To channel Julie Andrews as the precocious novice Maria in The Sound Of Music, here are a few of my absolute favorite things about trains and model railroads. Let's hear about yours in the comments!
- Steam. Steam locomotives are living beasts, whose genocide we are far the spiritually poorer for. Locomotives under steam, especially as individual survivors of an era never to be seen again, can well up tears.
- Carload freight. Railroads and industries furious with micro-motion that aggregates into waves of interesting, heterogeneous traffic. Busy = healthy. Healthy = happy.
- The throaty gurgle of naturally-aspirated GM diesels, or four-stroke engines from Alco and GE. That "zhug-zhug-zhug" sound from massive cylinders in a locomotive prime mover casts the same spell as a slight exhaust leak from a loose manifold on an Olds 455. Like a proper bass riff, it's not the volume level or merely the sound of power, but the low-rev pulse that brings it to life.
- Trains at night. As awesome as it is to be trackside in the daylight as 13,000 horsepower barrels past, it's three times as cool to have that same animal - known only to you as an approaching headlight - materialize out of blackness and then recede back into it, leaving only its Doppler-shifted soundtrack.
- Crappy. I came of age as a railfan and modeler during the 70's malaise, when railroad equipment, and the smokestack industries it served, reached uncharted levels of decrepitude. I was smitten with the hobby when I saw modelers not only recreate the trains and buildings, but also the rust and grime and deterioration.
- Signals at night. There is an air of mystery on a summer evening, watching for distant lights to change color, which will herald the incursion of something interesting into your tranquil sphere. It's especially poignant with CPLs, but since everything turns to the mundane, I'll hang on to the effect using whatever facsimile I can. Have you ever noticed how much blue there is, in the green of a signal lamp in the darkness? Yeah, that.
- Switchlists. Or, waybills. An unseen force making freight cars have to be somewhere. A reason to make our railroads run.
- Morning ops. When there are friends awaiting you first thing, with coffee to sip and trains to run, it's basically Christmas.
What moves your spirit the most?