My Railfan Five

When Eric and I first started emailing back and forth about this challenge I remember thinking about just how hard it was going to be to narrow down to just five photos. Luckily, I’m a lousy photographer. Armed with that self-awareness, I don’t tend to take many photos so at least I’m not choosing from as many as I could be. So, given that excuse, here are my five:

RSC14 at Charlottetown - Belvedere Road crossing in the winter

RSC14 at Charlottetown – Belvedere Road crossing in the winter

I’ll never be able to properly thank Shawn for inviting me on so many “train chasing” road trips around the Island or for the way he introduced the railroad on Prince Edward Island to me. When Eric first proposed this challenge I knew this photo would be among my five. It’s a lousy photograph in so many ways but it’s probably my favourite. To take this I’m standing waist-deep in the snow about a hundred (if not more) feet in from the Belvedere Road crossing and I’m quietly pretending I’m Jim Shaughnessey (a kid can dream right?!). Shawn and I have chased the train in from Borden today. It’s cold. Really cold. I’m trying to take pictures of trains using my old 110 film camera and everything is going wrong. Despite the conditions, I took this shot. Every time I look at it I think of Shawn, those adventures, and I smile. Thanks Shawn.

I’ve caught the bug and I’ve got it bad. Further, I know that the end is near for the railway and I feel like every time I see a train, it’s one less to look forward to – I’m watching a friend die. I’m still new to railfanning but given this overwhelming sense of urgency I’m trying to record as much as I can. In the pockets of my coat I always have my camera. The train from Borden would arrive late in the morning and return around lunch time. At the time I was living on Young Street here in Charlottetown and walking back and forth to school. If I heard the train I would cut across the field at Orlebar Street. I guess that field could have been a shortcut but in winter it was just deep with snow drifts and I’d be late for class having waited to see the train. Today I was lucky. Once again, despite the conditions my frozen fingers are running that shutter as fast as I can advance film through my trusty 110. I have all the photos from this event and I managed to capture each step of switching the propane dealer. Regrettably, from this distance most of the details are nearly impossible to make out. This series is exactly how I knew the railroad.

CN covered hopper at Truro, Nova Scotia.

CN covered hopper at Truro, Nova Scotia.

Last weekend I had the chance to attend the Truro Model Railroad Association’s annual fall show. Their’s is one of my favourite events and this year was one of the best. I think I’ve been attending these for around twenty years now (if not a little longer) and this photo is one I took during one of those first visits. At home I was getting very active in detailing and painting N scale rolling stock and I remember having an undercorated Atlas covered hopper just like this one. It was so exciting to see a car that I could so closely model so easily. This is probably one of my first roster shots taken to support a modelling project.

AMT evening commuter train standing at Lucien l'Allier with borrowed VIA F40 at the helm.

AMT evening commuter train standing at Lucien l’Allier with borrowed VIA F40 at the helm.

I can’t remember when or for how long I’ve been infatuated with Canadian commuter railroading but I’ll never forget this trip to Montreal. It’s a weekday and most of the rush hour trains are out on the line. I spent the morning exploring the Deux Montagnes line and this evening it’s just me and the Vaudreuil trains. When I arrived in Montreal I had no idea that AMT has borrowing VIA F40’s to power their trains so seeing them in this service was an exciting surprise.

Okay, so I can’t count to five or do I just chuck in my plus one here?! I’m on my way from a massive work road trip covering a lot of the country and I’ve booked a full day in Montreal to decompress a bit and spend a day chasing Montreal commuter trains. Before I’d left I had mentioned in a forum post that I’d be in Montreal and if anyone had any advice for chasing AMT I’d be interested. Roman Hawryluk wrote back. We’d meet at LuLa and go from there. It rained the whole day but nothing Mother Nature could offer could dampen our spirits or Roman’s enthusiasm. I can’t picture a more kind or generous host especially given that we were complete strangers – these are the kinds of people this hobby brings together. We rode a ton of trains and I think clocked at least one trip behind every type of coach AMT was running on the Vaudreuil line that day as well as behind most of their engines. I rode in an ex-GO single-level coach pull by an ex-GO F59 and in Horizon cars pulled behind former NJ Transit engines. It was a perfect day. Thanks Roman.

Amherst, NS, March 22, 2010

Amherst, NS, March 22, 2010

I started with a photo from among my first railfan photos and I’ll close with one of my daughter’s firsts. She never really caught the bug so this may wind up being one of the few. It’s a pity since she is a very talented photographer. Today it’s my Dad, both of my daughters, and me. We’re on our way to a train show in Amherst, Nova Scotia. We’ve just crossed the Tantramar Marsh from Sackville and off in the distance I can see a headlight of a train heading toward us. Quickly dropping from the highway to that road that runs more closely to the rail line we meet the train just under the overpass. Dad’s jumping out of the car to see the train and my eldest is leaping out after him. I don’t know what possessed her to take a picture of a train but she did and it turned out to be this one. It will always be a favourite of mine.

So that’s my five. Even among my modest photo collection this wasn’t as easy as I would have liked it to have been and I keep thinking about other places I could have taken this thread with other photos. Along the way I’ve also remembered those railfan trips I took where I didn’t have a camera and how some of these are among my favourite railfanning moments. I wish I had a shot of my sitting on the hood of my trusty Honda, drinking that McDonalds coffee and watching the NH&V work the St. Johnsbury yard with their RS11 or a few more AMT shots. I’m really enjoying reading the stories of those that have already participated in this challenge and I’m at the part of the challenge where I get to extend an invitation to some folks who I’d like to hear from:

  • Steve Hunter. I don’t even know where to begin to introduce my friend Steve. His passion for Prince Edward Island railroading is matched so beautifully by his exceptional modelmaking. I’m excited to see these two worlds come together in his Eastern Road models of Island railway equipment.
  • Rene Gourley. I’m a big fan of his work and find his approach fascinating. I recently read a fantastic blog post on his site about inspiration and why he’s modelling what he is.
  • Mike Cougill and I have been exchanging some emails about inspiration lately and the timing of those is such a happy coincidence given that this challenge just happened to come about around against this backdrop.
  • Taylor Main is building some beautiful models of Canadian prototypes. I’m always impressed with his conviction regarding his dream layout: I know he is going to model CN in the Gaspé penninsula and I can’t wait to see and operate on that layout.
  • Ed Cooke. I’ve seen so many great teasers from your amazing photo collection and I’d like to see a few more. You’ve got so much passion for modern railroading.
  • Trevor Marshall. Port Rowan is among the finest layouts this hobby will know and what makes it so is so much more than just the high standard of modelling. I’ve always felt that yours is such a terrific example of modelling the life and the work of a railroad and in that, the way it interacted with the people it served.

Finally, if I didn’t come good on the photos I was supposed to donate some money to a railway project. In a couple of weeks I’ll celebrate my birthday and I’ve been trying to turn this day on its head by giving instead of receiving as my gift so the timing of this couldn’t be better. Among the times I give will be a little more to the food bank (thanks for feeding my neighbours and my fellow Islanders and their families) and finally some to the folks down at the Maine Narrow Gauge museum in Portland (I would only know my love of the Maine two foot railroads in the words of those that experienced them first hand if it weren’t for your efforts. I’ve banged my head on a Monson cab door and I’m thrilled).

Want to learn more about the challenge? Check this out:

Categories: How I think, My Railfan Five

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8 replies

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Chris. I’ve never considered myself much of a railfan, and I was about to say I’ve never taken any photos of trains, but that would be a lie. Stay tuned: I may not be able to come up with five that I’ve taken, but there might be three.

    • I read your post this morning. That’s terrific stuff.

      I like how this post along with the thread over on Mike Cougill’s blog overlap so nicely – I wish that it was all intentional. I think all of this contributes to that sense of inspiration we’ve been discussing and provides still more opportunities to think about the hobby in the greater context of how it affects each of us – which in turn might help explain just why we do it in the first place? When I got to the part of my post where I needed to look for folks to pass the torch to I thought of your Why Pembroke post. That post was so full of inspiration that you could have just re-posted it and stuf the Railfan 5 title on top and that would have been terrific.

      Thanks for the note. Thanks, even more, for sharing your own five photos. I really appreciate it.


  2. Fantastic post, Chris! It’s great to read the back story behind so many great bloggers like you.

    • Thanks Steve. That’s really kind and I appreciate it.

      I really enjoyed your post on the same.

      I am looking forward to seeing and reading what others contribute. This should be great fun.


  3. Thanks for the shout out to my blog. What struck me about your five is your dedication to catching the remnants of the CN operation on PEI. I often complain about the lack of freight action here, but I sometimes need to remind myself that not everyone has the same opportunities I have. Some much needed perspective. Also, as a N scale guy myself, I am learning a bunch reading this blog. Keep up the good work!


  1. My Railfan Five | Pembroke:87
  2. My Railfan Five II: More railfan-y. More five-y. | Prince Street

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