Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Railfan Mecca

My maternal grandfather, who first exposed my brother and I to model trains - he had the most amazing setup in his basement in the Bronx and worked on his train board his entire life, the last time being the night before he died - would have loved this post.

Thanks to my fellow driver and friend, Gary Goulette, who provided the text and photos that follow, we have another interesting guest post!

DEFINITION VIA WIKIPEDIA:  A railfanrail buff or train buff (American English), railway enthusiast or railway buff (Australian/British English), or (often with a more specialized meaning, described belowtrainspotter or gricer (British English), is a person interested in  a recreational capacity in rail transportRailfans of many ages can be found worldwide.

I'm not a rabid railfan by any means. My enjoyment of trains are twofold - I love the sound of a train horn blaring in the distance (in the same way I enjoy hearing Lake freighter boats giving horn blast signals near my home in Michigan), and I enjoy traveling by rail because no effort is made by me other than purchasing the ticket. 

Model trains circling the ceiling at the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center
I also remember being fascinated with a story my dad told me when I was younger, about a "dead man's switch" that the locomotive engineer stood on while operating the engine - if he died and fell off the switch that he stood on, the train would automatically brake, and come to a stop! Maybe that's total railroad folklore, but it was soooo vivid to me I could picture the actual switch when I thought about that story.  (Salena says:  Not folklore, Gary!)

Some people who are true railfans, spend their leisure time photographing, notating, and journaling the operations of railroads worldwide. I've seen a few of these folks near rail crossings, usually with a camera on a tripod, and a two-way radio scanner nearby, listening to the rail operations frequencies. I have to wonder what railroad workers think of these people?   Are they proud to operating those trains across the country, or are they jaded workers who think these railfan people are idiots?
I hate driving across Nebraska (especially at night) because to me it's a visually boring state. Hours of interstate, flat cornfields, and more interstate. Located in the Western part of the state is North Platte, a city known as a "railroad town" and also the location of a well known "canteen stop" for troop trains during World War II, where thousands of local citizen volunteers met the troop trains with coffee, food, and hospitality. 

The Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska
Union Pacific Railroad operates the Bailey yard in North Platte, the world's largest railroad yard. Located just outside Union Pacific property is the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center.

My co-driver and I stopped there on a cross country trip that afforded us a somewhat leisurely pace. It was early when we arrived and the center wasn't open, so as usual I poked around, looking through the windows. A custodian inside saw me, and motioned for me to come inside.  Once we were inside he offered us coffee and use of the restroom! To a truck driver, this is like being handed the keys to the city!

The center itself is smallish with various photographs and items displayed depicting railroading. A small model train circles around the center, near the ceiling. A gift shop sells railroad items (t-shirts, hats, books, and  videos). We were not allowed to go up into the tower (it had not opened for the day yet) and there was a nominal fee to do so.

I walked around the center shooting a few iPhone photos, while my co-driver chatted up the custodian with subjects I'm not conversant in (sports and hunting).  I was glad my co-driver was there because I'm not sure the friendly custodian wanted to talk railroads.
Train-related gift shop goodies
I can think of worse ways to spend time in North Platte.  I think younger kids would really like the observation tower, but surely, jaded teens might hate it. I'm glad I stopped.  Now when I pass the North Platte exit in Nebraska, I'll remember the hospitable janitor, the observation tower, and the free coffee.

All of which will take my mind off of the boring scenery which is Nebraska.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
2012: When I Was A Kid

2011: Nuts About Thanksgiving
2010: On The Way To Turkey Day
2009: Winding Down For The Big Holiday
2008: Pssst! The Fish Are In The Water. Check The Water.
2007: Elphaba’s Long Lost Sister?
2006: What Boys (And One Girl) Do On Thanksgiving
2005: Cold Turkey

1 comment:

Gil said...

Brings back good Bronx memories for me. My older cousin in the Bronx was rail fan too. He had a great train layout in his basement. My brother and I only managed to get as far as an oval with a sidetrack!!! On one of our trips Anne & I visited North Platte.