Railway Preservation News

Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)
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Author:  Pennsy Power [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 5:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

I think some involved (and not involved) with preservation feel the need to blame someone for their troubles and Railfans are a good escape goat. If Railfans really are a minority like so many claim, then why is this even an issue? Why is it so hard to just ignore the minority and work on what those operating the organization feel they should do?

Strasburg makes no apologies and nor should they. Yet they are highly respected among Railfans and preservationists. We could all learn from their leading efforts.

Pennsy Power

Author:  HudsonL [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 6:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

I don't blame Railfans, as a Ham Radio friend would put it, a minority of railfans have a very large signal to noise ratio.

The point which I learned long ago is that you have to cater to the "Daisy Pickers" not the "Railfans" if you are going to be successful.


Author:  superheater [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 6:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

"I respectfully submit that this thread (not the topic, but the venom within) is not becoming of RYPN. I get Dave's point loud and clear, but this thread is tantamount to putting out a welcome mat for the worthless whining and vitrol of the "fake name" contingent.

RYPN is better than this."

How do you define "becoming"? Is there objective criteria for this or is it just the expression of an inchoate, visceral reaction?

If you can't qualify or quantify it, it's tantamount to putting out a welcome mat for the worthless whining of the "tea and crumpets" contingent.

Author:  Pennsy Power [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 6:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

HudsonL wrote:
I don't blame Railfans, as a Ham Radio friend would put it, a minority of railfans have a very large signal to noise ratio.

The point which I learned long ago is that you have to cater to the "Daisy Pickers" not the "Railfans" if you are going to be successful.


Yes this is very true and should be the focus here not if someone provides their name to own up to something or is crazy over one engine or is called a Railfan. Thanks.

Pennsy Power

Author:  Bobharbison [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 7:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

Why does the subject of railfans keep coming up?

Simple, it's a subject everyone on the board has in common and knows something about. If you read this website, you're a railfan. Maybe not a foamer or rivet counter, but a railfan in the traditional sense. So everyone thinks they know the subject and love to debate it.

As for how railroads know railfans make up 10% of their audience, that has been studied many times. I've been asked to answer survey questions quite a few times over the years. They never actually say "are you a foamer?" but they ask questions like "where did you hear about us?" and "how far did you travel?" things like that. They almost always ask something to the effect of "did you drive a long way just to ride the train, or did you just happen to see our sign as you drive by on the way from the campground to the beach?"

Do railroads care if you're a foamer? Only to the extent of knowing their audience. In some cases it's obvious, you don't market Thomas events to hard core railfans. But in other cases, it may not be. For example, fall foliage trips, who should you market those too?

By asking those questions, railroads can plan schedules, events, marketing, gift shop inventory and more. Hopefully most operations are asking that question, in some manner.

Author:  Dave [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 7:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

No, you don't need to market to railfans - they show up anyway.

Some will buy tickets, make donations, purchase items at the gift shop (if you have one) or otherwise express thanks for the experience you offer.......these are not the problem,just a small part of the total audience you need to attract. Grab them and make them yours.

More will stop in, contribute nothing, take some photos and go away. They don't help, but don't hurt either.

Others will show up, get in the way, accost your staff (or even worse, paid customers) for getting between their cameras and your train, assume they are entitled to do so, and proclaim advice on how bad your event / operation /equipment is and why it needs to be just like they would do it, never mind they have never done anything more complex than replacing the laces in their sneakers.

So, the best will show up without going to any trouble to attract them and help you out, the nonentities will show up with also no provocation and do no harm but add nothing, and the worst........also need no persuasion to do anything but leave before doing more damage.

The ones that do contribute......are always welcome. The rest aren't worth welcoming. The numbers aren't large enough to be worth worrying about relative to the general public looking for something interesting and fun and pleasant to do on a day off, and these are the people who you need to try to gain.

Railfan Day events are probably the only way to truly make marketing to railfans specifically worthwhile.....but it requires not only understanding what it is railfans will pay for, but the ability to limit their ability to get the experience without paying or most won't.

Auustralians have categories of railfans - Ganzels, Nifties and Foamers. I'm not sure how they shake down.......maybe we need a better vocabulary. In any case, no matter what word you use, there are differences between railfans and the general public from a marketing perspective and, like it or not, you need to be aware of it and use your resources to the best advantage accordingly to succeed.


Author:  Ron Travis [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 8:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

Well it is easy to make categories such as railfan, foamer, non-railfan, non-foamer, etc. But if you presented 100 tourist train patrons to 10 category experts, not consulting with each other, and told them to place the 100 into the proper categories; I will bet that there would be nothing close to a consensus among the 10 experts about how the 100 patrons should be categorized.

Author:  Bobharbison [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 8:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

Ron, for the sake of this discussion, from the tourist railrod's view, there are only two categories. Railfans and Daisy Pickers.

Railfans are train enthusiasts, and as mentioned, they'll show up with little encouragement, and they'll ride just about anything. I recall riding the New Hope many years ago. I got to the ticket window and she said "We're not dong the usual trip today, they have to go pick up some freight cars during the trip..." I replied "A mixed train!?! Great, give me a ticket!" Surprised, she asked "Don't you want to know where they're going first, or how long it will take?" I replied "Nope, it doesn't matter, I'm in! (I knew enough about the line to know it wasn't going to be a 12 hour one way run to someplace I'd be stuck while they dogcaught the crew, and I wasn't going to pass up an honest to goodness revenue steam mixed train. It's one of only a few I've ever ridden.)

"Shut up and take my money!" passengers are great, but the railroad needs to know how many of that type they'll have and how many won't exactly enjoy the back and forth switching involved with a local. (That would be most folks, who would rank watching cars being spotted, even with steam, right up there with sitting on the Tarmac in the hot sun...)

They don't need fine grained sorting of the railfans, just a general idea of how many customers will be in that group, how many tour groups, locals, Seniors, school trips, etc.

Author:  p51 [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 9:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

Pennsy Power wrote:
There are two types of Railfans; those who admit it and those who don’t.
EVERY hobby has it's snobs and words to look down upon those who don't meet their self-described social status within said pasttime.
Every hobby has the guys (and it's usually - though not always- guys) who 'geek out' with no social graces, live in their parent's basement and aren't that familiar with soap and water.
But the bottom line is very few people go to a RR museum or ride a museum train if they have zero interest in it at all. It's just a matter of degrees.
To say otherwise is to try (and fail) to put yourself in a self-appointed exalted category above the unwashed masses.

Author:  Ron Travis [ Fri Jul 12, 2013 9:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

I am just saying that it is easy to make categories, but I don't think that sorting patrons into those categories is as easy (or accurate) as it might seem.

Author:  Randy Hees [ Sat Jul 13, 2013 12:03 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

I believe the key is that we cannot let the "railfan" (a broad, general term meaning railway history enthusiast at best, and foaming at the mouth train chaser at worse) direct our preservation, business and (most significantly) customer service plans.

I think it is appropriate to plan special programs for this community. We can reach out to this community... Some of them support us (support = money, our life blood, others support by labor or research or artifacts or memories... all have value in balance)


They are not our core audience, and we cannot base our core programs on them and their needs...

Plan on serving the mom with kid in stroller... the family of 4 with two adults and two kids, the retired couple... they are the majority of our visitors and the community we serve. We serve our core audience by saving history, of railroads and telling those stories... but we serve the general public not (just) the railfans...

This is close to a rant... but a rant worth bringing forward...


Author:  Ron Travis [ Sat Jul 13, 2013 12:24 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

There seems to be a lot of agreement that it is necessary, in a business sense, to distinguish railfan customers from non-railfan customers. So how do you do that? Say you have 100 customers in a room. How do you tell which ones are railfans and which ones are not? As a practical matter, how do you tell which ones are railfans?

Author:  Randy Hees [ Sat Jul 13, 2013 12:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

I think at first you serve the core... the strollers and families... then add information and activities for the enthusiasts... they will self sort.

Core first

Fringe (railfans) next

All happy if done well...


PS make sure the bathrooms are clean...

Author:  o anderson [ Sat Jul 13, 2013 2:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

A word can have so many meanings, nuances, and differences in different contexts.
I like to add some adjectives describing the sort of railfan, including casual, serious, occasional.
There are other specializations or types of railfan that get their own description.
Foamer, rivet counter, spotter (I knew an older man who's only railfan activity was identifying odd shortlines and fallen flags named on boxcars of passing trains, and he was sad when practically all the trains went to containers), preservationist, archivist, railroadania collector, photojournalist, historian, restorationist, docent/interpreter, purist modeler, and walking encyclopedia.

How people behave or might categorize themselves or be categorized, is usually a combination of several of these things and perhaps some other specializations. When as individuals, we fail to be the best we can, we might draw the ire of others (such as the case of a jerky son of a major railroad manager I knew, who referred to all railfans as FRNs probably because of bad personal experiences with them).

Like sports fans, we all may have some holes in life, that we could be filling with our interest in a hobby. I am generally glad that the discussions at this board fall less often in the nonesense foaming chatter, but sometimes the intensity that happens makes me wonder if people should stand back and think, if they really need to get this upset about something. Maybe there is more to life, and it is not all about trains.

Author:  Randolph R. Ruiz [ Sat Jul 13, 2013 4:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Thoughts on Railfans (a dirty word)

Circular Firing Squad much?

"Railfans" are not the problem, myopia is.

I stopped self-identifying as a "railfan" a long, long time ago as my interests became more specifically focused on history and preservation. I realize though that I really am a railfan, and so is pretty much everyone else here. Unfortunately, we have abandoned this moniker because some of our fellow fans embarrass us. In all of the rants and complaints here, I hear hints of shame. Instead of ceding the name "railfan" to those we don't respect, we could show that being a railfan is not something to be ashamed of. We might even find it easier to "convert" more of our guests.

To Brother Hees' (and Dave's) point, I think we need to accept that as "railfans" we are inclined to suffer from a myopia that prevents us from seeing our museums, programs, operations, collections, etc from the perspective of the average visitor. Our immersion in arcana makes it difficult to effectively communicate the topics of our expertise to those outside of our community (such as it is). Despite our general failure to engage visitors pedagogically or intellectually, trains are extremely compelling and the public continues to visit many of our attractions for the entertainment it provides.

Yet, entertainment is not a goal. It is a tool to achieve our goals, which are to use our preserved collections to educate the public and build support for our movement. I have long advocated that "outside" "experts" might help to improve our effectiveness at achieving these goals; not because as railfans we are incompetent idiots, but because we lack the necessary expertise to communicate with, and present ourselves to the public.

There are many successful museums in other fields that are led by balanced teams with expertise in complementary fields. A museum of only curators and conservators would not be long for this world, yet we are primarily technophiles and technicians without the marketers, educators, fundraisers, or designers of other museums. The "educational" public-benefit institutions we compete against have developed sophisticated approaches to the same problems we face, yet few of our organizations have successfully adopted mainstream non-profit museum practices because many of us don't even seem to be aware this is a problem.

Superheater, I cannot help but respond that, in my opinion, the targets of your ire are paper tigers that stalk only your imagination. Who here believes an ED should not be accountable to the BOD? While I have heard the suggestion that some locomotives may deserve preservation in virtual amber, no one has taken the position that no locomotives should be returned to steam.

Yes, museum professionals are prone to the same human foibles as us railfans, but our movement might be stronger if we were to collaborate.

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