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Railroaders' Nostalgia > A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?

Date: 01/10/24 19:10
A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: Apalachicola721

Y’all, I’m gonna start out my post as simple as can be. I’m not really sure if this is an appropriate place, but I’ve contemplated on posting it.

I’ve been largely a Railfan since I could walk and my uncles got me into the railroad when I was a little tot. They still work for CSX in Russell, KY. My fascination sparked off from there.. and I grew up in Florida’s panhandle on CSX (Tallahassee- to be specific)… for many, many years I stayed well connected on railroading there and south GA and met a lot of folks (largely thanks to Facebook groups). When I grew older, I got more into the bigger scope of railroading- studying history and expanding my reach as far as taking photos. I got a truck for my 16th birthday and the days of mom toting me to town were over: I could finally do something.

I’m by no means a photographer- it’s a foolish thing to say, amateur at best, even though I’ve been doing this for a decade. I started with a point and shoot sony camera then moved onto a 1st generation DSLR and had many over the years (more reliably a canon 40D). More recently I grew into trying out Nikon and bought a D3500- the one I’ve bought has collected dust. I’m not fond of this. None at all.

The reason it’s collected dust has simply been a turn of “growing up”. Ever since I was a little boy, I dreamt of becoming a conductor, then, a locomotive engineer. I had always been so impressed at how trains worked and their overall massive proportions, sights and sounds and how cool they were. I matured over the years, like most, I grew into an adult- taking on a lot of responsibility. When I left Florida, a good friend and fellow Railfan and now railroader, Dylan Jones, took me under his wing and invited me to Meridian to stay with him and his wife until I could get on my feet. It was legitimately the best blessing I could've been dealt. From 2016-2017 I got up on my feet and in 2017 found my first apartment. I learned a few lessons, have had a few jobs- never satisfied. Work was always dissatisfying and miserable. On my free time I spent so many days and nights all over Mississippi, Meridian, Amory and Columbus mostly taking photos of the KCS, NS and BNSF- taking in everything I could. My apartment was 5 minutes from the main lines and from 2017-2020 were quite possibly the most interesting days of my rail fanning. In 2019 I met my wife Brittny while I was working for rail maintenance contractor, Loram Maintenance of Way. I came back on my time off, took her on a first date and from there we hit it off. We’ve been married for over a year and have been together over 4 years now with two children. But most folks are wondering what I’m getting at?

During this time in 2021 I applied to work for a class 1 railroad here in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and things took off. I was very exciting getting a conditional job offer for a conductor trainee on the IC. I got the job, as it took a couple months to get through the process and off to Homewood I went. I trained for 7 weeks in Chicago back and forth and at home for months until August of 22’ where I marked up and worked my first job as a brakeman… then forced to a night job for a couple months. This was the best decision I’ve ever made. Since then, I’ve still remained marked up as a conductor. In August of 23’ I applied to become a locomotive engineer trainee and was accepted to go to Homewood. It was the absolute biggest dream I could’ve imagined. When I went to Homewood I brought that dusty ole D3500 with me to Illinois and took it out for a spin some. It wasn’t much, but I did get out. Our hotel was front and center to rock island commuter operations on the Metra. Most of my time was spent pounding the books and endless computer homework’s we were given. A steady 2-1/2 hour’s a night nearly a month, even on weekends, allowed for a 100 on my final 173 question locomotive engineer final and 4 hours of final graded simulator runs that you had to make a 90 or more on. I was very proud of this. Probably my proudest accomplishment besides having two beautiful children. My last weekend there I took a trip to Illinois Railway Museum in Union and spent most of the day taking photos.

Since then, I haven’t gotten trackside but maybe once. In the last two years I have worked for the railroad, raising a family, working on the trains and going to work- you realize that the time you once had, is no longer there. Days go by like a hypersonic missile..there’s just not enough time of the day anymore. I’ve really missed going trackside during this time… but I’m gonna be honest, I’m completely satisfied going to work and beating the rocks. The railroad is where I love to be other than with my wife and kids. There’s nothing like it, but I almost feel that rail fanning is slipping away. I want to spent some time in my hobbies. Maybe that time will come again when my kids are older. A 6 year old and a nearly 11 month old really put the “tire” in tiring lol… but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Does any railroader who’s been a Railfan experienced this same thing? My career is exceptionally important to me and gives us a good living, however, I’d like to set aside time to get back trackside some. But I’ve often considered more and more giving it up and focusing on family even more. I’ve spent less time thinking of taking photos of the trains i work on, 5-6 days out the week. This coming week I go back to the seat training for several months after our training got cut 3 weeks after I got back from Homewood so they had conductors available through the holidays. Now I’ll be considerably busier with training versus a slow extra board. Can anybody relate to what I’m talking about? I went on some tangents with this some, but I feel it’s hard to explain myself and how much I love the hobby of rail fanning, too.

Thanks so much for reading this, I know it’s long but I can’t get this off my chest hardly anywhere else.

Posted from iPhone

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/10/24 19:15 by Apalachicola721.

Date: 01/11/24 09:48
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: CDTX

You're not alone.


Date: 01/11/24 09:52
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: Appalachianrails


Date: 01/11/24 12:00
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: 3rdswitch

 I really like your attitude. When I was working I frequently mixed job and hobby while on duty, but this is a different rail world. Seniority will eventually give you more control over your life and time for both family and hobby.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/11/24 12:01 by 3rdswitch.

Date: 01/11/24 13:23
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: cjvrr

I have been a railfan since 1983 and at the age of 52 today my interest in getting out and taking photos ebbs and flows.   If something special or unique is coming to the area I get out and railfan.    One of my sons just moved to Helper, UT for work and I am planning a trip out this summer to see him and railfan that area.   But I also have other interests; railroad speeders, shade tree mechanic, and a family.   

I think it is great that you have been a railfan and then actually hired on and really enjoy it.   I would say you are still railfanning, but you are doing it from the cab of the locomotive now.   

Date: 01/11/24 14:09
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: trainjunkie

Railroading pretty much killed the railfan in me.

Date: 01/11/24 16:47
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: engineerinvirginia

BE the railroader 120% of the time....that's what was in you to begin with....take the railfan and meld him with the railroader so you become the font of information you will acquire as you continue to work. You are going to train young engineers for sure at times and want to give them every tip you've been able to absorb elsewhere. And you will have much learned both in real work and in a lifetime of observation. Share it with the people who can use it best! It's your life experience that makes you a pro...if you want to be a pro. 

Date: 01/11/24 19:05
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: cabsignaldrop

Understand 100% what you are talking about. Many of us feel the same way, especially once we start a family.

Posted from Android

Date: 01/11/24 19:45
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: Trainhand

Well stated EngineerinVirginia. I kinda wanted to be an engineer all my life. I grew up in a rr family. I can ccount something like 15 or so relatives who worked for various rr's. I thought about other things as I got older went to college. Graduating high school in 1968 gave you 2 choices for a senior trip. I didn't like the sound of the other choice. When i graduated I failed spectacularty at teaching, quit, piddled for a few months and got a job on the SCL as a fireman. I retired 391/2 years later. The worse thing about being on the bottom of the seniority roster is you have to work what nobody else wants to. This will take a lot of understanding and cooperation from your wife. The rr is the only job that when they "promote" you they cut your pay and send you away from home. Don't espect to see all of your children's sporting events, plays , recitatials. Expect to miss a lot of things with your wife. That's the fact of the job. As for being a railfan,personally, I like to see steam engines. Disels, I've run enough and seen enough to wherre its just another engine. I still watch trains by on road crossings with the car windows open to hear and smell things. My only aadvice with the camera is take pictures of the people you work with. Some you will never forget, some you want to forget and can't, and somewill become very good friends.

Good luck in you career.


Date: 01/12/24 00:15
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: Notch7

 Apalalachicola721,  it was nice to hear about your story.  I hope it works out to be a good and full career for you.  It always saddened me to see my railfan- railroader buddies sour on the rail life and "pull the pin".  Use the railfan side of you to maintain the interest, wonder, or desire.  My grandfather was a regular passenger engineer.  He would tell people how boring and monotonous it was.  I ran passenger too (and everything else), but I wasn't bored.  The difference was that I was a railfan.  I achieved my railroad dreams very early on, but in the long balance of my career I always thought - "they pay me to sit in the clear and watch trains go by".  Thankfully my wife and I managed family life with children too.  That was complicated by her being a railroader too.  Hopefully your memories will be as valuable to you as mine are to me.  Do print out the seniority rosters so later on you can remember all the characters.  Like has been said, use your good camera to take the pictures of the people you work with.  People on the railroad can wind up being gone without a trace before you know it.  And, by all means, have people take your picture on the railroad.  You can't go back and make up for those.  It was like Christmas morning to me one day when somebody on Trainorders posted a pic of me beside my passenger train 51 years ago.  Happy rails to you.....

Date: 01/12/24 07:43
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: OldPorter

Thanks to the OP for his story and reflections of his working life along the RRs. I grew up in a family steeped in 
the lore of the RR. We had many ancestors and relatives who answered the RR Call. My Mom's side went back to the 
Steam era; her uncle Henry pulled the throttles on MK&T steamers. Sometimes he would sweep mom and 
her sister up into the Cab for the last few miles to his final Terminal. Then they would all go to Beans. Her Uncle Eldred
was a GM&O Engr. I remember meeting him at age 5; he was a giant of a man; wore the trad outfit; overalls, cap & bandanna!

My Dad's side had Rails too. The last one (our Gen 4) just retired as a Condr from Metra CHI. If his kids follow, it'll be Gen 5.
That Condr has the same (real) name as me, just a later version of our "handle." My first Rail Trip was on the El Capitan,
at six months of age. The ATSF Courier Nurse helped my mom with me. She said I was the "calmest baby" she 
had ever seen. The rhythm of the rails is all I heard, I guess.  

I'd say working on the Rails saved me; I was somewhat unfocused and dissolute when I got on the Signal Gang 
of the NWP in the late '70s (didn't stay too long there) I moved over to Amtk in the OBS. Spent just under 25 years
there; still happily married and Retired. All in all- the Rail Jobs were the best things that ever happened to me. And 
if you like Trains (like all of us here do) that was just a plus. I never let railfanning get in the way of my Job Duties.

That's the key, I'd say. In any line of work, it's a plus if you like the Industry! You might stay longer, and even have a
bit of fun along the way.  Above all; have your picture taken while you're at Work. That will mean a LOT in your later days,
after you leave the Service. 

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/12/24 07:49 by OldPorter.

Date: 01/12/24 21:22
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: TheButcherofBena

A 3rd generation rail, I became a railfan long before I became a railroader.  Before I started, I was counseled to keep the railfan thing quiet, and focus on learning the job.  It was good advice.  Once I started, the old heads advised stay in the yard a few years before working the road.  Much as I wanted to get out on the road, 
I followed this advice and it paid off when I finally started out in road service.  Worked as a Brakeman, learned from some great Conductors who appreciated that I took the job seriously and wanted to learn, and by the time I marked up as a Conductor, the Engineers appreciated that I worked my way up and they continued my education.  While it became more common for guys to admit to being railfans, I remained low key about that and simply enjoyed learning and experiencing the job.  When I gained  the seniority for engine service, I had offers from those same engineers that appreciated that I took the time to learn and work my way up to train me as a student engineer.  The time, patience and hard work paid off and I had the opportunity to learn the job I dreamed about as a kid, from some great engineers and savored the opportunity to become a marked up Engineer.  Fast forward to retirement;  never had time for railfanning during my RR career and looking back NO regrets.  Now I have all the time in the world to do rail photography, and after all that time on the RR, I really don't care if the sky is cloudy and not conducive to perfect photography, don't break my neck driving fast for a perfect shot, and just enjoy being trackside and if I get a decent picture it's just gravy. I have time to fool around with Lionel trains, basically because my Dad and Grandfather got me started as a kid and I have zero interest in becoming a serious modeler.  I thought retirement would be difficult because I loved running, loved the rails I got to work with, and even when things were tough, I loved the job.  I was fortunate to leave before PSR and the full implementation of PTC and Trip Optimizer, and now when I talk to friends still working there, I know I left at the right time.  Fortunate indeed to leave without becoming bitter at the railroad and life in general like many often do. Good railroaders can make the job look easy, but if you keep your head in the game, you'll find it's not that easy to be good at it, and it takes some doing just to stay safe and stay out of trouble.  I wish you luck and encourage you to focus on learning and pay attention to the old heads; they'll keep you safe and out of trouble.  If you want to be good at it, they'll help you get there.  I watched a number of folks including railfans and otherwise, who didn't take things seriously and failed miserably.  By now you've probably figured out the railroad is a tough business and it's a hardball atmosphere so best advice is to stay focused and if all goes well you'll have time down the road to be a railfan.  Some will tell you that you can be a railroader but you can't be a railroader and have a life.  I've seen some who managed to do both, and some who even managed to spend time railfanning as well (most were single), so in the end I suppose it's all about priorities and maintaining a balance.  The direction that the industry is taking is going to be challenging to say the least, whether your in train service or other crafts.  Hope for the best and stay well! Again, I wish you luck and a successful career.

Date: 01/13/24 09:20
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: irhoghead

I couldn't agree more about having your photo taken at work. Wish I had done that during the various stages and locations of my career.

Date: 01/13/24 10:23
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: RetiredHogger

I suppose this works a little differently from person to person. And I will admit that I've never been the "details" fan that some obviously are. Of course, I started railroading when I was 18. My "fandom" was just the fact that I liked trains.

The above said: if I could offer advice it would be this....Be a professional. I figured out pretty quickly that I'd rather be a railroader that was interested in trains (and to some degree railroad history), than a railfan that worked for the railroad. It meant a lot to me to be good at what I did. And equally as much to be trusted by my coworkers. I had good friends out there that I'd work anywhere with that felt the same way about me. I trusted them, and they trusted me. That gave me more satisfaction than any hobby interest ever could have.

Of course, we all have to find our own way.

In closing, enjoy your job, but don't base your happiness on it. The railroad can break your heart.

Date: 01/13/24 21:16
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: joeygooganelli

I have always loved trains and railroading. I just started year 26 out here. I've owned my own active caboose, restored speeders, model railroaded, etc. The fire and passion for the hobby has wained over the past few years as the companies beat on us. I still very much enjoy my job. I also don't go out much to railfan. That is unless it is something truly unique. As time goes on, I've thought of just going ahead and selling all of my railroad things. Life has a way of saying, there are other things to do out there.


Date: 01/14/24 17:50
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: Trainhand

Joe, I always liked the job , I just didnlt like the $OB's I worked for.


Date: 01/17/24 01:43
Re: A burnt out Railfan turned railroader?
Author: sync

Seems IC does engineers differently. NS sends us based on seniority and need. My turn came up right at the start of my 13th year.

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