Chattanooga Choo Choo


Nearly 34 years later, I can clearly remember my first date with the man I eventually married. Not because it was particularly romantic and not because of the exception food. No, what I remember clearly is approaching a railroad crossing as the gates lowered and lights began flashing. Here’s how I remember that conversation:

Me: Oh no, a train. I hope it’s not a long one.
Fred: Yes! A train! I hope it’s a long one.

I remember looking at him and wondering what I’d gotten myself into. This man actually got his jollies out of counting train cars. Oh, and identifying each car’s company/owner, and then specifying the type of car each was.

I’m pretty sure there were at least 100 cars. Probably more. Didn’t faze him in the least.

Some might say that’s probably where I went wrong. I could have nipped that romance in the bud that very night. But no. I fell…hook, line and cowcatcher. What I didn’t realize was that it was contagious. It was like a plague. Once you’re hooked, you’re a railfan for life. I’d never claim to know even 1/100th of what he knows about trains, the history of trains, and the proposed future of trains. But my heart does a little skip when it hears the wail of a train in the night.

Here’s the thing. I’ll bet that when a train sounds in the distance at, say, 9 p.m., no one in your house stops, cocks his head and says, “That’s the 410 going through….” Well, at least unless you’re my friend, Eric Davis, who lives just 15 miles away in another small northwestern Ohio town.

My husband took this photo with a Pony Kodak in 1970 in Montana.

My husband took this photo with a Pony Kodak in 1970 in Montana.

I once asked my husband what nickname is given to train nuts (my word). His response was “railroad employees call us ‘FRF’ and ‘$&*@+%’ Railroad Fans.'”

There is a somewhat elaborate set-up in our basement featuring HO gauge train cars, but that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are train lanterns, train schedules, items he’s collected over the years. For years now, I’ve successfully ignored much of this, but finally I got curious. How did he get interested? Who could I blame?

He claims that  “this hobby is in the

Santa Fe diesel

Santa Fe diesel

tradition of James F. West, Bluffton’s premier interurban fan; John H. Keller, Sr., Interurban and NKP steam and Lima Locomotive Works expert, Dr. B.W. Travis, O gauge model hobbyist, and my great uncle Harry Hahn, freight conductor, who was killed when a Big Four freight train backed into him in 1918 in Bucyrus.”

If you want to see just a minute amount of his collection, stop by the Bluffton (Ohio) Public Library, where some of his items are currently on display. Can’t get to the library? Not to worry…he was only too eager to offer some favorite photos.

This is now the Norfolk Southern through Bluffton. The green and white sheet of paper is from a NKP freight bill he obtained.

This is now the Norfolk Southern through Bluffton. The green and white sheet of paper is from a NKP freight bill he obtained.

Great Northern Empire Building Vista Dome.  Chicago to Seattle.

Great Northern Empire Building Vista Dome. Chicago to Seattle.

Akron, Canton and Youngstown hopper. This line is abandoned but used to go north of the old Bluffton swimming pool. In the summers, the engineer would blow the whistle and all the kids would wave.

Akron, Canton and Youngstown hopper. This line is abandoned but used to go north of the old Bluffton swimming pool. In the summers, the engineer would blow the whistle and all the kids would wave.

Fred, Lindsay and I rode this through Bluffton from Findlay to Lima. Someone else took the photo for us. This is a Norfolk and Western J Passenger locomotive. This is the last-ever steam to travel through Bluffton, circa 1987.

Fred, Lindsay and I rode this through Bluffton from Findlay to Lima. Someone else took the photo for us. This is a Norfolk and Western J Passenger locomotive. This is the last-ever steam to travel through Bluffton, circa 1987.

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