Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rail Fan No More

As I neared retirement one of the things on my To-Do List was to visit several active railroads in the United States and photograph trains. I had loved trains all my life, and since 1984 had actively engaged in in what's call in America as Rail-fanning. My children grew up chasing trains and waiting by the railroad tracks waiting for the right locomotive to come by so I could take its picture. Indeed my youngest child appears in hundreds of train photographs. In fact there are few pictures of him other than with a train. I used to stand by the tracks for hours at a time to get the shots I wanted. I have many albums full of train pictures I have taken, and box after box after box of loose pictures and negatives of trains.

I retired in January 2002. I didn't buy that pickup with a camper to go train chasing and camping out on trips to catch my favorite Santa Fe R.R. trains in classic places through out the West. In fact I have taken only a few train pictures since I retired. Things change it seems.

One of the consequences of 9-11 was that we began to see terrorist everywhere all the time. Every want-to-be little fascist realized their fondest dreams. Everybody was the enemy. So standing alone by a railroad track with a camera became risky business. Not only did every law enforcement officer that came by legitimately check on you, but many illegitimately told you it was not legal to do what you damn well knew was legal. But to argue with a cop is not wise, especially when they have an obvious tumescent ego involved. What was worse was the non-cop-non-railroad worker security people and general screwballs. People who had no business nor authority to even talk to you who were bound and determined to save America from your photography lest you be a terrorist or some fool who might give terrorist your pictures.

So my days of quite and solitude waiting by the railroad tracks on some windswept rock in Western America were no longer fun. In fact they actually seemed dangerous after a while. So I finally stopped photographing trains in the wild and have to content myself with those that are dead and on display or of those running free as I drive down the road with my windows down and camera inside the car secretly catching their image.


BB-Idaho said...

You are right and there has been quite a bit of discussion about the
railroads vs the train watcher types. But there seem to be many
who have no problems..indeed the
BNSF is working on having rail fans
help keep an eye out for actual
suspicious types. I recently
train-watched along the 'overland
route' the Union Pacific across
Nebraska/Wyoming. Rather than wander the RR yards, I chose those
nice little parks they have set up
along the way. (a few years back
I had sack lunch with a maintenance crew of mostly Hispanics and learned quite a bit
about their work, their hours, where they stayed etc). Green River,WY has a ped bridge across the RR yard that always has a few out of staters atop with their cameras (heck, did that in KC last year). I never miss Rawlins as it sits very remote on the South Pass plateau, yet very often two trains
race through there each way on the
4 track mainline. In the Port Neuf valley on the Idaho-Wyoming
border, my wife was snapping shots
of an oncoming freight for me and
the (obliging? bored?) engineer
gave her 'shave and a haircut on the loco horn. She was as delighted as I was embarrassed.
But the 'trade' magazines like
TRAINS have had several articles on
complaints by railfans being harassed by RR personel, and even
how one should react. As a sometime
trainwatcher, I would much prefer
the track police concentrate on the
dudes with the spray paint that use
rolling stock as a canvas!!

drlobojo said...

I haven't tried any mainline watching since about 2004. Interestingly, I have kind of broken the habit. When I stumble across a train I take advantage of it, and I still ride those that I can.

Feodor said...

My father worked for Santa Fe for his entire adult life, until he died at 56 in 1983. We had Santa Fe paraphenalia all over the house. Scores of “Safety First” pins and caps; notepads with “little Chico” on them. In the last few years, I’ve gone looking for Santa Fe memorabilia. The china Santa Fe used on dining cars was a pattern called Mimbreno. Hard to find and can be expensive.

In the 1970s, my mother got into d├ęcoupage and worked with the annual Santa Fe calendars which featured a print of paintings by artists representing native culture of the Southwest. Most of the artwork comes from the first half of the 20th century and can be found here:

Now I’ve purchased a few from eBay, prints of the paintings.