COOS BAY — For a few minutes on Saturday, the tracks beside the Coos Bay Boardwalk filled with pops of color. Orange, yellow, red and blue dotted the view as bite-sized cars sat along the rails.

As the cars, known by owners as "speeders," slowed to a halt, their operators stepped out to stretch — and to collect donations. The group, part of the North American Railcar Operators Association decided to use their appearance this year to collect donations for the Rotary's annual Bus Jam toy drive.

Throughout their stops, the group had collected at least 90 toys, now piled in a nearby pickup, the group's secretary Nancy Andrews estimated. The group does the route three times a year, but this was the first time they'd added the toy drive to their agenda (and the first run of 2020, as others were canceled because of COVID-19).

"It's enough to make some kids happy," Andrews said.

Coos Bay was just a resting point on the journey — they'd been to Coquille earlier in the day, and started in Vaughn, Oregon, a few miles outside of Veneta, on Friday. The 30 cars had come from all over the northwest, including Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho, according to Andrews and her husband Bill, the excursion's leader.

The pair came from Grants Pass, and has been running speeders for 28 years. Bill Andrews estimates he's traveled over 60,000 miles on the rails.

Laura and Mike Wambsgans came from Santa Clarita, California, for the journey. The route, which runs along the Coos Bay Rail Line, is one of their favorites.

"Riding in them you hear the 'clink-clink' of the rail. It's kind of seductive," said Laura Wambsgans, one of the organization's few female operators. 

The Vaughn to Coquille route is special because of the variety along the way, Laura said: It includes forests, water, mountains and covered bridges unseen from nearby highways.

Laura and Mike spent their weekend in an orange and blue speeder — originally from Canada — that they got about a decade ago. All of the models in the caravan were slightly different, from wide and boxy 5-seat vehicles to tight cars with space for only one.

"You get to see parts of the country no one else gets to see," Laura Wambsgans said.

The pair has traveled all over the place: They've covered routes in New Mexico, Colorado and the California coast, to name a few. A few weeks in Alaska and routes in the Pacific Northwest and on the east coast are all on their list for the future.

Their car was built in the mid-70's, Mike said. All of the cars in the caravan retired railroad maintenance vehicles, and can get up to around 45 miles per hour, if the driver is willing to put up with a bumpy ride at that speed. The vehicles are much faster than their hand-powered predecessors, hence the name "speeder." 

The Wambsganses have been married for about 34 years, and operating speeders for 16 of those. They get out around six times a year.

It began for them at a "gas up," a meet up event for tractor collectors, when Laura spotted a speeder and wanted to learn more. (Mike collected antique tractors before he got into speeders, Laura said.)

From there, the couple searched for a speeder of their own, and eventually they found one for sale at a ranch in Santa Paula, California. They bought the orange and blue Canadian one a few years later — and the rest is history.

"It takes a while to feel like, 'OK, we've got this,'" Laura said of running a speeder. "It's better than Disneyland."

Reporter Zack Demars can be reached at worldnews3@countrymedia.net.

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