I’m watching trains in Durand, Michigan today. The sky is a vibrant blue, dotted with fluffy clouds. Late-summer crickets and other noisy bugs are humming. There’s a soft wind blowing, bringing the promise of fall along with it. In the background, there’s a dozer or some sort of heavy equipment. It’s across the way at some industrial buildings. It’s a perfect summer day for watching trains or being outside. Why don’t you join me?
You could, if you have access to YouTube. See, I’m not really in Michigan – I’m sitting on my comfy bed, which is where I work from most of the time now – and I have Railstream’s free preview of the week on the big screen. I do have the window here open, however, as it’s a perfect day in southern Kentucky as well. It adds quite a bit of ambience. I can even hear trains in the distance.
I think it was about a year ago, maybe a little longer, that I discovered Virtual Railfan’s Ashland, Virginia, live stream on YouTube. Until that point, I had no idea there were people in the world who made hobbies and even careers out of watching trains. Men, women, young, old, there’s no one group that sticks out. The love of trains crosses all sorts of “boundaries” we’re being told we need to care about. All those things that “separate” us if we listen to the talking heads, they don’t seem to matter when it comes to watching trains. There’s something very healing and peaceful and—dare I say it—hopeful about that notion. At least, I think there is.
Once I discovered Ashland, I started exploring. Virtual Railfan has several free YouTube channels featuring popular train-watching locales across the country. Railstream only does one freebie a week, but they change it from place to place. Some of my favorites are this one in Michigan, a couple of them in Fostoria, Ohio, and one out in Illinois. I can’t remember the town off the top of my head, but it’s a bit rural. There’s one in West Virginia that’s pretty neat to watch too.
As for the Railstream “channels,” I love the one in Deshler, Ohio, adore the one in Ashland, Virginia, and feel similarly about the stream of LaGrange, Kentucky. In some of these, you get to people watch as much as train watch. Ashland and LaGrange are right downtown, and it’s like having a high perch in a second-story apartment. Ironically, as the crow flies, we lived about five miles from LaGrange when we were in Southern Indiana. Who knew? I’m fascinated by small towns anyhow, so for someone who can’t travel very often, being able to watch these channels is a real boon.
I’ve always had a fondness for trains. Growing up, we lived right off the main highway, right next to a railroad crossing. Many nights I was lulled to sleep – or jerked awake – by the sound of locomotives rumbling and chugging through the valley, then blasting the two long, one short, and one long code of their horns that signaled they were crossing a highway. Sometimes, especially late at night, out of consideration for the people sleeping in the houses near the tracks, they’d not blow those horns. Other times, they would. Thanks to the echoing of the sound in the valley, I could track those trains’ progress from Scuddy to Happy through Happy Bottom and down finally to where we lived at Bentown. Regardless, it was never an annoying sound to me. It was a part of my childhood much as the sound of small planes buzzing overhead, and it was comforting.
We woke up the first morning here in our new house to the sound of a train horn echoing in the distance. That was the cherry on top for me.
Back to the modern day and YouTube. There are cottage industries now that have sprung up around the hobby of train watching. Tourism, vacations, etc. And one of these days, I might snag hubby and our cat, and we might take us a trip. I’d like to visit Ashland and LaGrange and some of these other places, see a big train lumbering through town in person. Feel the vibrations the locomotives create as they pass, listen for the hum that announces their presence long before any horn and fades slowly as they disappear from sight.
In the meantime, I’m thankful to have YouTube and a TV big enough to get a good look at those trains as they go by. To see the mishmash of cars, to wonder what sort of freight they’re hauling and to where. To wonder what stories follow those cars as they squeak along and go to and fro. I know they have stories – the sheer amount of graffiti on the sides of the cars tells me that. Some of it is pure art, some just happens to be there. But it’s a connection to people that is vast and deep, and much like the trains themselves, somewhat mysterious.
If you want to check out the streams I mentioned, here are some links:
Virtual Railfan: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOIkT9bq-1N2BvrsBjhNlag