Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Feather River Express 2: Foamers and Chasers



Part of the frustration with passenger train travel in the United States is because freight trains have the right-of-way on nearly all of the lines, causing inevitable delays in every itinerary.



The Feather River Express excursion was scheduled to arrive at the small Sierra town of Portola at 4:30 PM on Saturday, with the 600+ passengers being transported an hour's drive to the southeast for an overnight stay in Reno.



After innumerable stops in the middle of nowhere waiting for freight trains to pass by, the Express actually pulled into Portola four hours late on Saturday. A couple of the the buses had left for other duties, stranding a few dozen passengers in Portola overnight.



Besides getting into Reno very late, there was the Daylight Savings changeover to contend with, so it was a very sleep-deprived group that assembled for the return trip to Sacramento and the Bay Area.



As usual, it was the younger passengers who seemed the most affected...



...while many of the more elderly in the group...



...were looking like a million bucks.



Most of the passengers were train geeks...



...who were obsessed with the minutiae of train travel.



My first question to any stranger on the train was whether or not they were train geeks, and most of them admitted that they were a bit obsessed...



...though they all had stories of compatriots who were even more obsessed for which there was a special name. They were called "foamers," as in "foaming at the mouth."



One gent in the smoking car was wearing a sweatshirt that read "I've spent most of my Time & Money on Trains. The rest I've just wasted."



Though most of the "foamers" were male...



...there were exceptions to the rule, such as the female engineer Lynn, above...



...who had married the Livermore native, above, with a wedding on the Niles Canyon Railway two years earlier.



As we went through the many tunnels carved into the canyon...



...there was narration over the speaker system that was blessedly brief and informative, delivered by the central gent above in a great, gravelly voice.



When somebody asked Henry Luna, one of the hosts, if the organizers were all model train freaks, he replied that they were actually more interested in the real thing. "There's a club for everything, though," he continued. "There's a club for people who collect ticket stubs, a club for schedule collectors, a club for just about anything you can think of."



My favorite new category was something called "chasers," people who obsessively travel to remote places to take pictures of rare trains in their natural settings. This Feather River excursion had attracted a few legendary "chasers," including the person above, who had driven all the way to Portola and back along Highway 70 to capture this moment.



It sounded a bit like bird-watchers venturing into remote locations trying to see a particular group of birds in the wild, such as the bald eagle sitting on top of the tree in the photo above. The fact that there is a wholly unknown human subculture that includes legendary "chasers" makes me unreasonably happy, as if discovering an entirely new species.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the virtual experience and your enthusiastic appreciation of train groupees.

p said...

love pic #2 and #3....
p

Anonymous said...

Incredible voyage and photos. Thanks for sharing... WHY do you get all the fun???

claire said...

to see foamers and chasers on wonderful celluloid, you should consider renting the station agent. (I'm guessing that you haven't seen it already only because the idea of chasers was new to you!)

My girlfriend and I are ridiculously envious of this trip, as most of our train-related trips and musings don't get any farther than the 385.1 section at the main library and the train-themed diner on Polk St... I'm glad we can vicariously appreciate yours!

cookiecrumb said...

I learn SO MUCH about my world from blogging.
Merci.

Eugene Vicknair said...

Thanks for the great photo show!

It was quite a treat to see that train come sailing in to Portola, especially with the Silver Solarium on the end. I was the guy standing on the front of the switch engine when the FRE pulled in to town. Looks like quite a ride.

We're working on restoring 2 Budd dome cars at the Portola Museum. One day, you'll be able to ride them down the Canyon again.

Drew Jacksich said...

I had a great time chasing this train even in the bad weather. Greatful to my wife for driving--back problems had me on vicodin.

In case you are wondering, we were in the blue Ford Explorer and on Saturday, weather not withstandin, I was wearing shorts.

Drew Jacksich

sfmike said...

Dear Eugene: Thanks for your hospitality in Portola, and please also extend my thanks to the hard-working ladies at the station cafe who fed me breakfast on Sunday (I thought I was in a berserk new version of "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"). Also, thank the hard-working ladies at the main grocery store across the river who were open early and supplied us with booze, gourmet beef jerky and lots of fruit for the return trip.

Dear Drew: The idea of you chasing the train in your blue Ford Explorer on Vicodin in your shorts (thanks to your hard-driving wife) is an image I'll always treasure. See you on another train adventure, and hope the back gets better soon.

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