5 Railfan Dating Tips
Dating a railfan is a fun and rewarding experience. In five years of dating ‘The Roundhouse’ host Nick Ozorak I have learned the ways of a railfan. Now I want to share my experience and thoughts to help my fellow significant others through the cross ties (see what I did there?).
1. There is gossip in the railfan community.
You might not be aware of this (or your railfan stays away from it) but it exists. Due to the historic nature of trains, a lot of discussion is dedicated to the movements and preservation efforts of locomotives. This can result in gossip and possible drama in the community. There are usually disagreements about how something should be preserved, what should be preserved, and when an item is scrapped (this is a terrible and frightening word).
What you can do is be a good listener. Try to understand their perspective. After listening to a lot of railfan talk, you will even start to form your own opinions. You will know when this happens because you will get upset over something not just because of your railfan’s feelings, but because of your own.
2. Your significant other will disappear.
Don’t worry, as this isn’t as bad as it sounds. A special locomotive and/or train is coming to town, and your railfan wants to see it. Expect to get a phone call telling you just that. You have to be ready for anything, since spontaneity is part of the railfan culture. Some railfans have radios that follow railroad crew conversations while others go online to check the status of the train, but timing on the railroad isn’t fully precise.
Train chasing is like a sport: railfans map out good locations on the line to get photographs and see the train pass. They will race the train to get to these spots before their opponents do. It can be either exhilarating or excruciatingly slow, depending on the train’s speed. It can be an all-day affair. Your railfan might not care if you come with them, but I highly recommend you do at least once.
3. You have to give construction permits
Not all railfan’s are model railroaders, though many are. Model railroad gauges include: G (Garden), O (Gauge Zero, smaller than gauge 1), S (half of ‘1 Gauge’, not as popular at O or HO), HO (half O), N (small), Z (very small). Your railfan might want to build a layout somewhere in your house or apartment. They may already have track plans drawn on napkins or computer programs.
Your railfan should be asking you for construction permits. If they do not ask you first, make sure you have a discussion. Building a layout is a big deal because it takes up a lot of time and space. Talk about what room it will be in and what gauge. Have them show you pictures of the gauge and what they are planning. Take interest and participate in the construction, but let them work alone if needed. You might have to put your foot down and say, “Maybe not in the living room, the basement will work better for O scale.” “Yes, you can build a garden railroad, but in the back of the house.” Compromise and adjust. Building together can be a lot of fun!
4. Gifts are tricky.
Unless your railfan tells you exactly what they want, finding the right gift can be a difficult and slightly frustrating task. Understanding how he or she enjoys the hobby is crucial. Do they like model railroading? Photography, historical reading, train/locomotive tracking, excursions? After you narrow this down, find out what warms their firebox. Is your railfan a steam locomotive enthusiast? If so, what is his/her favorite locomotive and where does it run? Does he/she care most about a specific railroad company? For example, the Fonda Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad is my railfan’s favorite railroad. It is extremely difficult for me to get my hands on anything from this railroad that he does not already own, especially for the time period he focuses on.
Here are some gift ideas:
- Ask questions, and a lot of them. Discover what they already have and what they wish they had. If you go to a train show with them, they will show you what they have and what they want.
- Give an experience. If your railfan has always wanted to visited a railroad, but has never gotten the chance, plan it. If they really like photography, book a photo charter. Many tourist railroads have these as special events. Additionally, talk with your local shortline or tourist railroad about providing your railfan with a cab ride.
- Visit a railfan hotspot. This should be fun both for your railfan and for you…and also not too expensive! An example of this is the town of Altoona, PA. With plenty of rail traffic, Horseshoe Curve, and railroad-themed hotels right by the tracks, you can enjoy this area for a whole weekend. Take a train trip, whether it be a day trip on a tourist railroad or a whole train vacation (I took my railfan to ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad).
Remember that whatever you do end up giving your railfan, it will be appreciated because it shows your love for him/her and acceptance of his/her hobby.
5. You might become a railfan.
It will happen slowly. One day you are an observer, and the next you are found in the bushes with a camera trying to get the perfect shot of a train to upload to Railpictures.net. You will start listening to The Roundhouse Podcast and checking HeritageUnits.com while wearing a Canadian Pacific #2317 t-shirt. How did this happen? When did this happen!? All I can say is, embrace it.
Talk about what it means to be a railfan to your significant other. Ask if they are comfortable with you discussing their hobby with other people. Some are perfectly fine with it, and others are not. Some railfans feel embarrassed about their hobby, so they prefer not to talk about it outside of the railfan community and hide their passion. There are many reasons behind why, and understanding them is key. Again, creating open communication between you and your railfan is important.
Are there any tips I left out? Let me know in the comments below. Maybe I will compile another list based off of them! Meanwhile, it is a rainy day here in Pennsylvania, so you know what that means: laying track for the layout!
See you all next time, and remember the roundhouse is our house!