The central problem was how to design a machine that was light enough for road movement and yet heavy enough to start and stop railcars. Hartelius’ solution to this engineering dilemma: borrow weight from coupled railcars to increase the vehicle weight for traction. He designed a coupler head that could be operated from the driver’s seat, and that would raise hydraulically to lift the railcar, transferring up to 49,000 lbs. (22,680 kg) to the wheels of the vehicle.
A prototype was built in 1948 and designated the “Mule.” It went to work in the Whiting plant and was an immediate success. Railcar movement was accomplished in a fraction of the time that the locomotive had required. It consumed little fuel, required little maintenance, and dramatically lowered operating costs compared to the locomotive. Hartelius had solved a difficult railcar switching problem for his company.
In 1950, Marshall began to wonder if other companies were experiencing similar issues and might be interested in a Mule. To find out, he put a “Mule” prototype on a trailer and toured the country, demonstrating the advantages of a mobile railcar mover. We think Marshall Hartelius had a very good idea – and so did many other companies.
Since that day, more than 11,000 Trackmobile units have been put into service in more than 60 countries.
By 1980 Trackmobile had outgrown the Whiting plant in Harvey, Illinois and moved to LaGrange, Georgia as a separate division. In 1987 The Marmon Group of Chicago acquired Trackmobile and merged it with their Switchmaster product line, maintaining the Trackmobile brand.
In 2008, Berkshire Hathaway, Inc acquired a majority of interest in the Marmon Group of companies. Today Trackmobile is a company within the Marmon Engineered Components Company.
Trackmobile has enjoyed a long and successful relationship with the aerospace industry. In 2000, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that provides spacecraft launch services for NASA, bought three Trackmobile railcar movers. The three Trackmobile machines were 4850TM model railcar movers, which they named Larry, Curly, and Moe. The Trackmobile railcar movers were notably responsible for rolling out the Atlas V rocket for its successful May 13, 2003 launch from Cape Canaveral, FL. This was the second successful Atlas V boost using the Trackmobile model 4850TM mobile railcar movers.
The 4850TM machines were chosen to roll the spacecraft from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) to Launch Complex 41. Lockheed Martin engineers responsible for the design of the mobile launch platform and rolling it to the launch pad considered competitive railcar moving equipment. After extensive analyses and tests, they chose the Trackmobile model 4850TM because of its steel wheel design and availability of Trackmobile’s exclusive Max-Tran® weight transfer management and Max-Trac wheel slip control systems. Using these microprocessor-based systems, operator teams were able to precisely synchronize and optimize power delivery and traction. The 4850TM Trackmobile machines pushed the Atlas V poised on its Mobile Launch Platform along two parallel railroad tracks. In addition to the launch vehicle and platform, the 4850TMs transported launch support equipment: a generator and environmentally controlled systems (ECS), a payload support van, a ground, command, control and communication van, and ECS vans.
Trackmobile has maintained its relationship with ULA as it continues to use Trackmobile railcar movers to this day. Most interestingly, ULA does not use a fleet of Trackmobiles—it uses the same three units it purchased over 18 years ago. One vital factor in the use of Trackmobiles is the lack of any margin for downtime when moving rockets or rocket boosters; ULA finds that even after 18 years of use, its Trackmobile machines still provide the high level of consistency and performance demanded of them. Prior to using the 4850TM railcar movers, ULA used locomotives to fulfill its rail moving needs. Now, ULA maintains an on-site Andress Engineering & Associates technician to evaluate their Trackmobiles and ensure their consistent performance. Even with the cost of keeping service and support on-site, ULA has found using Trackmobiles to be greatly more cost efficient than using locomotives.
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