Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chasing a Train

The Nickel Plate Road 765 weighs 404 tons, goes over 60 mph and keeps an elite company as one of the very small group of steam engines that are still operational.

LEGO company was born in Denmark in 1934 but it wasn't until 1949 that the evolution of wooden to plastic toys produced by the company became what it is now.

The Pere Marquette 1225 is the same size and sister to the 765. It's the only operable 2-8-4 Pere Marquette steam engine. To build the engine today, one would need 2.5 million dollars. The 1225 became famous in 2004 when its blueprints were used to design the Polar Express, featured in the Oscar-nominated movie by the same name which, in turn, was based upon the award-winning children's book by Michigan author Chris Van Allsburg.

Sub-cultures run rampant in our society. We have Trekkies, Harry Potter nerds (*shoots hand up in air*), and Weezer fans (*again with the hand*). I've recently become exposed to the Train Geeks, the group to which my boyfriend belongs.

At the hub of the Train Geek culture are festivals where said geeks can go and see a variety of real life, operable and otherwise, engines, model train sets (including the most awesome LEGO model I've ever seen, though not the largest), maps, art and literature featuring trains. It so happens that the largest such festival in America is Trainfestival 90 minutes away in Owosso, MI. *fist pump*

When we attended on Sunday, I had no possible way of knowing what I was about to see. Thousands of people come from who-knows-where to stand in hour-long lines for the chance to spend 120 seconds in an engine. Tents upon tents of impossible to navigate crowds hoarde around massive model train sets.

But that's not what the bad ass train enthusiasts do. Nope. Bad ass train enthusiasts hop aboard the motorcycle, ignoring the 70% chance of rain and they chase a train.

A day in the life of a train chaser.
1) See train off at start point.
2) Run like the wind to car in effort to be the first in the pack of dozens to try and beat train to next crossing. Alternatively: Decide at last minute after watching scores of people leave start point to head for their cars that it really is okay to chase a train on a motorcycle. Why the hell not? Run to motorcycle, put on helmet, and GO!
3) Look for steam on the horizon as biggest clue of train's present location. Go that way.
4) After what may be several *PWNs* by fast train or 10 miles of weaving down back country roads, finally beat train to crossing.
5) Get out of car (motorcycle), take pictures/video of train crossing.
6) If in car, repeat steps 1-5 until train reaches destination.

It seems silly, but I can't begin to describe how exhilarating it was. Maybe part of that is all of the other people doing the same thing. Anyhow, it was super fun and I hope to do it again someday.

In the video I took from my perch on the back of the bike, we are approaching the crossing. You can see a couple of cars in front of us and on the other side of the track. You can see my train geek boyfriend jumping off and leaving me in the dust to run up while simutaneously trying to wrench his camera from his pocket (HOT, there's nothing in the world like a nerdy boy). After the train goes by, you can see a woman beginning the run back to her car (there's also a man behind me who you can't see) to do it all over again.

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