Thursday, May 3, 2012

Railfan, Jim Boyd and Me

While reading through recent issues of Railfan & Railroad (I still refer to it by the magazine's original title Railfan), I read tributes from the late Jim Boyd's former editor peers Steve Barry and Bruce Kelly, in the March 2011 issue.  When  Railfan first arrived on the newsstand shelf in 1974, it was something new and exciting.  Suddenly, trains were somehow more interesting than those included in the pages of THE Magazine of Railroading - this was THE Magazine of Railfanning.

As letters to the editor put it in Railfan's second issue...Treat the reader as an equal, sharing your information with him...Trade magazines tell us what's wrong with railroads and government regulations, Railfan tells us the joys of being a fan and the pleasures derived through the viewfinder of a camera. One didn't have to be an expert to partake in the trackside pleasure of photography.  (I'm illustrating this post with some of my earliest railfan photography, captions at the bottom of the post)
This was an awakening.  It was OK to go out and be trackside, revelling in the joy of just being there.  No need to analyze ton-miles or ingest the history of railroads each with at least one ampersand in their name.  Railfan and Jim Boyd laid new rail to new destinations - Pomona, California and Pennsylvania's East Broad Top as well as the wilds of New Jersey.  The emergence of Railfan coincided with my own calling to head trackside.  Each issue was devoured with patriot zeal as a how-to guide to railfanning. Jim profiled a visit to CP's John Street roundhouse in Toronto during a TRAIN convention in November 1974, and even made it to VIA Corridor mecca Brockville, where he reportedly stepped off the train only long enough to snap a few photos then headed back to 'Joisey' to write the story.

No matter - he'd taken time to alight and anoint our home and native land with his presence, signifying to future generations of Carstens readers that it was right and proper to venture north to Canada.  Railfan and Railroad Model Craftsman have embraced Canadian subjects while their Kalmbach cousins only grudgingly accepted their worth and historical importance.  Railfan's writers like Steve Barry and George Pitarys carry on this tradition today. 

Jim Boyd also paved the way for drive-thrus and flame-seared the inseparable union of fast food and railfanning.  **Update - while vacationing in Myrtle Beach, what should I see appearing roadside but a Steak 'n' Shake, his beloved favourite restaurant.** He sounded like the stereotypical American - loud, boisterous and ready to serve up opinions with or without provocation or invitation.  Yet without his personality, Railfan would likely have remained quarterly, lasted four or five issues then died like the cold cinders of a dumped fire.  Instead, it remains, filling untold cardboard magazine-holders around the world.
My dad made a habit of buying each issue, and to this day I remain a charter subscriber. Well, more accurately a charter buyer, not subscribing because I figured if I didn't like an issue, I didn't have to buy it.  Never happened - I've bought every one.  Reading Adam Walker's The Walker Express blog, I experience the enthusiasm of reading Railfan all over again.  Having met Adam, I appreciate his use of a mobile device to track approaching VIA trains, and his photographing signal bungalow labels to give a sense of place to his posts as unique railfan techniques.  It's clear that he's revelling in the joy of just being trackside.  Jim Boyd would be pleased to see technological advances in railfanning.

Let us doff our engineer's caps and holster our telesmasher-lensed cameras, as we lift a hearty 'Highball!' to Jim Boyd, wherever he may be.  As I've read the tributes, and now added my own, all while riding aboard VIA's train No 48 streaking east along CN's Kingston Sub, I've discovered that the steel rail unites us all - Jim Boyd, this writer, and you.
Photos from top:
-CN 9565-2028 westbound on December 30, 1978. Mi 182 Kingston Sub
-CN 6060 fantrip stops at Kingston station September, 1978. Mi 176 Kingston Sub
-CN 1306-3225 on an eastbound freight October 22, 1978. Mi 182 Kingston Sub
-VIA 6764-6624 on eastbound Capital October 28, 1978. Mi 183 Kingston Sub


Adam Walker said...

Hi Eric,

To be included in what is a very personal post is extremely flattering. You are absolutely correct: being track side is one of my favourite things and just being there, trains or no, provides a mental calm I'm unable to get almost anywhere else.

I will admit that I may have seen Railfan and Railroad at my local hobby store but I have never picked it up. Based on what you have written, I will do so the next time I'm there.

Wonderful post, thank you. To Jim Boyd!


Eric said...

Check out an issue, Adam. The writing in Railfan is very railfan-friendly, and while the article subjects may not be one's cup of tea (or Timmy's coffee), it's certainly not as pretentious as some rail enthusiast magazines. Railfan's always been this way, even as successor editors have taken Jim's place.

And as I mentioned, Canadian articles!

Enjoy your time trackside!

Canadian Train Geek said...

Great post as usual, Eric. I have purchased Railfan and Railroad on occasion, but since my interest in American railroading is low, it often has little that interests me. Maybe the Canadian content is higher now. I do like the enthusiasm of the magazine.

Eric said...

Thanks for your kind comments, Steve. I probably buy or subscribe to too many magazines. I do enjoy some of the smaller operations that Railfan profiles, as well as the articles that provide information on railfanning various locations. Hal Carstens always provided an introductory column - definitely a long-time railfan.


mark walton said...

I especially remember Jim's regular "Camera Bag" columns in which he dispensed photographic advice. Some things he could be downright preachy about - especially the importance of fast shutter speeds to nail motion, and his all but unswerving loyalty to Nikon, Kodachrome 64, and Kodak Carousel slide projectors.

Eric said...

Yes, Jim was faithful to his American roots and was very opinionated and unlikely to change his ways! I was not that technical a photographer, so most of it probably didn't make a big impression on me. His impact on the railfan world was considerable in many ways, though!

Thanks for your comment, Mark.