent surf, and extremely high cost of living, but once you get away from the coast things are radically different. Rural California has huge tracts of land run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is publicly accessible to anyone willing to venture into the deserts. There’s not much in the way of infrastructure out there, but [Ryan] does have a unique way of traveling through it using abandoned railroad lines and this custom rail cart.

The frame of this cart is simple enough, it’s little more than 2×3 framing with a plywood deck. Some extra support is added for the motor mount and for the seating location. It uses slightly longer go-kart axles to accommodate the width of the railroad, and a small six horsepower gas engine with a single gear to power the rear axle. There are no brakes other than the riders’ shoes, and while this all seems straightforward enough the real hack here is [Ryan]’s custom wheels. He found that steel or cast wheels were not particularly comfortable on long journeys so after a few attempts he has come up with a home-built polyurethane wheel which is cast in a mold around a steel go-cart wheel and then trimmed on a lathe.

For pure exploration, there’s almost no better place to go than the American west thanks to all the public BLM land available. In this cart, you can explore long distances using an extremely low-cost method of transportation. We’ve added another video of [Ryan] exploring this area below the break to show the cart being used, too, but if you’d like a more multipurpose vehicle to use on abandoned rail near you, take a look at this bicycle which is converted to operate on the railroad.

20 thoughts on “Cart Cruises Abandoned California Rail

    1. Shhh, don’t spread bad ideas around:)

      OTOH, they could make use of all that sun over there by converting the cart to electric: put a golf cart motor, a couple solar panels as the roof, a suitable regulator w/safety etc, then a truck lead battery to use at night and bingo.

    1. A classic from the NFB. Pretty much every Canadian of a certain age saw this in school at some point (on 16 mm film), and/or when it was broadcast on the CBC. It was only recently that I saw the companion making-of/retrospective film, “Buster Keaton Rides Again”.

      Not quite his last work, though – that would be “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, which was made the following year. But this was his last silent film.

        1. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is one my favorite movies. Right up there with “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”. Buster Keaton didn’t act in that one, but very funny and from the same time period.

  1. If I were still out there and had thought about it when I was younger and all, I should have dumped all my worldly possessions and built one of these and gone off to look for a place to live away from all the just become a hermit living off the land out there, no one would have come looking or cared back then. Some one did it where that house a stuff was. That looked like it might have been a nice place at one time. I guy could put together a few carts like that to load up everything he might need and take a couple of critters with him for a start, some goats, chickens, tools, supplies and just take the cart away from the tracks a ways and instead of one of those Predator gas engines use a little diesel plant so the fuel would last longer and go farther. Once a month make a trip to supply up and hit the mountains and places to do a little prospecting till you could find a claim site and live like a king in his own kingdom. Of course I wouldn’t have wanted to be so close to the tracks with my residence. After a series of trips back and forth, some solar panels, a wind turbine, and a list of other items and you would be in great shape, have all the luxuries of city life without the moron crowds. Of course you would want to be sure to have a fuel reserve along with an income you could count on in the bank along with a place to collect mail and all till you could get back and pick it up. And of course all the things that would keep it legal so.

  2. Outside Puerto Barrios, Guatemala the locals make similar carts to pole down the narrow gauge RR. They used ~2-3″ diameter ball bearings as both rollers and side idlers, so a much rougher ride Seemed like there must have been some industry nearby that resulted in those bearings being handy, but I never figured out what it was.
    I long to do the bike outrigger thing, but the RRs here are so humorless. I don’t think they start the trespass process with warnings, even on the abandoned lines.

  3. What a neat trek. I was wondering about the wheels though. If you made them conical so they begin a few inches before the edge of the rail on the inside, and go past the outside for a couple of inches before the flange. I am wondering if the cones would be self centering to some extent, so you could go through areas where the rail is warped in or out. Also, on the outside past the rail could you bolt on tires that are a bit taller so when there is no rail you can still drive. If you built some kind of steering that you could lock you would be golden for between sections of rail.

    It would be interesting to see how this would do going electric with like a 365W panel on the hood and one for the roof. Figure you should get 300W+ in good sunlight.

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