The face we show visiting railfans

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Monday, December 14, 2009

My column in the December 2009 Trains about encounters with police when watching or photographing trains produced no sadder response than the letter I got from a British man. In late 2007, Peter Elliott was standing on the Arizona side of the Colorado River at Topock, beside BNSF Railway’s magnificent bridge. “I was on public property,” he writes, “and had followed a sign saying ‘to the beach.’ ” He is correct in saying this bridge has probably been photographed a million times (that's Joe McMillan's photo on this page).

But just then a Mojave County sheriff’s deputy approached Elliott, saying, “Get your hands out of your pockets—I need to see your hands.” The officer asked what Elliott was doing there with a camera around his neck, and Elliott replied that he wanted to photograph trains crossing the Colorado.

Asked to identify himself, Elliott showed his British driver’s license. That wasn’t good enough, so they went back to his rental car and Elliott produced his passport. He was then told to “back off, stand over there,” and a lengthy radio conversation ensued, during which a second deputy sheriff arrived. Elliott was then told he could photograph trains, but not the bridge.

Elliott later did what he should have done, which was write the Mojave County sheriff’s office to protest his treatment. He received no reply.

“I have visited your country regularly since 1972,” Elliott writes, “have taken thousands of pictures of trains in many locations, and loved every minute. However, the result of that encounter is that I have not been back to the U.S., and I cannot risk spending a large amount on a future trip to have it put in jeopardy by officialdom.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Peter Elliott is 71 years old. Is this not ridiculous?—Fred W. Frailey (

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