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HAROLD H. CARSTENS (1925-2009)


PRESIDENT AND PUBLISHER HENRY R. CARSTENS


VICE PRESIDENT JOHN A. EARLEY EDITOR


E. STEVEN BARRY


ASSOCIATE EDITORS WALTER C. LANKENAU OTTO M. VONDRAK


CONTRIBUTING EDITOR JAMES D. PORTERFIELD


COLUMNISTS


ALEXANDER B. CRAGHEAD THOMAS KELCEC GREG MONROE GEORGE M. SMERK JEFFREY D. TERRY WES VERNON


ENGINEER LARRY PITBLADDO POSES WITH EMD BL-2 #52 ON THE SARATOGA & NORTH CREEK AT NORTH CREEK, NEW YORK, ON OCTOBER 30, 2011. PHOTO BY OTTO M.VONDRAK


What Is Authentic, Anyway?


THE TOURIST RAILROAD is probably the greatest scourge of the railfan world, though looking from the outside this may seem strange. To a railfan’s railfan, tourist trains are hokey, corny, tacky, inauthentic. Why is this? One possible reason is that


tourist railroads rarely make any attempt to preserve or reproduce the railroading of another era. Equipment is frequently a goulash of whatever can be had for cheap or free. Remember, too, that tourist lines must play to the tastes of the general public, who view railroads through the prism of Thomas the Tank Engine. Taken as a whole, the typical tourist railroad in North America bears more resemblence to a child’s toy train layout than to a genuine working railroad. Yet tourist railroads run on rails no less


wide than the high iron of the Union Pacif- ic. Some, like the Durnago & Silverton, have been in the tourist business (62 years) for nearly as long as they were “real” rail- roads (67 years). Or consider the California Western, running tourist trains since 1965, or the Strasburg since 1959. With 50 to 60 years of service, can they be disqualified from being “real?” That these obscure branches found a profitable commodity and survived until today seems to suggest they are more “real” railroads than many a sto- ried branchline that does not now exist; More real than, say, the Milwaukee Road’s Pacific Extension. The tourist railroad then is merely a different type of railroad, rather than a fake one. It has its own characteristics, its own heritage, and its own rythm of traditions. Consider what the tourist railroad means


to the communities it serves. Many are a focus of local pride, a social space that binds people from all manner of backgrounds for a shared cause. The tourist railroad is a cul- tural artifact of its home town like the Grange hall, or the ancient white clapboard church, or the main street hardware store, a


4 FEBRUARY 2012 • RAILFAN.COM


cross section of the character of its home town. Imagine these communities without their presence: would they not be poorer, less interesting places? They have names like Orbisonia, Portola, Bryson City, Morton, Ely, Kennebunkport, and North Conway. Even if a railfan is only interested in equipment, the tourist railroad still has something precious to offer. One fine exam- ple: the Saratoga & North Creek, in upstate New York, that presently operates an EMD BL2, one of the rarest and oddest looking diesels ever made. Their BL2 is to be joined by a second sometime this year, giving the Saratoga two-thirds of the extant operating BL2s in the world. Where else can a railfan see such things? Is the experience of seeing rare and unusual equipment so hum-drum? Is it truly more exciting to stand beside some main line and see the same cookie-cut- ter generic widecab go by over and over...? Experience: that may be the greatest gift of


the tourist line. With railroads fading from our national consiousness, there are fewer places to experience railroading up close. Tourist railroads invite the visitor to not only see, but to use other senses, especially touch. This is especially true of those operations that use steam, or that operate trolleys. Sometimes railfans, imprinted by too


many photos of too many gaudy tourist steam locomotives, deride the value of these operations. I suspect, though, that they have never ridden behind a living, breathing 2-8-2 at speed, enjoyed the hum of traction motors from a caned rattan seat, or listened to the unique sounds of the non-tur- bocharged diesel under load. Have you?


Alexander B. Craghead is a writer, photog- rapher, watercolorist, and self-described “transportation geek” from Portland, Ore. You can reach out to Alex on our web site at www.railfan.com/departures.


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RAILFAN & RAILROAD (ISSN 0163-7266) is published monthly by Carstens Publications, Inc., 108 Phil Hardin Road, Newton, New Jersey 07860. Phone 973/383-3355. Henry R. Carstens, Publisher; Phyllis M. Carstens, Secretary-Treasurer. Periodical Postage paid at Newton, NJ 07860 and additional mailing offices.


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