Making the Railfanning Experience a Fun One

(Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

We need to have a conversation.

Some time ago, while on a tour of a railroad museum, I had a revelation.

A fellow tour-goer was asking a boatload — make that trainload — of questions. He seemingly also wanted to show the tour guide and everyone on the tour how much train knowledge he possessed.

Great. You win. You are the smartest, most knowledgable person about the wheel arrangement of one particular locomotive.

Who cares?

Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way. If that’s what you find interesting, then, by all means, make it your thing. I just don’t want you showboating about how much knowledge you have on one topic within the more significant railroad subject.

Railfanning is — or should be — a fun experience. But, sadly, too often, it isn’t because too many people need to showcase how they are the smartest person in the room. Wheel arrangements are an excellent topic, but a railroad is so much more than its rolling stock.

A railroad encompasses the communities it touches, the people who made it possible and the way it shaped the world around it. The includes locomotives — and their wheel arrangements — but it isn’t limited to them.

With everything that happens in life daily, taking the time to enjoy trains — whether at a museum or from a safe trackside location — should be all about having fun. I am pretty sure I missed something here, but after all, we are talking about watching trains for crying out loud.

The reason I love to watch trains is that it is a hobby with no defined way to enjoy. Some people target a particular railroad or type of railroad operation, while others dig deep into the history of a specific railroad.

Some years ago, after a derailment in California, reporters called me for insights into the railfanning hobby. Their questions were pretty basic, but centered on why would anyone watch trains.

I remember chatting with one writer, and he kept trying to make a psychological leap about watching trains and how it brings me back to some time and place. He couldn’t buy the idea that watching trains is fun. It doesn’t have to be deeper than that.

In 2020, can we make railfanning fun again?

About Todd DeFeo 339 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and The Travel Trolley.