Evidence of the first Railfan (or Trainspotter as he would be known in the UK) can be found in the National Railway Museum in York. A 14-year old boy observed and wrote a description of the opening of the Stockton to Darlington Railway and the world’s first steam passenger train in 1825. In a letter home to his sisters, John Backhouse wrote:
“It was a very grand sight to see such a mass of people moving on the road from Stockton to Darlington, 600 people were said to be in, on and about the wagons and coaches! And the engine drew not less that 90 tons!!!!!”
He even includes a drawing to help describe this new technological marvel to his readers.
Apparently, there have been Railfans since trains emerged onto the transportation landscape and luckily for contemporary Railfans, people have been documenting railroads since the beginning as well.
The first “train” movie was filmed in 1895; almost as soon as cinematic technology was available people were choosing to put trains on film! You can enjoy, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (The Lumière Brothers, 1895), through the wonder that is YouTube. One of the challenges to Railfans has been the ever-threatening disappearance of the object of their affection, I’m grateful to those who spent their time and money creating video records of locomotives that Railfans of today would not be able to experience any other way.
In reflecting on the origins of Railfanning, I wonder about other hobbies that share a common link with ours. You may have heard of Aircraft Spotting…
But have you heard of Bus Spotting?
What about Roadgeeks? (fans of all things road-related) or Gongoozlers? (fans of all things canal-related)…. These are the Railfan’s brethren! Unite ye hobbyists! Embrace your inner geek!