Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Take a Number - 40 Years' Worth!

Take a number. Actually, take down a lot of numbers. Train numbers! In mid-February, 1976 at the tender age of 12, I started scribbling! Along with school friends Mark and Andrew, we formed an informal group called ACTWA - the Association of Concerned Trainwatchers of Amherstview, or something like that. CN's Kingston Sub was a few hundred feet north of our elementary school, giving us a great view of passing CN and VIA trains, during, before and after school hours. Many Saturday mornings found us 'up at the tracks' often before dawn, either on foot or on bikes. Part of my Grade 7 public speaking notes:
The following school composition was written by me on September 16, 1976: 
Today I have decided to talk about my hobby-profession of trainwatching. The usual equipment is: note pad, binoculars, pencil, radio, engineer's hat, jacket, books to read. Some favourite places are the new [1974] station, the Amherst View sports field, and Napanee. The procedure is:
  • wait for a train
  • if it is a freight, get 10-20 feet from the fence or track. As it comes by, take down engine, caboose numbers and write down types and railways of each car i.e. SF, CN, CP BO, UP HO translated as Santa Fe, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific boxcars, Union pacific covered hopper cars.
  • if it is a passenger train, at the station, stand beside engines, looking at various apparatus, and as the train rolls out, take numbers of locos, baggage, club cars and coaches. If it is anywhere else, get back 20-30 feet and get locomotives, club, baggage car numbers. For Dayliners or Turbos, get 10-20 feet from fence and take numbers.
I'm sure that this will always be my favourite hobby, and I will never lose interest in it.
Don't ask me why. I'm not sure what triggered this compulsion to record numbers. Besides a family interest in trains, plus sharing that interest with friends, I probably didn't realize it would become such an enduring pursuit! In the ensuing years, I was seldom without a notepad and pencil in a pocket, just in case. Even today, I usually have a pen and paper with me, or an even more convenient handheld cassette recorder. Notes from the first three hours spent trackside on February 20. 1976: VIA and CN trains, plus some interesting freight cars:

My Dad, as well as other family members, were often with me trackside, though my Dad would defer to me in number-taking. Part of my success was knowing where to look for the number, then looking for the next one in succession, and most of all, not looking down. Just keep looking up and writing. One thing I've realized in retrospect is the rigour and detail recorded by a tweenager is nowhere near the amount of detail I would record today. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

What to do with these numbers? It was apparent that a notebook (scribbler) would be a handy repository for my collected numbers. I glued Railroad News Photos and hand-lettered railroad logos on a handy notebook.

I divided pages into columns and reserving a page for each locomotive or equipment type:

My favourite section was "Interesting Cars". I developed a systematic order to transcribe railway names, reporting marks and individual numbers of cars that caught my eye: BO, HO, RE, GO, CO, AU, TA, BU, FL, CON, PQ (boxcars, covered hoppers, reefers, gondolas, hoppers, auto racks, tank cars, flat cars, containers and passenger equipment).
All this transcription required each page in the notebook to be dissected and each number sussed out onto a separate page. Seemed like a good idea at the time, and though I assigned an arbitrary number (P1, T1 etc.) to each train as a means of linking locomotives into consists, I more often went back to my original notepads for more context. It should not surprise you that I still have all the notepads and all the scribblers. February 19 was my Dad's 49th birthday, and it seems we spent some of it at the tracks. He snapped CN 5519-5524 heading this eastbound freight as I scribbled my first few numbers:
For the last two years of elementary school, I'd continue to spend spare time trackside, even in summertime, always collecting those numbers. I'd even tally and graph various locomotive types, to see which was most prevalent, plus recording hashmarks in a separate notebook to find THE most popular unit passing by me on the Kingston Sub! The first year of number-scribbling was duly summarized and archived in a typewritten format:
VIA blue & yellow was applied throughout 1976, and CN's GP40-2LW was new and growing. A good mix of MLW and GMDL units were still in use, and once in a great while I'd record a CP number or two while travelling. At the Amherstview sports field in the autumn of 1976, CN passenger paint prevailed on these two westbounds (below) but by December, a 60-degree, slanted yellow nose adorned an eastbound:
Trackside Treasure reader Randy O'Brien contributed this cornucopic graphic in which he nicely ties together with mitten string a photo, a notebook, and yours truly trackside on February 19, 1976. Can you find the three 'Trackside Treasure" in the graphic?
You would not believe the number of times I've heard or read the following sentence: "I rode/saw/photographed lots of trains but it never occurred to me to write any numbers down."

In an upcoming post, I'll describe where the number-writing led over the ensuing 40 years - from note books to creating my own books to new technology to ... even more numbers!

Running extra...

Speaking of trips and trains, here's a well-executed travel blog that combines a mix of interior shots, food shots, scenic shots, but not bar shots. Take a trip on the Canadian!

One of my favourite HO scale kits - Revell's Superior Bakery. Larry has a nice album of his build.

Paul Hunter has created a webpage for March 12/13's Kingston Rail O Rama train show.

This article covered one of my Dad's favourite Montreal-area operations: CP's St Henri switchback leading to Imperial Tobacco!


Steve Boyko said...

Congratulations on 40 years! For me it's only been since May 13, 1999... but I came late to railfanning.

Here's to 40 more!

Michael said...

Good to know that I wasn't the old kid who used to doodle train logos in his spare time. My favourite was always the wet noodle. Forty years trackside. Wow. Inspiring.

Eric said...

Steve, you've more than made up for lost time!
Thanks very much for your comment,

Eric said...

Michael, what if I said I have an old school scribbler whose entire back cover was covered by tiny multimarks and CP Rail lettering?
Great to have you along on my journey through the decades!

Jeffrey said...

It's amazing that you still have all that old paperwork! I recently found a little notebook from my pre-high school days (late 70s) with some similar information, though certainly not as extensive as your notes.

I think I picked up the idea to write down numbers on a trip to the UK, and it lasted until I finally got a camera!

Eric said...

Cameras definitely help, Jeffrey! I've seen guys video'ing entire trains and getting the numbers from the frames later!

UK is definitely the home of trainspotting!

My notebook was always handy and ready for use!

Thanks for your comment,