Railroads & Locomotives History Train fans: Born at the wrong time

Train fans: Born at the wrong time

By David Lustig | May 19, 2024

Thanks to forward thinking conservationists and enthusiastic followers, railroading can transcend you back to yesterday

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Train fans

steam engine in snowy landscape
David Lustig

In every generation of train fans, there are those among us that feel they should have been born a decade, or perhaps even a generation, earlier so they could have witnessed railroading now gone and buried.

Whether it be a particular branch line, an entire railroad, first-generation diesels, steam, or anything else dear to the heart, there is a wish we could have experienced it. Fortunately, there are pockets of yesterday, thanks to museums, historical societies, and government-sponsored conservation groups that still flourish around the country.

Two examples of many throughout the country would be in rural Colorado and New Mexico — namely the still-intact segments of the Denver & Rio Grande Western narrow-gauge empire that helped civilization conquer the Rocky Mountains. When its locomotives are hot and its rails shiny, they are doppelgangers of  what was once the economic backbone of the area’s transportation.

Thanks to the people who maintain these railroads, we can easily experience a time when interstate highways didn’t exist, diesels were a competitor not a conqueror, and all the things that have made living today so comparatively easy had yet to be born.

Any time you visit the area is a good time, but for me, the most enjoyable always seems to be winter. Yes, it’s cold, there is sometimes more snow than I might want, and activity is curtailed compared to the warmer months. But still it remains my favorite.

Once outside the outposts of civilization, it quickly becomes evident that except for paved roads, there are many stretches of countryside that haven’t changed since the 1880s. The scenery, the weather, the winds, the wild animal life — seemingly nothing has changed. And as your feet crunch the snow, it becomes eminently obvious you are pretty much alone, just like 150-odd years ago.

Then, to your delight, the reason you have traveled here makes its presence known. A living, breathing steam engine and train comes into view, its crew keeping warm in the cab, as it begins its morning chores in making up its train. Yes, it’s a tourist train, or a photo freight, but somehow it doesn’t matter. It is alive and working, and you are there to watch it, photograph it, and become enveloped by it.

The point? It’s an individual one, but sometimes when the circumstances are just right, there is a slight wind rustling through the trees, or a scampering animal runs off after being startled, yesterday, a long time ago, is alive and real.

And you are there.

several units on tracks in snow with steam coming up
David Lustig

One thought on “Train fans: Born at the wrong time

  1. Wow! You hit the nail right on the head! It’s ok to sentimentalize and feel nostalgic for a time before own. But there’s a better way than scrolling sites on our devices. Taking steps to appreciate and enjoy these pockets of railroad history that survive by the dedication and hard work of like minded Railfans is the best way forward. Plan that vacation, meet those people, keep it all alive for the next generation, because they will need it too.

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