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Earliest Memories of the Railways/Railroads

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Earliest Memories of the Railways/Railroads
Posted by NorthBrit on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 6:49 AM

Let's take a trip back in time.    Dust the cobwebs and think back.  See what we get.


What are your memories of Railways 'when you were a young'un'?


The one that is the earliest in my memory is ---------------

Being an orphan from three days old  I lived with an Uncle and Aunt and two cousins until I was three years of age. Therefore it was at that time. (When I was four I lived with my Grandma and Granddad.)

If I was three, then it was the Summer of 1950. Aunt and Uncle decided to take us to Bridlington for the week.

It was a Saturday morning. Suitcases were packed. The excitement of going on holiday.

As my Uncle had to work Saturday, he was to follow us the following day. (Six day working days were the 'norm' then.

I remember how dark, dingy and very smoky the area around the ticket office at Leeds City Station was. My two cousins (Jean, 7 yr old and Margaret, 5 year old) and I watched as my Aunt bought our train tickets. Carefully she placed them in her handbag.

With having two suitcases a Porter was needed and one was immediately on hand. Loading the cases on his hand barrow he asked "Which train."
"Bridlington," Aunt replied. To which we scurried after the Porter to our waiting train.

At last we boarded the train. Aunt lifted the suitcases on to the luggage rack above and we settled down in our compartment.
Looking out at the platform, a huge Station Clock gave the time of 08.56. Aunt smiled as our train was not due to depart until 09.37.
Another elderly married couple joined us in the compartment.

Aunt looked out of the window and saw, not twenty yards away, a lady with a tea trolley. The clock said 09.04. Plenty of time.
"There isn't a queue I shall get some tea," said Aunt and alighted from the carriage.

No sooner than she had bought the tea, she turned, saw and heard the engine take the strain an began the Schhuff, Schhuff, Schuff. The time was 09.07.

Pandemonium struck in the carriage. Three of us screamed "Mam." Tears streaming down our cheeks

We were some way out of Leeds by the time the other couple in our carriage managed to calm us down.
The Ticket Inspector arrived. Off course we had no tickets. Aunt still had them in her handbag. The Ticket inspector was dubious to our story, but we stayed on board.

Finally we arrived at Bridlington. The elderly couple had their own suitcases, but they also helped us with ours.
At the ticket barrier, the Inspector allowed us through to the other side, but had to wait there until the next train from Leeds arrived. The elderly couple waited with us.

Thirty minutes later, the train from Leeds arrived. Amid tears of joy, Aunt thanked the elderly couple.

The 09.07 departure to Bridlington from Leeds was a 'Duplicate' and not in the timetable.

The week in Brid was great.




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Posted by dknelson on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 10:15 AM

My earliest railroad memories:

Seeing a passenger train stopped at the local depot in town, blocking traffic on the main street so we got a good long look at it.  Timetables suggest that this must have been somewhere in the 1957-58 time frame.  I have a distinct recollection of a deeply slanted nose on the E unit.  The C&NW still had and was running the pre-WWII E3s that were the original diesel electric power on the 400, but it is more likely that what I saw was an E6.  Either way I am pretty certain about the slanted nose.  

The other even earlier memory is standing in our front yard and seeing a line of smoke moving from north to south.  I could not see the tracks and it wasn't until the C&NW started running the bi-level intercity trains that I could see the very tops of those passenger cars, particularly at night when the greenish lights (tinted windows) from the upper level could be seen moving.  There is a slight chance that what I saw as a very young boy was one of the final steam locomotives on that division of the C&NW but by the early 1950s they had already started to remove steam service facilities on that main line in Wisconsin (steam hung on longer in the outer areas of the railroad).  I might have been seeing an ALCO diesel.  I might have been seeing a steam powered railroad crane being moved, since the CNW kept theirs into the early 1960s.  I suspect I was 3 or 4 years old.

Dave Nelson

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Posted by CGW103 on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 10:33 AM

When I was small, under 5, Dad went shopping and we got stopped by a switch engine servicing a local lumber yard. It was a CNW switch engine, probably an 0-6-0. 

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Posted by York1 on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 10:39 AM

In my little town, there wasn't much in the way of entertainment.  My father would take us down to the UP mainline and we would watch the trains come through.  Still lots of steam locos at that time.

York1 John       

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Posted by Billwiz on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 10:40 AM

I grew up in Phoenixville, PA.  To get to my aunt's house, we had to drive by the Phoenix Steel Corporation, and would have to stop as the slag train would cross the roadway.  For me it was always great - I got to see trains.  

Anytime we reached a closed crossing gate, we would count the cars.  


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Posted by MisterBeasley on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 11:08 AM

I was rwo years old when my parents moved out to Long Island from New York City.  At that point he started taking the Long Island Railroad to work.  I remember the station.  It was on a stub-end siding.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 11:09 AM

Fortunately, my earliest train memories are preserved on video produced from 8 mm  home movies my parents shot. The trains are in the Panama Canal Zone and it's 1960. There are scenes with me on a stuffed and mounted steam loco, along with some other shots along the line and at a station that abuts an Air Force airfield (I think this was Albrook AFB).

The video is here:

Train scenes and a ride start about 4 minutes in.

Mike Lehman

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Posted by Shock Control on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 11:14 AM

In the summer, our family would go swimming at a cove in northern New Jersey.

Near the picnic area, there was a row of trees and a train track.  I used to love waiting for the train, which you could clearly see beyond the trees.

I'm guessing this may have been PRR/Penn Central or B&O track at the time.  I wonder if the track is still there. 

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Posted by Mister Mikado on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 12:37 PM

1955, I was seven years old, staying with my grandparents for a week in April at our bungalow colony in Highview, NY.  We drove down the hill to the O&W train station to pick up a package, and I marveled at the huge F Diesel deeply growling in the fog and rain as it waited to pull its cars through the tunnel to points north.  The station is now a marvelous remodeled private residence.  -Rob

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Posted by kasskaboose on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 3:31 PM

My dad told me that when we took a family vacation to the Swiss Alps, I watched mesmorized by watching the electric cars move around the yard.  He said I'd do nothing but observe.  Want to keep me quiet?  Allow me to enjoy trains!

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Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 4:37 PM

Can't place an actual "first memory". My parents moved to a house across the street from the Minneapolis Northfield & Southern's "high line" about 7 years before I was born, so I saw trains virtually every day until I moved away many years later. I was born in 1958; until the railroad bought it first EMD switchers in 1962 the railroad was all Baldwin (on the high line, DRS 6-6-1500, VO-1000 / VO-660) except for one Fairbanks-Morse H-10-44 and one FM H-12-44. Cabooses were red wood cabooses that had the cupola removed, and a small sidewindow (I think they actually used all-weather windows designed for diesel locomotive cabs) to make it a sort-of bay-window car. Thursday mornings I went with my Mom to her ladies bowling league at Diamond Lake Lanes in Minneapolis, waiting in the childcare area while she bowled. The lanes were across the street from the end of the line for the branchline, and the crew tied up there and walked across the street to eat at the bowling alley. Although they used diesels, they still dressed like steam crews with denim jackets, overalls, gloves etc.

Weekdays they ran a second train, usually around 5 PM. I would wave at them, and when it got dark early I would flash the porch light at them and they would blow the whistle (they used Hancock Air Whistles, not airhorns). One evening a little before Xmas 1963, the train stopped in front of my house, and the trainmen came up to the house and gave me a railroad flashlight (the kind with a long red tube for signalling) so I could wave that at them at night.

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Posted by PM Railfan on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 5:58 PM

My oldest memories are too long gone to be remembered. Sadly, because of that, i do not know what my 'real' first memories are.

One memory i do have, and refuse to let go of is my very first ride. Its pretty much my oldest memory, that i DO remember.

It starts the night before. My parents had remarked that tomarow was gonna be a special day - we were gonna take a 'train ride' with a 'steam engine'. My younger brother and I couldnt have been older than 4 and 6 respectively. Mom would chase while me, brother, and dad rode the train.

Our part of the trip was from fRednecksburg to Richmond. Behind none other than SR 4501. I remember the trip, and more over i remember Richmond station extra vividly.

Why, because at 6yrs old, not knowing a dad gum thing about trains yet, that breathing, belching, hissing, monster of a locomotive scared the bejeebers out of me. To make it really a nightmarish/stick with you forever type of thing, dear ole Dad wanted pictures. He snapped while I, lil ole I, had to stand next to that thing.

It is the only time in my life i have EVER been afraid of anything railroad. I can still feel the fear. I remember that all i wanted to do was get away from that thing! How ironic now, huh? Dad kept reassuring me it was ok... get closer - get closer.

All those noises. I didnt know she was just breathing just as i was. Standing pretty so a kid like me could get his photo taken. To make this more poiniant(sp), I have never seen those pictures to this day. No one knows what happened to them. I have never ever seen them. Except for our collective memories of the event, we cant prove it ever happened. (Parents!)

Im sure dear ole dad developed them, but i went through all that, and never got to see what could be technically called my first "Railfan" event. Im pretty sure i was hooked then, because it was all i could do to stay on dads leash during the day.

I can pretty much also state this is where i became a Railfan as right after the picture taking ordeal, an SW type switcher came in and pulled the train out of station. This marked the end of the day for us with the exception of the trip back home to F'Burg.

It marked my beginning as a Railfan because i could not fathom why such a tiny locomotive was pulling this huge one, plus a train. I wanted answers! And so, my story begins......




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Posted by BigDaddy on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 6:42 PM

PMR mentioned "real memories"  I had my tonsils out at age 2 (quite young even by 1953 standards)  I remember playing with Tonka toys in the pre and post of visit and for almost 20 years afterward, I remember being held down while the surgeon came at me with my mothers' sewing pinking shears.  That couldn't have happened.

We were travelling to my grandparents in PA.  We stopped at a crossing and I counted 104 freight cars pulled by double headed steam.  The next time I saw a steam engine I was 20 years old.

I still have the time table from my first train trip to NYC.  I will see if I can find it and scan it.


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Posted by The Milwaukee Road Warrior on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 6:56 PM

My dad took me to the Hampton Avenue overpass at the (then CNW) Butler yard in northwest Milwaukee near where I grew up.  In those days you could stand on the overpass and watch action down in the yard looking north from Hampton.  

Later it became a UP yard (4014 came thru the yard on its travel across country last year) and recently it has scaled back from what I've heard.

Anyway, I bet I was 6 or 7 maybe, late 70s.  Also around this time, we took a trip to North Freedom, WI to view CNW 1385 on display.  

After these experiences I was hooked and started modeling back then.  We also had a neighbor who modeled HO for the CNW and that helped light the fire of interest.




Milwaukee native modeling the Milwaukee Road in 1950's Milwaukee.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 7:02 PM

What are your memories of Railways 'when you were a young'un'?

Great stories here.

My earliest memory was going out west when I was 8 years old to watch the Freedom Train go by pulled by the GS-4.

I think we saw it four times.

We did not tour the train for a few more months when it finally came to Florida.


Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by up831 on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 7:28 PM

When I was about 3yrs old, my parents were driving somewhere near St Marys, KS.  Along that stretch of highway, the road parallels the UP Kansas Division tracks.  We had caught up to a steam locomotive and were matching it for a few minutes.  There was fire, smoke, steam, and it had large wheels with these steel sticks (driver tie rods and piston rods) going up and down.  I was fascinated by it.  Later, we were living over a hardware store for a couple of months while my parents found a place to rent.  From the roof top, I once saw what i now think was a 2-8-0 going back and forth (switching).  The result is Ive been fascinated with trains ever since.

Less is more,...more or less!

Jim (with a nod to Mies Van Der Rohe)

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Posted by Colorado Ray on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 8:44 PM

In the pre-interstate days of the mid '50s my family would drive from Louisville, KY to my grandparents homes in Joliet, IL.  US 31 to Indianapolis then US 52 to Joliet.  Seemed like there was a railroad crossing every few miles.  Best were the NKP crossings that still had steam engines.

My first train ride was an elementary school field trip on the L&N from Louisville Union Station to Lebanon Junction and return.


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Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 9:42 PM

The one that is the earliest in my memory is ---------------

Real railroad, the SOO Line, at my grandpa's farm, spending the night, summer time, bedroom windows open, house about 2500 ft. (Google maps) from the main line between Fond du Lac WI., and Chicago.  Now owned by the CN, and VERY active.  I was about 12?

Model railroad:  Coming home from the Christmas Eve service at church, to a Marx train set running around the Christmas tree, i was about 6.


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Posted by charlieB on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 10:06 PM

My Grandmother lived two blocks away from the East River in Brooklyn and nearby was the docks and BEDT.I can remember seeing steam engine running in the street aroung 1960.Thats why I have always had a soft spot for Varney Docksiders

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Posted by NorthBrit on Thursday, January 14, 2021 4:53 AM

I am glad some memories are coming back.  Smile


Seeing and traveling by trains was never a big thing when I was young.   We used to travel by bus.


Having said that another ingrained memory was 1951?   I was visiting family in Northumberland.   For some reason we went to a little village called Shankhouse.  Why I never knew.   Anyway,  I was outside a house 'playing'.   Across the road was open field.  Tall, straw-like grass was the view.


Suddenly plumes of  smoke rising from the grass  could be seen.   Slowly it made its way from left to right.    A gap in the tall grass brught into view an elderly (what I now know)   0.6.0 steam engine pulling a number of (also) elderly coal wagons.  


It stopped.   Somebody got off the engine   (fireman).  He walked back along the line  looking at the wagons.   At one of them he grasped the underframe and lifted the errant wagon back on the track.

Boarding the engine again the train slowly left the scene.


The railway line closed in 1953.



To the world you are someone.    To someone you are the world

I cannot afford the luxury of a negative thought

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Posted by rrinker on Thursday, January 14, 2021 8:23 AM

 Besides the models at home - I have an 8mm silent movie of me at age 2 running a train around the Christmas tree - I would say going to Strasburg:

 I think that's Summer 1970. #4 was already parked in the middle of the grounds (on the other side of that caboose). Can't imagine it to look back, that my Dad only lived another 5 years past this.



Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's


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Posted by davidmurray on Thursday, January 14, 2021 9:05 PM

In 1955-56, I was in grade three in Wellington Ontario.  From my desk I could look out and see steam powered iron ore trains go by.  I remember seeing the smoke come out of the stack and blow ahead of the train.


David Murray from Oshawa, Ontario Canada
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Posted by RR_Mel on Thursday, January 14, 2021 10:09 PM

December 21, 1949.  I was 12 years old when I saw my first train.  My Mother, 3 year old brother and Mel boarded the Union Pacific City of Los Angles in Salt Lake City in route to El Paso TX.  We were delayed 19 hours on Donor Pass in snow, it took that long for a Snow Blower to clear the tracks of the snow.

We missed our connection with the Southern Pacific Golden State and spent the night in LA.  We boarded the Golden State in LA on the 23rd and arrived in El Paso in the evening.

In El Paso we lived three city blocks from the SP northbound tracks so I spent my teens watching the monster SP articulateds and the Golden State coming and going.



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Posted by blabride on Friday, January 15, 2021 11:02 AM

I always thought that my earliest train memory was riding the Mopacs Texas Eagle from New Braunfels TX back to San Antonio with my kindergarten class in 1966 at 6 years of age. However, I have had a vague but vivid memory for all my life of looking out a window sill about chest high at night and in the near distance seeing big blocky red locomotives under bright lights. 

My Dad's father worked for the MKT RR for 47 years. He retired in 1964 when I was 4. When my mother passed away I was going through her pictures when I found a picture of me playing on the porch of the house my grandparents lived in from Smithville TX right before he retired. Well my wife and I went down to Smithville the next weekend and found the house and bam, its living room window in front has a view of the ex MKT now UP yard about 50 yards away. That has to be the memory of seeing MKT Deramus painted Gp7's idling in the yard. I had to have been no more than 4. 

I also remember looking through page after page of his MKT employee magazines in Lockhart after he retired. I still wish my grandmother had kept those. I did get all of the rest of his MKT memorabilia and those are the only things missing. Yes I do model the MKT and the Mopac now.


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Posted by MARTIN STATION on Friday, January 15, 2021 1:15 PM

Good topic, 

 I grew up along the IC/ICG Mattoon to Evansville line that was originally the Peoria, Decatur and Evansville. In fact it split my great grandparents farm around 1881 when it was built. There were four trains a day best I remember, one early in the morning and one late in the evening, so I woke up to the sound of trains and went to bed with the sound of trains. The other two were around noon and early evening.

  What I saw most was the black Green Diamond geeps until the orange and white paint scheme came along. I really fell in love the first time I saw my first Paducah rebuilt GP8/10. I remember as a kid standing trackside and waving to the locomotive and caboose crews and always getting a friendly wave and smile back. I also remember picking blackberries along the fence rolls trackside and hunting rabbits in the trackside brush during season. Those were good days.



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Posted by nycmodel on Friday, January 15, 2021 1:50 PM


My late mom claimed that when she pushed me in my stroller (early 1950s) on the bridge over the LIRR tracks in Elmhurst Queens, I would pick up my head in excitement at the commotion caused by a train passing underneath. Just several years later, perhaps 4 or 5 years old, after we had moved out on the “Island”, my dad had to return to his work place in Brooklyn to pick up his paycheck which he had accidentally left in his locker.  He took me with him and gave me my first real memories of railroads as we waited on the platform at the then ground level Hicksville station of the LIRR, for a train into the City. I still have memories of a steam engine sitting alone on a side track, making noises that made it seem like it was possessed by demons. Steam was probably discontinued on the LIRR within months.


Just a couple of years later we were off to Clinton Iowa to visit my Great Grandmother via the Pennsylvania RR to Chicago and then the C & NW to Clinton. I remember the dark and somewhat spooky confines of the Penn Station platform level (somethings never change). The original majestic Penn Station would have been still there in all of its glory but I have no memories of the train shed itself. We took the all coach Trailblazer to Chicago. I recall being given a dining car menu that resembled a passenger train car. One other thing I do recall was that evening my parents took us to the observation/club car. For whatever reason, it was at the front of the train. In what I later learned was Harrisburg PA, I watched through the rear window while the GG1 was swapped for E units for the rest of the trip to Chicago. The rest in pretty vague but I know we had to kill hours in Chicago before we could get the rare C & NW train to Clinton. I also recall having to get up an ungodly hour in the morning to catch the likewise rare train back to Chicago.


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Posted by Pantherphil on Friday, January 15, 2021 3:10 PM

Probably 1956 when my Dad set up our Lionel Lines train platform in our house in West Chester PA.  I was 6 and would have had some exposure to Pennsylvania and Reading Operations in Chester County Pennsylvania as my Dad was a consultant to town governments and would frequently take us on rides throughout the region.

In 1959 we took a Reading Rail Ramble behind a steam locomotive.  I would have been 8.  Highlights of course were the photo opportunities when the passengers dismounted for a ride by.  At that time we had moved to Willow Grove in Montgomery  County and my Dad road the Reading into Philadelphia.  We lived about a block from the commuter line.  We were also within reach of the Pennsy Trenton Cut off to Harrisburg which paralleled the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Lots of train action on that line including GG-1s, my all time favorite locomotive.  In 1964-65 I went on a Boy Scout expedition to Philmont with Valley Forge Council BSA.  We traveled by train from Valley Forge to Chicago and Denver and return.  In the declining days of passenger rail but a great adventure for a 13 year old.  During college days at Lehigh University I regularly rode the Reading from Glenside to Bethlehem on an RDC.  Again the declining days of passenger rail.  I was often the only passenger on the Sunday evening return trip.  Still remember pulling into the abandoned and decaying passenger station and taking the long walk up South Mountain to Lehigh's campus.   Early days of law school in 1972 my newly wed wife and I usually took the Amtrak Night Owl from South Station Boston to Philadelphia, often with our pup in the baggage car, for major holidays.  My wife did not like to leave the dog alone so the conductors and brakemen often let us ride with them in the baggage car.  They were great sharing food and drinks. The Night Owl was a pretty run down overnight train, almost always running late.  But great memories all the same.

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Posted by Ringo58 on Friday, January 15, 2021 6:02 PM

My earliest is a trip to the IRM (Illinois railway museum).

I rember running through the hood on a locomotive and my dad telling me not to, then I slammed my head on a pipe and fell down. Needless to say my dad was right.

I also remeber me and him riding our bikes up to the metra station and Watching the 6pm from chicago pullin before heading to the new metra yard/facility. I wish I rember more because the Wisconsin Central was still around a few years after i was born (1999)

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Posted by HO60s on Friday, January 15, 2021 7:16 PM

The GM&O tracks ran thru the small rural town of Pearl,IL. In the mid 1940s steam trains would stop at the depot and my father wanted me to get closer to the noisy engine.I was 5 or so years old and afraid of these snorting and hissing beasts. Would love to see a steam engine stop there today.

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Posted by rrinker on Friday, January 15, 2021 10:54 PM

 Pantherphil, greetings from another Lehigh alum. BSEE '88.



Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's


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