You MAY Just be a Railfan ...

The following was posted to the Misc.Transport.Rail.Americas NewsList after composition (as indicated below) by a group of Real RailFans (tm) from San Diego. I have taken the liberty of composing it into HTML, and adding some of the follow-up commentary that showed up on the list.

And on November 21st, 1997, I received some additional ones from Tom Livermore, of the CPRSOO mailing list. Those that weren't in the original list have been appended at the end

I hope you find this as amusing (and in many cases, relevant) as I do. Apologies to those whose names are not mentioned.

Here's the Original ...

Subject:  You know You're a Railfan when ... 
Organization: San Diego Railroad Museum
Date: Wed, 1 May 1996 18:43:14 GMT

(Posted for Randy Houk, who suffers from a Posting-Challenged newsreader)


Several of us San Diego Railroad Museum members have come up with
some thoughts as to what characteristics and/or actions might define
being a railfan.  I'm sure that we've covered all the possibilities. ;->

Have fun!


You MAY just be a railfan, if...

... When being served dinner, you say "Easy, easy, that'll do!" as you've gotten enough.

... When driving across the tracks, you sound a "long long short long" on the horn.

... When you approach a rail-grade crossing and the gates come down, you say "All right, a train!", while drivers in other cars are saying "Oh no, a train!"

... When driving down the highway at night, you're trying to determine which of the headlights coming towards you is an oncoming train on the parallel tracks.

... When the train on which you're riding pulls into a station for an extended stop, you walk around the train taking photos of it with your 35mm, and video with your camcorder.

... When planning your next vacation, you choose your travel route based upon the location of active railroads and railroad museums.

... When you notice that your collection of railroad video tapes outnumbers your other collections.

... Your license plate frame reads "My other car is a locomotive".

... You spend many of your weekend days helping to preserve railroad history at the San Diego Railroad Museum.

... Your engagement takes place at a popular railfanning site

... When you get a shopping cart with a bad wheel, you tag it and set it aside for the shops to repair.

... You have an urge to "skate" your cars wheels while parking on a hill.

... You would rather sleep in a caboose than in a suite at the "Hotel Del" (or any others for that matter) while on vacation.

... If you won the lottery your other car would be a Pullman!

... You shop for a house by the tracks instead of away from them!

... Your highlights from your roadtrip to Las Vegas is Cajon Pass & Barstow's yards, not the "BIG" jackpot at the casino's slot machines.

... You turn down a date with an intriguing new person because it's your turn to fire a steam locomotive...

... You insist on consummating your marriage in the cab of a locomotive, with the whistle cord within easy reach......

... After asking someone a question, you say, "Over."

... If you are riding in a car driven by your wife, traffic suddenly comes to a complete stop just in front of you and you yell " Big hole! Big Hole!!"

... If most of life seems to be just patient waiting till the next time you get your hand on a throttle or firing valve!

... If, while attending a Philharmonic concert deep in the throes of Berlioz, you long to hear the throaty tones of a Nathan 6 chamber steam chime echoing off the sides of a rocky cut, accompanied by the pounding beat of a compound articulated working hard at about 25mph!

... If, while attending one of the Joffrey's more avant-garde productions, you drift off into a muse of whether a story about a ballet troupe massacred in a train wreck would make a successful movie!

... You find yourself in the BNSF training facility and it takes no amount of effort to smile like the Cheshire Cat.

... When you run a BNSF locomotive simulator, you feel like you know what heaven is like.

... If the world looks like one big train set.

... and Here are the Additions ...

How about:

You know you're a railfan when ...
... You spend a day and a half installing and testing equipment you designed for freight cars at the AAR's Transportation Tech Center outside of Pueblo CO, and then visit Chama NM and ride the Silverton train out of Durango CO before going back home!


... you've been on the train for over 3 days straight (Coast Starlight + SW Chief) when you encounter a 5 hour layover in Chicago (before a 14 hour ride on the Lake Shore.) How do you spend your layover time? Riding the L, of course! Got some great photos - I love those rapid transit grade crossings.

You know you are a railfan (foamer) ...
... when you know Elle McPherson is making a personal appearence at a department store near you but you'd rather photograph the GP30's that you just heard on the scanner. (I know the person who did this!)

You know you're a railfan when ...
... being served dinner, you say "Easy, easy, that'll do!" as you've gotten enough.

How about,

... "three car lengths ... two more ... 1 more ... ten feet ... five feet ... one foot ... that'll do!"

You know you're a railfan when ...
... while planning your next vacation, you choose your travel route based upon the location of active railroads and railroad museums.

(I plead guilty, your honour!)

I used to drive from Cleveland, OH to Albuquerque, NM every summer, taking as much pretty sweet time railfanning as I could afford in the process. My non-railfan friend always thought it was insane driving that far. "Gosh, how long did it take you?" they'd ask. I always had a tough time answering that do you explain making a long trip even longer to people who wouldn't understand the reason anyway?

... when you get a shopping cart with a bad wheel, you tag it and set it aside for the shops to repair.

Does it count if I park the cart in an aisle and put up a blue flag in front and behind it?

... you shop for a house by the tracks instead of away from them!

Well, we are looking for a lot to build on! Our concern is not just with it being by a railroad track, but to speculate if the railroad track will still be in use ten years from now. I wonder if the vendor will let the deal be conditional on this? :-)

How about this:

You know you're a railfan when ...
... You get into a heated discussion with your wife/girl friend that her favorite color is not jade, but Penn Central Green. Or that's not rust but boxcar red, or that dark blue is really CSX blue, etc, etc.......

You know you're a railfan when ...
... the Crew from the Shop attacks the Local Steakhouse you hear

"Lets MU all these tables together!"

... You don't know where a town 5 miles from your home is because it doesn't have and never had a Railroad.

... You give directions by naming the names of the Railroads that you cross on the way ...

"Pull out of the Amtrak station, turn left going south, cross the three Minnesota Commercial spurs. and the west leg of the wye by the round house, cross the CP (ex-MILW) mainline, go 1 more block south. turn left, go 1/2 block to the CP MOW shed and park and you can see all of the MNNR Alcos parked on the ready tracks."

You know you're a railfan when ...
... You blow your car horn two longs, a short and a long through every intersection.

A few weekends ago I was out railfanning near Pinole, CA. After a westbound pig train went by, I figured it was time for lunch and headed for a nearby Wendy's. By the time I was pulling up to the driveup window, the train had reached the UPS terminal at Northbay and was beginning its setout.

Unfortunately, I forgot to turn off the scanner, and just after the cashier said "Welcome to Wendy's, may I take your order?" I hear, "Gimme about five long ones..." from the scanner. I dove for the "off" switch, but thankfully the cashier hadn't heard the scanner anyway. It caused me to think, though...

You could almost have a reasonable conversation between a drive-up window cashier and the radio chatter from a crew doing a setout:

[cashier]: May I take your order please?
[crew]: Gimme about three long ones...
[cashier]: Excuse me?
[crew]: Two pigs...
[cashier]: Oh, two hotdogs?
[crew]: One more...
[cashier]: Three hotdogs?
[crew]: That'll do.
[cashier]: That'll be $3.00, please drive through.
[crew]: Take 'em ahead, Larry.

Another funny coincidence...the radio band they use to link those drive-up window speakers to the cashier inside apparently sometimes overlaps the railroad band. Two summers ago, I was in South Pittsburg, TN shooting the Sequatchie Valley's power when I suddenly heard chatter on their radio frequency. I looked up the tracks for a headlight and got ready for an action shot...that is until I heard "You want fries with that?" over the radio...

You know you're a railfan when ...
... while driving your car (with a license plate of "UP 6936" or "NS 1218" or something to that extent) you put your arm on the window sill and wave your hand and blow your horn to all kids standing on the street. ... you shudder every time an airline pilot announces that "we'll have you on the ground in a few minutes..."

How can you tell a retired Railroader's home?

By the armrests on the window sills.

You know you're a railfan when ...
... while you are test-driving a hot V6 and think, "this thing can really move in notch 8... ".

... You call zoning to ask if you can use a boxcar for a shed.

... You wonder why automobiles don't come equipped with couplers.

... While engaged in intimate relations, you suddenly find yourself mentally debating the relative merits of shays vs. rod engines.

... Your wife tells you her water burst, and your first reaction is- "My God, her boiler will be ruined!" ... you also add a sound system to your RR painted car to simulate air compressor noises while the car is parked, and add CO2 jets to simulate cylinder cocks releasing. (no, not me, but I know someone who did, and it is awesome)

Was this the person in Pentrex's "Daylight Express" video whose minivan was seen in Sacramento, painted to look like 4449?

You know you're a railfan when ...
... You paint and decorate your car to look like a locomotive.

... including installing a single, centered fog lamp instead of two.


... when you wire up the fog lamps to flash alternately when you blow the horn....

I've always thought about doing that. Putting a set of numberboards on the roof (probably to match my license plate), put a dual headlight in the center, and a pair of lights on the opposite sides of the bumper (although regular headlights will probably do). Add class lights, mars light, red emergency light (for when you have to slam on the brakes) and a red flashing EOT device on the rear bumper, and a bell, and you'd just about have it :)

You know you're a railfan when ...

... you see a flashing red light and think "stop and proceed"

... You see reflectors along the road (that light up with yor headlights) and think "red-green-red...medium clear" :)

... When riding with someone who's backing into a parking space, you say "two car...that'll do"

... While driving on the highway, you call off mileposts like CSX/NS calls signals

You know you're a railfan when ...
... you fly into Chicago O'Hare, you ask for a right-side window seat so that if the plane happens to land on runway 4R you get a brief but scenic overhead view of the Bensenville hump yard, right before you land!

You know you're a railfan when ...
... You search the libraries for old geodesic maps and trace all the deserted rail lines onto your brand new ones in flourescent highlighter. ... "not having any in a while" is refering to good train chases. ... when you delight in buying a "Big Blue" soda at CR's Friendly Market in Enola, Pennsylvania.

You know you're a railfan ...
... you paint and decorate your car to look like a locomotive.
... including installing a single, centered fog lamp instead of two. ... when you also add a sound system to your RR painted car to simulate air compressor noises while the car is parked, and add CO2 jets to simulate cylinder cocks releasing. (no, not me, but I know someone who did, and it is awsome)

You know you're a railfan ...
... when you are delighted when the crossing gates come down and all the motorists behind you a fuming.


... when you're fuming because there are cars between you and the crossing gates, thus ruining your view of the passing train.

Reminds me of one time when we were hanging out in the Saint-Lambert (Quibec) station, when the movement director was still in the station (you could see the interlocking board from the station waiting room). One night, the movement director came out and told us: "Wanna see a derailment"? Turns out a train just derailed accross the bridge. So, in no time, we're on the scene, BEFORE anybody else. Sure enough, a few empty autoracks did not take the switch to the Butler spur and were lying all accross the tracks.

(Note: in Canada, we say "van" instead of "caboose")

It was in the dead of winter, so we stayed in the van, with the scanner blaring. Then, we see the crew coming to look at their mess (we got there before them!), and I recognize the conductor, so we invited them to warm up in the van. A few minutes later, a trainmaster shows up, and when he doesn't see any crew, he calls them on the radio.

The conductor picks up his walkie talkie, and tells the TM "okay, we are in the van". The TM walked past our van, towards the end of the train; the crew let him walk about 50 meters, then called on the radio: "No! Not the van on the train, the van you just passed"... At that moment, the scanner blurted out "Okay, back up three cars!" on a switching channel; this made the TM very anxious: he yelled "Hey, STOP" on the mainline channel at once...

The Manhattan project (development of the atomic bomb) had some frequencies assigned to it which were the same as the Santa-Fe. They could hear them switching while they were conducting preliminary bomb tests...

You know you're a railfan ...
... when you see a traffic light that's a red light over a green left-turn arrow, and you think "diverging route clear."

... Then you think "diverging route approach" when it goes to the yellow arrow.

... And for that matter, you call a yellow light an "amber" light.


... when you come across a traffic light with a burned-out bulb you assume it's a stop signal instead of go like a normal (but not necessarily safe-driving) person!

You know you're a railfan ...
... when you think that, aside from the terrible loss of life, one of the major disasters of WW 2 was the turning of old steam engines into scrap scrap metal (along with old trackside wrecks, etc.)

... when your family photo album is filled with photos of locomotives.

... when your grandson tells your wife that her new china display cabinet is a good place for your trains.

(chuckle)...and true. Spent almost 33 months in Japan back in mid-60s and ended up with about 10 rolls of 36 exposed slides of family and Japan and 30 rolls of B&W and slides of Japanes steam and other rail activities.

... Also maybe 600' of 8mm movies of Japan and family and over 1400' of Japans rail...... :)

And here's the "Late Additions" ...

16. Your wife opens her wallet to show the relatives photos of the children while you open your wallet to show them your latest rail photos from last weeks fan trip.
17. You install a pedal operated bell in your car and ring it while driving across railroad crossings.
18. You open your refrigerator door only to find it full of film for the next fan trip. (submitted by Russ Fox)

19. You find yourself looking for old locomotives and color schemes during the obligatory chase scene through the rail yards when you're watching old cop shows and movies on TV.
20. The efforts of Hollywood to re-create an earlier era using trains is met with your derisive snort, "They didn't have GP40-2's in 1970! Can't they get it right?" (submitted by Jim Devlin)

21. You're on Amtrak, you find out that the guy across the isle is a railfan, and your wives look at each other, roll their eyes and sigh. (submitted by Christopher Chew)

22. You're in your car and you come up to a railroad crossing. The crossing lights are not flashing and no trains are coming, but you slow to a crawl and look up the track both ways in hope of seeing a train. (submitted by Bob Burton)

23. You are on a rail facility tour and start talking to one of the mechanics on the shop floor only to find out that you know more than he does. (Anonymous)

24. You rent certain movies at the video store because you know there is a very cool train scene in it.
25. You refuse to cross the tracks until your favorite train has passed by. (submitted by Melissa Mizell)

26. You barbecue using tie butts, for that special flavor!

27. You tell your wife you are going down to the corner bar to have a few drinks with the guys, however, you go to your favorite train watching spot to take a few photos. (submitted by Sam Evans)

28. You are on a highway overpass, at 60 mph you suddenly shout," that's the Seaboard down there!", and you can't believe the others in the car didn't recognize it by the color of the ballast.
29. You tell your wife you would like take a nice ride to look at scenery, her interpretation being,"guess I'll take some magazines to look at while he looks at the scenery in the rail yard."
30. You can't understand why everyone else doesn't understand what"approach diverging" means.
31. It would not be to your advantage for the railroad police to come to your house and look around.
32. You get tired of explaining to people that you are not a fireman because you have a radio.
33. Your relatives only think of you when they see a train.
34. When you are out by the tracks with another railfan people ask, "is the train coming?"
35. You get irritated whenever a train wrecks because nonrailfans "invade" your special train watching spots.
36. You don't like imitation railfans who wear railroad patches all over their clothing.
37. The train crews know you by first name. (submitted by Chris Evans)

38. When you're driving, you make "shooooo" sounds when you step on the brake, and "choooo" sounds when you take your foot off of it, imitating air brakes. (I think cement truck drivers do this too. 8-D) )

39. At your house by the tracks you get some of the crews trained to blow the crossing alert to let you know they are going by, even though there is no crossing there.

40. You date your girlfriend because the view out the front window of her apartment is your favorite railroads mainline.

41. You latter marry this woman knowing that she will understand you and won't mind that house by the tracks.

42. You build your 1 year old a jungle gym / fort in the backyard so they can play on it when you really intend to use it to get a better view of the trains over the back fence.
43. You size said fort large enough so that you and three of your friends have sufficient room to watch the trains.

44. When the lights are activated at the railroad crossing you race to be first in line, so you get an unobstructed view, then at double track crossings wait a little while after they go up in hopes that another train is coming the other way.

Thanks to all who contributed

Constructed, Maintained, and © by Ron Kohlin of Niceville, Florida, USA
Last updated on August 6, 2002.
Send E-mail to " Ron at Kohlin dot com "