"It's better to burn out 
    Than to fade away "

...............................Neil Young

What is "extreme" railfanning??

by Jerry Sundin

It's a matter of attitude. Of all the unnatural lusts that can rule one's own entity, the unchecked railfan urge will soon be consuming all available energies. The growl of the diesels approach and the singing, humming, hissing parade of rolling stock are an art form that is both constant and ever-changing.

It is a thing of beauty incomprehensible to the normal, well person.

At the grade crossing the average John Doe may panic when the signal starts. The last thing he wants to do is get stopped by a train, and he many times risks his life to avoid it. A railfan will see the crossing signals activate and try to get a front row seat at the gates, relax and enjoy the train without being too obvious about it.

The extreme railfan has most likely heard the train leave the yard, plotted a meet at the grade crossing, and left the car parked somewhere else as creature comforts are not allowed to interfere with a train watching experience.

Railfans can, by almost all appearances, be the average person. Maybe he got a scanner for fathers day. He sits in the easy chair watching TV, and on a good day will be free of other distractions and hear the Local Defect Detector go off in time to go down to see a train (I met this guy). Many lurk at hobby shops, in their basements with the model train set, show up at Train shows, or attend NRHS sponsored events. They can be somewhat shy about their avocation.

The X fan cannot be bothered with concealment when the prime mover is TRAIN LUST. He may own multiple scanners, usually has a superior antenna arrangement, and may not even own a television unless he has a VCR and a collection of rail videos next to it. The scanner provides the link to the outside world, being the primary source of news, sports, weather and entertainment. A proper scanner setup in the Detroit area outputs less dead air than the Rush Limbaugh show, monitoring trains calling locations 40 miles out, Defect Detectors 30 miles, and a dispatcher about 60 miles on a good day. An X fan may even sleep with the scanner on (I know this guy), though I only do this in hotels.

The photo gallery is another differentiator of the Extremist. Much of the outstanding rail photography is unfortunately of limp locomotives posed as standing equipment in a station or yard. TRAIN pictures seem to be few and far between. Pictures of trains are usually taken out west during the kids summer vacation in the mountains where there is plenty of light and the trains don't move too fast.

Extreme Railfanning in Michigan is much more fun than that.

Level roadbed weaving around lakes and rivers allows fast freight when the company puts enough power at the head end. The quality of light is unpredictable, which makes a well developed list of good photo locations essential. This requires almost continual exploration of the area. If you hit the right junction at the right time, radio chatter and train movements occur in mind numbing quantities, and you can more safely move about to catch all the fun on a mountain bike than in an automobile.

SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN is a gateway to Canada for Norfolk Southern and CSX. It is a gateway to the USA for the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, the only true transcontinental Class 1 railways of North America. They contribute about 12 million tons of traffic to the local scene. Remnants of the once Mighty NYC/Pennsylvania RR are also scattered about the region, now waiting to be divided up between Pere Marquette and Wabash heirs CSX and NS. Outside of Chicago or St Paul, where else can you find 4 Class 1 railroads in operation?

Extreme implies limits, and they do exist. TRAIN HOPPING IS OUT, MAN. Scraping your sorry ass off of RR equipment won't be any fun for anyone. If you feel the irresistible urge to hop a train, buy an Amtrak/Via Rail ticket and enjoy the ride.

TRESSPASS should also be avoided as it is illegal and can easily become dangerous. Train watching should be fun, even if it is a somewhat deranged activity.

This web site is intended to be a guide to Michigan railfanning information, but not exclusively. Techniques presented here will have application for extremists elsewhere. Links to other sites of direct interest to Michigan Railfans will be maintained.

" It's better to burn out 
           cause rust never sleeps "

................Neil Young