Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Railfan Vehicles

Do you live beside the tracks? If not, to go railfanning you need a railfan vehicle of some sort. Anything with two to four wheels will get you there, but what makes the ideal railfan vehicle? It should be all-weather, roomy, well-appointed and look good in trackside photos. Here are a few examples I've been fortunate to spend time driving around in. Ailing VIA 6409 and an LRC consist are assisted by CN 9551 in the North America map scheme at Kingston on June 5, 1999 (above). Railfan vehicle 'Vanna Blue' in foreground, contributes a few horsepower to the scene.

Volkswagens as railfan vehicles? Not known for their heaters but with a spare engine in back, here's a 1976 Beetle at Napanee in February, 1985. At least the low, late afternoon sun provided some heat while waiting for this eastbound CN freight behind 9465-2332-2335. Near the Bath Spur, I once tried to shoehorn a too-long decommissioned wooden whistle post into a too-short Beetle. Spiderweb-like cracks instantly spread across the windshield. Before long, I was leaving Speedy Auto Glass after unloading the whistle post and adding a new windshield. My sister was amazed at how 'clean' I'd gotten the windshield since last time she drove it.

1961 Beetle meets 1973 GM (above). CN 5513-5565-5518 at Mi 184 Kingston Sub on a cloudy August 22, 1976. Sixteen years old and still running. Just don't kick its running boards, because it would result in a manna-like dropping of rust flakes on the asphalt. 1979 VW Rabbit at Napanee (below) with the tailend of an eastbound freight behind 9634-2547-2583-9588 and caboose 79555 in 1986. Lots of 'giddy-up' when chasing fast-moving trains.

Import-ant. My aunt and uncle's Datsun hatchback shown at CP's Portage la Prairie station, witnessing an eastbound behind 5852-8657 with 100 grain loads. A westbound with 5928-5904 waits in the yard in September 1985. This little gem was easy on gas, plus I could drive it like it was stolen... er...borrowed.

Chasing CP 5796-4202 north out of Portage on the Minnedosa Sub, I was able to get ahead of the train, then skid to a stop in the wet gravel to get this shot:

Also in 1985, I was temporarily lost between Montmartre and Francis, Saskatchewan. I decided to prop my camera on a nearby fencepost to capture a photo for posterity. My rented Tilden Chrysler Fifth Avenue is showing a little road grime after a morning of prairie backroad southeast of Regina:
Interior view of the Fifth Avenue. Note overturned floormat to keep Saskatchewan mud off the plush, velour carpeting. On the power seats, note zoom lens, obligatory ballcap and fast food bag. Definitely Railfan Mobile One - and giving 'the wave' to every vehicle I met along the way.
Luxury on the Lewvan Sub. All cleaned up and ready to return to Tilden. A new metal-clad elevator at Rowatt (pictured in Steve Boyko's recent post here) with grain boxcars spotted serves as a backdrop for a power-washed, now-shiny Fifth Avenue (hey, it was full-size at a compact price):

A much more practical alternative, a Chevy Cavalier took me to an evening visit at Sovereign, Saskatchewan in 1986. Rented from Hertz in Saskatoon, I drove this plucky people-mover 1000 miles in 3 days for $35.99 a day. It even survived a dead porcupine strike near Wartime. Speaking of Cavaliers, my current backup railfan vehicle is an '01 Cavalier painted Soo Line white.

Another Chevy compact, and the only 'Vette I'll likely ever own, this racing-striped 1981 Chevette watches 6914 and 4 LRC cars whiz through Napanee. When the hatchback cylinder finally failed, a propped-up snowbrush did the trick. It's February 1989 and that CN brush-cutter will be weed-whackin' soon:

Compact car, compact train. CN 4101 brings a pike-sized turn comprising 2 cars and 79691 down the Belleville Yard ladder track, returning from Port Hope and Trenton on April 30, 1990. In the foreground is our 1984 Chevette. The rear-window baby blanket shields a budding six month-old railfan from the afternoon sun. Photo taken from a sizeable ballast pile perch:
Olds + old wheels. CN 49483 hauls replaced wheels at the end of CN train 321, westbound at Kingston station on March 9, 2001. 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham definitely qualified for pimpmobile status - power everything. Leaky fuel line sealed its fate and its date with the scrapper. It passed this same location on Counter Street, heading for Kimco Steel's crusher, as a four-wheeled fire hazard.Perfect for railfanning with a crew, this 1994 Voyager offered lots of glass through which to watch the action. Back it in, pop the hatch, spread a blanket on the liftgate, spread out the lawnchairs and you've got a sun-proof, weather-resistant railfan tailgate party. Dining car steward prepares the bar service at White's Road in Trenton between CN and CP (in background) main lines:
I'm currently driving a 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan, with Ontario plates BCNR XXX (not personalized, but railfan-themed). It's a big, silver umbrella at Shannonville, Ontario on a drizzly September 27, 2008, as CN 2250-2628 carry containers into Belleville. Tinted glass and double sliding doors mean covert viewing and quick exits.
Running extra...

Saturday, September 24 is George's Trains' annual customer appreciation day and charity BBQ. I've been invited to sign copies of my new book. We'll be donating $5 from each copy sold to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. There will be a variety of vendors and manufacturers at the event in Markham, plus a huge operating layout, all adjacent to CN's main line. Lots to see and do - hope to see you there!

Travelled Kingston-Toronto round trip yesterday aboard VIA Nos 651/68. Note to Kingston VIA station users who show up for No 651: ticket sales counter now not staffed until 0700. Use the self-serve ticket kiosks (and earn 25 VIA Preference points). VIA Rail has a new capital investments page on their website - full of useful information on recent capital project involving "trains, tracks and stations".

Perhaps the ideal railfan vehicle would be a Roadtrek van conversion. All the comforts of home, looks good trackside, and would certainly meet the criteria mentioned in the opening of this post. Somewhat sporty, definitely functional.


Unknown said...

An excellent and most enjoyable post. It's all about getting there. Thanks for the chuckle.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comment, powmill. Indeed, getting there can be half the fun. Plus, loading up the chosen railfan vehicle with essentials: food, electronic and camera gear, reading material and all the extras. Then it's time to get trackside...

Manny said...

Nice photo of you beside the beautiful Fifth Avenue car. Probably a bit too fancy for railfan duty but I'm sure you enjoyed the nice ride. Those cars seem to have all largely disappeared these days. I see the odd one still, but not many.

Eric said...

That Chrysler was truly a sweet ride, Manny. I enjoyed every minute of it, even driving it over to the Sask Legislature for some publicity photos, and visited RCMP Depot Division to compare speedometers with its Dodge Diplomat brethren (no comparison - those cherry-topped blue & white units could move!)
Thanks for your comment,

The Traveler said...

Fine story indeed I remember that Road by Minadosa used to drag race on that road. Jim Burnside

Eric said...

Thanks for your comment, Jim. I guess the statute of limitations has now expired!