How prepared are you?

Posted by Chase Gunnoe
on Wednesday, August 23, 2017

I’ve always been curious of the amount of effort we all put into our rail related travels. From classic maps to old timetables to today’s digital resources, like sun calculators, and online radio streams and webcams. With our railfan arsenals equipped with a mixed bag of traditional literature and new technology, what do you do when planning for a trip?

For me, it’s a little bit of everything.

I bought an iPad a few years ago and downloaded a bunch of railroad maps and old timetables I had acquired from trade shows. I digitized the materials and downloaded them to the iPad.

It seemed like a good idea, and it worked, but it was a little too complicated for my tastes.

So, I switched to traditional printed timetables, used Trains Magazine maps, put all of the materials into a spiral bind portfolio, and had it printed at a locally owned print shop. The 6-8 page document mapped out a trip to Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah day-by-day with railroad mileposts, copies of the Amtrak timetable (remember those?), scanner frequencies, contact information for local hotels, and other useful info. I had it laminated and printed a couple extra copies in the event I lost it. 

A self-made travel guide on the left and Altamont Press' guide to western railroads were my go-to resources during a Colorado-Wyoming-Utah trip in the summer of 2015.

It worked perfectly, that is, until we saw no trains on day three, deadheaded 350 miles, and switched our hotels. Twice. Or maybe three times?

Overall, it was great to have the entire trip mapped out and to have it in a format that didn’t rely on cellphone connectivity. And there’s something about remembering printed words, as opposed to digital content.

In having the portfolio on the dashboard and the iPad next to me, I was able to use the iPad for checking sun angles and the portfolio for checking mileposts and locations.

To some degree, it helped eliminate confusion and surprises, but it still couldn’t predict the trains.

And after all, who says you need to prepare? There have been times where I’ve wanted to point the car in a general direction and go explore. Whether it’s an abstract coal branch, a short line with sporadic operating hours, or an overlook along the old Rio Grande main, it’s not just planning that makes it happen – it’s luck.

So, what do you do? 

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