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Scratch Building A Critter… and What is a Critter?

The term “Critter” is one of those not so common model railroading words that confuses many in the hobby.

It is hard to put an exact definition on what a “Critter” is, but generally it could be any self propelled locomotive that runs as a support engine to move other cars around as opposed to being in regular mainline operation. Critters are often reasonably small (3 tons or less) with a small cab, or in some cases no cab at all. Most have a x-4-x wheel arrangement but some in the hobby would argue there are no hard or fast rules on what defines a locomotive as being a “Critter” or not. Some would say a double trucked locomotive of any construction could fit the definition whereas others might disagree. Could a small lightweight piece of MOW equipment that is not considered to be a “locomotive”, but is still capable of pulling cars on a mainline, be a Critter? Would a “Shay” fall under the definition, or would only a small Shay fit the definition? When is a critter, a critter, or not a critter?

Over the years I have heard people define a variety of locomotives as being “Critters” when others might disagree, so it is one of those railroading terms that perhaps we could do without? You might disagree. Anyway, it would be interesting to here what others think, and how you might best define a “Critter.”

critter scratch build

That brings me to a question posted by William who asks others:

“Howdy, this is William and I have been busy with trains again. I have this project…an On30 mechanized bugger. Here is a photo of it that I found on-line. The driver sprocket is covered by a plated cover. I have seen this part and want to purchase one and can’t remember where I saw it. Please help with identification: manufacturer, item#…thanks in advance!”

If you would like to answer the question from William, or give your thoughts on what defines a loco as a “Critter”, then used the COMMENTS link to have your say, or to see what others have to say.

3 Responses to Scratch Building A Critter… and What is a Critter?

  • Sheldon Clarksays:

    I suspect “critter” is a word that is restricted to North American English. In Britain, we would normally use a small shunter or possibly a tug (rare). Other language communities would have different terms, such as “draisine”, “locotracteur” or “Kleinlok” perhaps.

  • David Stokessays:

    That beast in the photo is definitely a “critter”, as are all small, often “homemade” internal combustion catastrophes found in backwoods and other remote rail based transport systems (logging, plantation and outback systems). Steam locomotives are rarely called “critters” but there is probably an example to prove me wrong!

  • williamsays:

    My specific question is:

    Where can I find the drive sprocket cover, the cover over
    the wheel axle?

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