See the USA, in a Railfan Way

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, March 01, 2017

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)

Railfans, of all political persuasions, are far more likely than most U.S. residents to acknowledge the existence of what have been termed by many coastal-state denizens as “flyover” states.  Not only do they not hesitate to pass through these locations, in many cases they actually seek them out as destinations. 

Steeling themselves even to avoid the Interstate Highway system when necessary, you’ll find these intrepid explorers cruising up and down U.S. 52 in West Virginia, for example, in search of operations on the former Norfolk & Western Pocahontas district, referred to by those in the know as the “Pokey”. 

They don’t have to have the reference to “Sacred Central Illinois” explained to them in layman’s terms, either.  Hint:  don’t expect to find many significant religious historical sites in the process, although there will be those that wax eloquently, assuming that they are old enough to remember it, about brown and orange streamliners operating at speeds of 100 miles per hour (and probably more) in this region “back in the day”.

Who else would schedule vacation time in the “feared flatlands” of northern Ohio?  Well, there is the analogy to the Willie Sutton theory of why he chose to rob banks (that’s where the money is); there are lots of trains there, and several towns, including Deshler, Fostoria and Marion, host viewing facilities catering to railfans and their families and friends. 

There are those that argue that the scenery is better in other locales, particularly in the mountainous west.  The corollary to this statement implies that the photography potential in western locations is automatically superior, as a result.  Real photographers know that this isn’t necessarily true, however; good photographers make good photographs, based on skill and imagination, in many locations that are not ‘obvious’ choices to others, not just the ‘preferred’ (and in some cases, overworked) locations in spectacular terrain.

 Which brings us to Dwyer, Wyoming, the site of the June 1999 photo at the beginning of this post.  This is the intersection of U.S. 26 and Wyoming route 320, between a pair of railroad locations, Wheatland and Guernsey.  You’ll notice that I’m not identifying it as a ‘town’ (although it’s named on the DeLorme map); the intersection is the only thing there.

That, and during my (brief) visit, the sky, visible in all its foreboding glory.  ‘Pure’ railfans, including those that don’t take pictures, will need to spot me a little patience in this instance for the lack of specific railroad content here (the BNSF is about a mile and a half east); when you see a sky like this, a photographer’s got to do what a photographer has to do.  Besides it helped keep the mind from thinking about where shelter could be sought in a place where there isn’t any…

To really travel is more than just to arrive at a destination; there are many ways to experience this in the U.S. (and Canada, for that matter; anyone else been in Niobe or Nobleford, Alberta?).  Now, you will have to watch out for having to deal with people that aren’t necessarily ‘just like you’ in the process, but with an open mind, that shouldn’t be a problem.  Railfans are blessed with a great, and interesting hobby, which can have significant side benefits when traveling.

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