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 Post subject: History of Railfanning and the Term "Railfan"
PostPosted: Sat Jun 04, 2022 11:09 pm 
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Joined: Thu Mar 11, 2021 12:46 pm
Posts: 123
Today I ended up cleaning out my workroom full of RR books, models, railroadiana etc. and just so happened to be looking at the back of a book featuring a picture of the front cover of an old RAILROAD Magazine issue from May of 1939. The illustraton depicted an Enginner with a sign hung on the side of the cab that says "Rail Fan Special". I then recalled a story on a semi-recent Trains magazine issue about guys watching trains along the NYC in the 1960's saying how they weren't reffered to as railfans then but instead "Rail-Nuts" or "Train-Nuts"which I thought was interesting and got me thinking. How has the term railfan evolved over time? and whats the history really behind watching trains as a whole? The history of the railfan itself isn't really a well documented one but i'm sure would make for a really interesting story. I'm curious as to what the guys in the 1920's thought of it when they were taking pictures of USRA mikado's and pacifics when they were just barely reaching 10 years old.


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 Post subject: Re: History of Railfanning and the Term "Railfan"
PostPosted: Tue Jun 07, 2022 1:46 pm 

Joined: Thu May 24, 2012 1:37 pm
Posts: 1792
Very famously the 'organized community' was first self-termed 'Railroadians'.

I always understood 'railfan' as being a parallel construction to 'sports fans' (where 'fan' is short for 'fanatic', but in the sense of 'enthusiast'.

On the other hand, there are FRNs, the 'f' not standing for friendly or fellows. And there are 'fomites' -- referring more to the organic detritus than to the fire extinguishers -- and 'foamers' with the sense of being so fanatical that they slobber like mad dogs with excitement.

When Karl R. Zimmermann headed up our high-school railroad club, I discovered a kind of secondary railfan... we called them "Junior Railfans". These were the ones who insisted on putting pennies on the track on the sly -- the single funniest thing I recall seeing in railfanning was one Jr. who decided to put a nickel rather than penny down for the Metroliner to flatten. What he got instead was a freight behind 2 E-44s, and what was left was a ghostly image of Jefferson about an inch and a half long. The horrified moaning as he attempted to dislodge the now-welded coin still, I find, makes me grin thinking about it. Not judgmental, you understand.

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 Post subject: Re: History of Railfanning and the Term "Railfan"
PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2022 5:35 am 

Joined: Tue Oct 20, 2009 10:29 pm
Posts: 33
Location: Junee, NSW, Australia
The Central Electric Railfans’ Association was founded in 1938, suggesting that the term was widely-enough accepted that its incorporation into the name of the new organisation was not seen as unusual.


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 Post subject: Re: History of Railfanning and the Term "Railfan"
PostPosted: Fri Aug 05, 2022 5:18 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2004 2:46 pm
Posts: 2570
Location: Pac NW, via North Florida
Ron Ziel's epic, "Twilight of steam locomotives," called them 'loons'. That said, I've seen or heard that term anywhere else.

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Lee Bishop


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 Post subject: Re: History of Railfanning and the Term "Railfan"
PostPosted: Sun Aug 07, 2022 9:19 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
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Location: Philadelphia, PA
I've heard the term many times. In fact there was an informal organization called "North American Loon Watchers Association." Trust me, they did not wait by Maine lakes for the avian species.

NALWA for short.

Phil Mulligan


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