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What's the Definition of a "Critter"?

walkersville-01.jpg (30495 bytes)

Walkersville Southern #1 meets most folk's definition of a Critter
Photo by Nick Siebold


The Definition of a Critter

Compiled by from the Critters Mailing List

This discussion comes up on a regular basis, so I have kept a running list of what most of us consider a critter. Bear in mind, most folks will tell you that "You'll know a critter when you see one" and the exact definition will vary from person to person.

Power Source:

Any type of power source counts in critterland:

  1. Gas/ mechanical
  2. Steam
  3. Hydraulic
  4. Compressed Air/Stored Steam
  5. Electric
  6. Horse powered
  7. Man powered or..
  8. "Hot air" powered, i.e. Stirling Engines (lots of talk about critters
    that should be or are proposed on this list...)


Any scale will do, it depends on what your interests are....


In most case people consider a critter to be a "locomotive" of some sort but, almost any self propelled railroad car could be a critter. We tend think of a critter as "locomotives" that that moves other cars or around, this helps to narrow down the list of potential critter a bit....


Most would say no more than 3 tons, but, there are more weighty locos that are still "small" in size and therefore count as critters. IMO weight is not a critical issue but many folks use it as a prime critter benchmark.....


In most cases we are talking about loco that come close to a x-4-x wheel arrangement. This tends to limit the overall size of a loco which tends to put any small loco by default into the critter category. Again, there is no hard or fast rule here - a shay does not fit this rule but many list members consider the smaller versions critters.... A double trucked loco of any construction may apply as a critter as long as it tends to follow the other critter "identification factors". Any loco that looks small beside to the equipment it typically handles tends to be called/ considered a critter....


Any loco that runs/ has run/ will run in the direct support of industry or pleasure, verses regular mainline service, is typically considered a critter. This allows the inclusion of such things as park trains (although IMO they are scaled down "working models" of non-critter equipment) and MOW service equipment of all types... Like "size" and "weight", "use" has no hard and fast rules - there are critters that fit into the mainline category i.e: Welsh tank locos that are truly critters. There are industrial locos that don't fit the critter label because of weight or size factors. There is MOW equipment that most would not consider "locomotives" but they still pull cars on the mainline and are small and light....


Critter are typically narrow gauge locomotives (3 feet or less) but again there are true critters that run on "standard" gauge track....


This might be the best way to determine a critter from a "non-critter" locomotive, but the guidelines used to determine exactly what a critter "looks" like seem to be on an "as required" basis - to move one's favorite loco to the high seat of critterdom <G>.

Common Features:

I offer the following as a starting place, these factors seem to be common across all the critter offered up on this list as critters:

  1. Has a Small cab, or no cab at all!
  2. Is self propelled, by some means....
  3. Has steam era details but is not a steam locomotive (sand domes, wood cab, headlight, etc.)
  4. Has side rods on "drivers"
  5. Has External or exposed gearing/ drive train (chain drive, gears on drivers, etc.)
  6. Was once something else but is now a locomotive (i.e: tractor/ truck to loco conversion
  7. Has operational details that are not commonly found on a "normal" locomotive (winch, crane, etc.)
  8. Was a "one off", is/ was unusual in construction for its day (although it may seem common place today)
  9. Is/ was crude in construction (for its time)
  10. Has a lack of "finish" or "style" typically associated with locos of its time period


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