Railfan vs. Foamer

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Railfan vs. Foamer
Posted by The Conrail Kid on Thursday, May 07, 2009 9:56 AM

Forgive me if this has been covered before, but I've been unable to locate anything on this topic in the last 10 forum pages.

 The majority of posters on this site are in/were in the railroading industry, and your opinions are the ones I'm really looking for. What do you think separates a "railfan" from a "foamer"?

 I don't necessarily consider foamer a derogatory term (maybe I'm wrong), but I don't really consider myself one either.  I've never worked in the industry, but I enjoy reading and learning about trains. We also have tracks at a school yard close by our apartment; sometimes we'll walk our dogs there and I'll bring a camera hoping to photograph a train. Which one would I be classified as?

 This is simply a curiosity question.  I've seen both terms used, sometimes interchangeably, which doesn't seem quite correct to me. Thoughts?  

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Posted by selector on Thursday, May 07, 2009 10:02 AM

A search at the right under "Search Community" will net you a ton of threads covering the topic.

Here is a recent example.

http://cs.trains.com/trccs/forums/p/134435/1508751.aspx#1508751

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Posted by tree68 on Thursday, May 07, 2009 10:08 AM

There's a fine line between the two.

One widely accepted definition of "foamer" is one who 'foams at the mouth' when he sees a train.  In general, I think that most will agree that a foamer is a railfan who has gone "over the top."  The problem usually comes with defining where that point is. 

I suppose one comparison would be between the guy who reads the box scores every day and goes to the games, and the guy whose car sports team license plates, has team seat covers, named his kid after his favorite player (although more than a few pets are named with railroad themes), and joins his buddies at the game to paint their bodies so to spell out the team name.

 

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Posted by eolafan on Thursday, May 07, 2009 10:30 AM

Call me a railfan, call me a foamer...I don't really care, just as long as you DON"T call me late for dinner!

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Posted by wjstix on Thursday, May 07, 2009 10:45 AM

If you're a railfan, railfans are railfans. If you're a working railroader, railfans are foamers. Smile,Wink, & Grin

There's some evidence the term began with railroaders to describe crazy railfans pacing their trains or standing in the rain to take a picture or log the engine in their trainspotting book.

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Posted by chad thomas on Thursday, May 07, 2009 10:53 AM

From an old post:

 

 

Railfan...An otherwise normal person that enjoys the pursuit of railroad related activities. That could be one or more of many sub interests including but not limited to observing, photographing, reasearching, studying, discussing, modeling or just plain following the railroads of both past,present or future. These people are hard to spot in other circles as they are functional in normal society.

Foamer...One that apparently looses all mental control when one or more of the following occur: 1) they are in the presence of a: A) a train B) railroad tracks (and in some places railroad property(s)) C) a piece of railroad memorabilia or D) a conversation or any other communication related to the subject of railroading. They are easy to detect as most of them are social disaster areas anyway.

Railroader (non railfan)...One that couldn't care less what the rest of us falling into the other categories think(s) about them or there company. They are the ones that are there to do a job, earn a liveing and make it home safely every day till retirement.


Railroader (closet railfan)...One that typically enjoys there job whether they admit it or not. They are most likely to be industry insider participants of railroad related forums. they are fairly easy members to spot as they typically use aliases (to protect the innocent of course) but are otherwise forthright with there experiences and opinions,reguardless of what the foamers think.

Railroader (and railfan)..one that enjoys there profession and is willing to share there experiences and/or wisdom with the rest of the railfan community. They are easy to spot due to there honesty, integrity and passion for railroading and railroad related subjects while feeling no need to hide there identity.

********************************************************************************************
Notes: (some less common catagories)

Closet railfan-For all intents and purposes should be considered railfans that don't advertise. They are the hardest to spot but can be identified by the quick snap of the neck upon hearing any railroad related noise to see whats up.

Railroader / Foamer, there also exists such an animal as railroader (foamer). They don't usually last very long, though, because the other three railroader categories look upon them as being more than a little strange, even if they share the same sympathies at times. You can tell these guys some tall tales that they will later repeat as gospel.

Trolls-(all of the above)...Trolls are generally misfits of society looking to disrupt normal society in any way they can (for whatever reason) and there presence in the forum is a side effect of society more then a railfan category and will furthermore be ignored,

**********************************************************************************************

relationships:

railfan-Foamer....The railfan will tolerate the foamer either out of pity or compassion for the mentally challenged that enjoy the same hobby, even when it may damage there reputation....the foamer will generally cling on to the railfan because they are not just willing to talk to them but are also socially acceptable members of society.

railfan-railroader(non railfan)...The railfan typically feels self conscious when a railroader gives that look that says "get a life"...The railroader usually gives the railfan that "Get a life look" that comes so naturally to them.

Railfan-railroader(closet railfan)...railfans typically cater to the closet railroader's ego when they feel they will not have there cover blown and therefore are paid back in special favors in many varying ways in which railfans tend to exploit but not abuse...Closet railfan railroaders are a goldmine for the railfan because when they know they can get away with it they will show off for the railfan in a multitude of ways that are always beneficial and thoroughly appreciated by most all railfans. This is typically a most beneficial relationship as long as the railfan does not take the closet foamer down front street.

Railfan-railfan/railroader...This tends to be the best kind of relationship as each party tends to have a level head and doesn't get to inflated about who or what they are and for the most part are intelegent, wise and compassionate members of society.

Foamer-non railfan railroader...The worst possible match. The Foamer is typically a "social disaster area" an is likely to represent a hazard to the railroader in a multitude of ways in which the non railfan railroader will be most intolerant of... the non railfan railroader will look at the foamer like they are the most socially unacceptable life form on the face of the planet, and not know whether to be irritated by them or take pitty on them. bottom line: bad blood.

Foamer-closet railfan railroader...Although not the worst mix it does have perils all its own. the foamer will tend to taunt the closet railroader to give them access or special favors... Meanwhile the closet railroader will constantly worry about the foamer taking them down front street and risking them loosing there job. A very unbalanced relationship.

Foamer-railroader railfan...the foamer typically worships the ground the railroader walks on. The railroader typically spends his time wondering why those losers worship the ground they walk on.The relationships in this category could potentially fill books and is way beyond the scope of this piece.


 

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Posted by gabe on Thursday, May 07, 2009 11:44 AM

A railroad fan is someone who likes to learn about railroading, but is not ostentatious about it and could really give a da(r)n less about whether people inside or outside the industry thought it was weird that he or she likes to learn about railroading.

Conversely, a foamer is someone who likes to tell other people how much they know about trains more than they like to learn about them and has an unusual preoccupation with the fact that otherwise normal people inside or outside the industry who have hobbies ranging from baseball to basket weaving to dog breeding to pornography might think it is weird that she or he likes trains.

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Posted by Modelcar on Thursday, May 07, 2009 12:04 PM

Perhaps I like to think of rail interests as just a priority hobby....And I've had that hobby for 70 plus years.  I don't go nuts about doing it or abusing someone to listen all about it, I simply have that interest.

Those interests are the mechanical....engineering {civil}, aspect of the physical plant....and of course the railroad equipment both modern and that in the past.

I don't consider that any more unusual than  someone with priority interest in football....baseball and all the fine points of each, etc.....

As for a name to what it really is:  For me it's simply a priority interest.

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Posted by zardoz on Thursday, May 07, 2009 12:13 PM

gabe

.....therwise normal people inside or outside the industry who have hobbies ranging from baseball to basket weaving to dog breeding to pornography might think it is weird that she or he likes trains.

Gabe

I never considered pornography as a hobby......it might make my next visit to the hobby shop more interesting.

"Hey! Did ya see the nice couplers on that one?"

"Yeah!  But how about the caboose!!!?"

"There's a main line I wouldn't mind exploring".

"I wonder if there is a video to go with it?"

"I need a new lay out".

"But honey, I'm merely looking for a good photo oportunity".

She laughed as she said, "You said you were 'O' gauge; it looks to me like you're closer to 'N' gauge".

 

But I think I'll skip the weathering kit.

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Posted by gabe on Thursday, May 07, 2009 1:18 PM

zardoz

gabe

.....therwise normal people inside or outside the industry who have hobbies ranging from baseball to basket weaving to dog breeding to pornography might think it is weird that she or he likes trains.

Gabe

I never considered pornography as a hobby......it might make my next visit to the hobby shop more interesting.

"Hey! Did ya see the nice couplers on that one?"

"Yeah!  But how about the caboose!!!?"

"There's a main line I wouldn't mind exploring".

"I wonder if there is a video to go with it?"

"I need a new lay out".

"But honey, I'm merely looking for a good photo oportunity".

She laughed as she said, "You said you were 'O' gauge; it looks to me like you're closer to 'N' gauge".

 

But I think I'll skip the weathering kit.

For the record, my point regarding pornography is that, paradoxically, some rail fans would rather be caught with pornography than a copy of Trains--a near quote from Trains magazine by the way. 

Gabe

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Posted by AgentKid on Thursday, May 07, 2009 2:51 PM

chad thomas
Closet railfan-For all intents and purposes should be considered railfans that don't advertise. They are the hardest to spot but can be identified by the quick snap of the neck upon hearing any railroad related noise to see whats up.

And it is not just railroad related sounds, which reminds me of a funny story. About ten years ago my mother (about 70 then) and I were sitting at a picnic table outside of a fairly famous (in Canada, anyway) hamburger joint on the Trans Canada Highway through Calgary, when what we later saw was a flatdeck trailer semi drive past with a full load of new ties. Over and above the hamburger and chip smells was the smell of creosote on the wind and I noticed it first and started looking around. Then my mom noticed the smell and her head snapped up and started looking around so fast I nearly killed myself laughing. She then looked straight at me and she new exactly, in a really deep way, what she was smelling, but she couldn't figure out why. She saw the truck first, as it was coming from behind me.

She says "What kind of way to run a railroad is that, they don't even use flatcars anymore?" I have to admit I didn't know they shipped ties by truck myself, at that point in time. We have had a good laugh about that a couple of times since. Some things we just won't forget.

AgentKid

 

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Posted by Bruce Kelly on Thursday, May 07, 2009 3:03 PM
As for the term "foamer," didn't this mutate from the term "foamite," which originated on the West Coast when certain somebodies associated with CTC Board magazine scribed "FOAMITE" inside a tunnel wall as an acronym for Far-Out Advanced Mentally Incompetent Train Enthusiast? At least that's the story that was presented way back when in black and white on heavy, glossy paper.
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Posted by Poppa_Zit on Thursday, May 07, 2009 3:55 PM

I don't worry about what other people think, especially those who feel an abject need to hang silly labels on others.

My enjoyment comes from analyzing the history of the railroads in this country, and visiting once-vibrant towns abandoned by railroads to see what's left behind, both the physical plant as well as the aftereffects -- indelible imprints left on the community.

So I guess that makes me a railroad history buff -- with a dry chin.  

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Posted by Deggesty on Thursday, May 07, 2009 4:24 PM

What, no one has mentioned railroad buff? I came to describe myself as a railfan (even after I learned that this use of  "fan" is derived from "fanatic"), and I was surprised to hear my college treasurer describe me as a "railroad buff." One day, I was in his office, conversing with him and the assistant treasurer, and he spoke of me in that way. I was young and ignorant, but I did not correct him (excusing him in my mind because he was not from the South, but from Iowa), just as I never corrected the college president for spelling my name "Johnnie" (he was three years younger than my mother).

When traveling by rail, I do not press myself on the railroad people, but I enjoy talking with them when the opportunity arises. I do wear a Southern 4501 tie clasp, and that has opened doors.

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Posted by tree68 on Thursday, May 07, 2009 4:52 PM

Funny you mention "buff."  Those who are interested in fire trucks, etc, are usually referred to as "fire buffs."  I don't think I've ever heard the term "fire fan."  I've heard "rail buff" and "train buff" before, though.

I think rail buff sounds a little more genteel than rail fan - perhaps connoting those who have an interest in trains, but don't necessarily seek them out.

 

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Thursday, May 07, 2009 4:56 PM

Poppa_Zit

My enjoyment comes from analyzing the history of the railroads in this country, and visiting once-vibrant towns abandoned by railroads to see what's left behind, both the physical plant as well as the aftereffects -- indelible imprints left on the community.

So I guess that makes me a railroad history buff

  Ye Gods! Shock  You mean there's more than one of us out there?  I'm always driving or walking through a town, usually a small farm town, to see what's left behind, and try to figure out what was there.  It's sort of like being a railorad archeologist sometimes.

Thanks to Chris / CopCarSS for my avatar.

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Posted by henry6 on Thursday, May 07, 2009 4:57 PM

We have met the enemy and he is us!

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, May 07, 2009 6:36 PM

Chad, I like your analysis of the different groups! CoolThumbs Up

I would definetly classify myself as a railfan. When I'm near railroads, it's hard to act "normal" around other people, especially when I have a camera... But I would call that normal railfan behaivor, not foamer-like. But nowhere near the closet. But when there's no actual railroads around, I act like a normal person, even if there's a lot of railroad photos - just not a real railroad. I get a lot of grief from family members and close friends at the slightest mention of railroads though...

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Posted by trainfan1221 on Thursday, May 07, 2009 6:43 PM

According to people who aren't us, we're all freakin' nuts anyway.  I would personally be somewhat offended by "foamer" because I have not heard it used in a good sense.  I consider myself a railfan, train buff, or I just call myself a train fanatic.  If the shoe fits, after all...  I have been into trains for many years so let them say what they might, it's a fine hobby.  Never foamed, but have turned a few heads with my reaction to various trains in the past.

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Posted by bubbajustin on Thursday, May 07, 2009 7:10 PM
trainfan1221

According to people who aren't us, we're all freakin' nuts.

That's what I get called at school although replace the freekin' with the F bomb. I do get kind of foamerish sometimes. Especially if there is a SD70M around. But I don't think I've ever foamed at the mouth. I get really shakey as the train goes by though. So I guess I could be called a train shaker.

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Posted by Deggesty on Thursday, May 07, 2009 7:52 PM

tree68

I think rail buff sounds a little more genteel than rail fan - perhaps connoting those who have an interest in trains, but don't necessarily seek them out.

Yes, "buff" does sound better, perhaps. I don't know if going into Bristol after supper to watch the N&W take the Pelican out to Roanoke counts as seeking out the train, but occasionally, when I felt I had the time to do it, I would take the seven o'clock bus (it came up on the campus) in and go to the north end of the station to admire the J that was there, waiting for the eight o'clock departure time. Some times I would walk back (two miles), and some times I would take the eight fifteen bus back and walk up the hill to the campus. During the summer, I would at times walk in and back out to watch the southbound Birmingham Special arrive (due in at 1:05 in the morning) About the only time I could see the Tennessean was on a Saturday in the summer, and then, again, it was to see the southbound train.

The treasurer was a good fellow, despite his upbringing ( he certainly talked faster than anybody else at the college). Apparently, he took good care of the funds trusted to his care, and invested wisely such funds as were available for investment. His small son was not really popular with some students. On one occasion, one of the students was painting the treasurer's house, and the boy was standing inside the front door and bothering the painter with his talk. When the breaking point came, the student opened the screen door and made one or two swipes with his broad brush on the front of the boy.  I was NOT that student, but I did help paint most of the buildings on the campus (I even sat in the kitchen window of the president's house, painting and having a pleasant conversation with the president's mother-in-law).

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Posted by mbkcs on Friday, May 08, 2009 12:46 AM

tree68

Funny you mention "buff."  Those who are interested in fire trucks, etc, are usually referred to as "fire buffs."  I don't think I've ever heard the term "fire fan."  I've heard "rail buff" and "train buff" before, though.

I think rail buff sounds a little more genteel than rail fan - perhaps connoting those who have an interest in trains, but don't necessarily seek them out.

 

 

 

You mean you don't have "woo-woo's" up in your neck of the woods? Woo-woos: volunteer firefighters/EMTs that outfit their POVs as miniature ambulances and fire trucks? 

I met a couple once at Rochelle that told me they were train enthusiasts.

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Posted by Ulrich on Friday, May 08, 2009 7:36 AM

Foamer is a derogatory term used mostly by people on the inside..rail workers...to descibe those of us on the outside...interested people who are not employed in the industry.

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Friday, May 08, 2009 9:05 AM

tree68
Funny you mention "buff."  Those who are interested in fire trucks, etc, are usually referred to as "fire buffs."  I don't think I've ever heard the term "fire fan."  I've heard "rail buff" and "train buff" before, though.

I think rail buff sounds a little more genteel than rail fan - perhaps connoting those who have an interest in trains, but don't necessarily seek them out.

My understanding is that the term "buff" originated from the sartorially and fashionably correct young gentlemen fire buffs in England back in the 1800s, who were called that because of their customarily worn buff-colored coats. 

Or something like that.  I'll let someone else research that further, if you want.

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Posted by tree68 on Friday, May 08, 2009 10:22 AM

mbkcs

You mean you don't have "woo-woo's" up in your neck of the woods? Woo-woos: volunteer firefighters/EMTs that outfit their POVs as miniature ambulances and fire trucks? 

Oh, sure.  Heck, I ran a full-width bar and a siren when I was chief. 

The fire equivalent of a foamer, but on the "inside" is a wacker.

It's a rule of thumb in the EMS world that you can tell the relative experience of an EMT by looking at his/her belt.  The more they have hanging from it, the less time they've been in the business...

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Posted by henry6 on Friday, May 08, 2009 10:57 AM

Ulrich

Foamer is a derogatory term used mostly by people on the inside..rail workers...to descibe those of us on the outside...interested people who are not employed in the industry.

I first heard the term foamer applied to railfans back in the 70's from a fan friend who is also an engineer.  He explained it was a derogatory term railroad employees used for most of us but especially the most avid.

But, "fan" is actually short for "fanatic".  Thus baseball, football, hockey, afficianadoes are also called fanatic.  As are so many who admire and follow people, activities, causes, etc.  We often will say so and so is a real fanatic to emphasize how much a fan a person is. "Fan" is a term that has been so watered down from its roots it has become just a mild term.  Thus "foamer" has become the replacement term in the popular nomanclature for those of us general or universal railfans while inside our kingdom refer to those of us who we feel are "over the top".  We have to have a name and reference for everyone and everything and when the old wears thin, we reinvent. 

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, May 08, 2009 11:35 AM

During college, the term we used for an "over the top" railfan was "fit" - short for misfit.

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Posted by SFbrkmn on Friday, May 08, 2009 2:35 PM
Both terms have always sounded goofy to me. Just like a earlier post stated, Fomers are the ones in the bunch which think they know all there is to know about the rr. But ask one of them what a basic day, HO code, eight deadly sins or perhaps a operating rule of delayed in a block means and all you will get from them is a confused look. I watched trains all my adult life until going to work in the industry a decade ago. When I hired and began condr training, I had hardly any knowledge of operating rules. I knew of the mechanical aspects of it due to loading railcars for many yrs in pre rr days. I knew nothing of restricted speed, dual control switch, CTC, trk warrant, 50 foot rule and othr items. I guess I was a dumb railfan. One does not need to take this stuff serious as a hobby and one would enjoy it more if they don't let it go to their heads. Most fomers are only intersted in modern day mega merger rrs and know little if anything or have no interest of the tradition & history of the industry itself.
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Posted by MarknLisa on Friday, May 08, 2009 5:35 PM

I think a railfan is just someone who takes an interest in trains & railroading. Whether it's photography, history, travel, modeling, civil engeneering, transportation economics or simple romanticsim, like some people & sailing ships.  

A foamer has no (or very few) friends.  Has lost jobs, marriages and has bad health & hygene because of an some unhealthy fixation with trains. Probably gets some psychosexual thrill standing too close to the tracks as heavy tonnage speeds by.  Like an alcoholic & his next drink,  the foamer will forsake all to be near the next train that goes by.

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Posted by ValleyX on Friday, May 08, 2009 10:56 PM

When I see a man like the middle-aged gentleman I saw the other day, holding up for my approval a homemade poster of a CSX locomotive that I assume he had painted or drawn on there, I have to think that gentleman just might have some issues.  He looked normal, but. . .and if, by chance, you're on this board, drop me a note.

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