Father’s Day

Posted by Justin Franz
on Friday, June 15, 2018

Tim Franz snaps a picture of the Empire Builder near East Glacier Park, Montana. Photo by Justin Franz.
We all came to this hobby in different ways. For some it was a childhood spent living near the tracks. For others it was a chance train ride that launched a lifelong fascination.

For me it was my dad, Tim Franz.

My dad grew up in New Jersey in the 1960s and often went down to the station with my grandmother to get my grandfather off the evening commuter train. A daily dose of Erie Lackawanna RS-3s on commuter trains is sure to make any young kid a railroad enthusiast. Not long after high school, he moved to Maine and hired out on the railroad, working for the Belfast & Moosehead Lake for about a decade. He left railroading shortly before I was born, but he’s remained a dedicated enthusiast ever since.

When I was a young kid, my dad worked nights and so he often watched me during the day before I was in school or during the summer months. He usually got home at 2 or 3 a.m. and slept for a few hours. Most days, he’d get up mid-morning and do stuff around the house; mow the lawn, take care of random house projects and other dad type chores. But sometimes, when it was sunny out, he’d grab his camera bag and me and we’d go railfanning. His favorite weekday target was the Maine Coast, a scenic, Alco-powered short line between Rockland and Brunswick. Like the EL RS3s of his youth, a healthy dose of Alcos quickly turned me into a railfan.

My dad is also indirectly responsible for me being a writer. Over the years, he has had a number of images printed in books and magazines, including Trains Magazine. Like any young kid who looks up to their dad, I wanted to see my photos in print too. Early on though, I realized that few magazines were interested in my meager photographic contributions if they didn’t have a story to go along with them. In 2004, I submitted a story and some photos to Trains Magazine about the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum. The editors at Trains could have easily put the manuscript in the round file, but then-managing editor Kathi Kube worked with me to create something useable. She also introduced me to the Associated Press Style Guide and three years later I enrolled at the University of Montana to study journalism. All that because I wanted to have my pictures published, just like dad.

Last month, my parents were in Montana for my fiancee’s bridal shower. While my mom spent time with her future daughter-in-law, my dad and I escaped for a little railfanning. Ok, so “little” might be an understatement. In four days, I put more than 1,000 miles on my Subaru Outback railfanning along Montana Rail Link and BNSF Railway. The weather was great and there were trains everywhere; the perfect formula for a good weekend of railroad photography. But while we got plenty of great pictures (well, I don’t know about him. He shoots film so we won’t see the results for another six months), the highlight was spending time with him. Sitting by the tracks gave us a chance to catch up in a way we hadn’t been able to do in a long time.

We all got into this hobby for different reasons - be it an interest in history, photography or a million other things - but at the end of the day, for me, it’s all about the bonds I’ve made with others who have the same interest. Some of them even share my last name.

Happy Father’s Day.

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