My interest in trains and railroading is a long one, that goes back into the days of my infancy.
In this piece, I will try to tell you, the reader, about what caused me to become interested and maintain an interest in trains.
I have a razor-sharp memory, but I am low on sleep at the moment, so I hope I can write this and keep it interesting.
The first time I remember seeing a train was right around the time I started talking. I guess that was in 1987 or 1988, but my parents and grandparents were taking me to the doctor for a checkup and probably vaccines. I vaguely remember telling the doctor “…Not nice, not funny…” because I was such a touch-me-not child, believe it or not. On the way to the appointment, we rode under the Lafourche Crossing and I remember seeing a westbound train powered by a dark gray locomotive with a red nose. Years later I came to realize that this was a Southern Pacific locomotive and the now defunct Southern Pacific owned that railroad line at the time.
My favorite children’s book was none other than “The Huffin’ Puff Express”, written in 1974 by David L. Harrison. My mom would read it to me frequently throughout my childhood.
For Christmas of 1988, I was one going on two and received several toy trains, which further enriched my interest.
Also, around this time, every weekend my parents and I would sleep at my maternal grandmother’s house in Metairie. The house was well within the hearing range of trains traveling on the Illinois Central mainline in Harahan and Old Jefferson. I definitely enjoyed hearing them run all day and night.
In 1990, my brother and sister were born.
In the earlier parts of my brother’s childhood, he too seemed to enjoy trains as well. He enjoyed them probably as much as me if not then more than me.
In 1993 and 1994, the highlight of our trips to my grandma’s house for both of us was traveling over Destrehan Yard on the Hale Boggs Bridge.
Also, my brother’s favorite show at the time was Shining Time Station and he had most of their die-cast metal locomotives.
I couldn’t watch it because I had to go to school.
In the summer of 1994, my mom had done some Christmas shopping and hid the presents in the closet between the pantry and utility room. We were digging and found a remote controlled train set which we would secretly play with.
It was now 1996 or 1997 and I remember being in Third Grade. The weather was mild and pleasant, so the climate controls were switched off and the windows were opened. A train was going through Raceland and sounding its horn. Sadly that was the last time I thought about trains as a child.
My brother’s interest in trains seemed to disappear as well, probably never to return again. I blame video games for this more than anything else.
Then, in 2002, at age fifteen, I began to do research about scanners. I learned that one could hear railroad communications on them, but I was more interested in being a rebel and wanting to listen in on police communications. I felt so empowered knowing that I could listen in on the police and they couldn’t do me anything. Such rights and freedoms aren’t guaranteed in most of the modernized world. That Christmas I was able to get a scanner that could pick up the cops and also have a search function for finding hidden frequencies.
On January 4, 2003, my family went for a day trip to Metairie. On the way back home we were driving through Boutte, LA and I saw a westbound freight train. Hurriedly I programmed the EOT frequency in my scanner (452.9375) and listened. Within seconds I picked up the data transmissions from the train. This was the first railroad signal I picked up on a scanner.
It was one evening in February of 2003, I was searching with my scanner on the VHF High Band. My scanner locked in on 160.29. Looking in retrospect, what I heard was probably a track warrant being discussed between an engineer or conductor and the dispatcher, but I thought it was the Feds. It wasn’t until a few days later that I learned this was a railroad channel.
Later that year, my younger sister began taking gymnastics lessons in Schriever, Louisiana. That town will always have a special place in my heart and did back then too, so I would come along for the ride and wait in the parking lot inside my mom’s Ford Explorer.
Sometime in the Spring of 2004, I left the gymnastics building parking lot and went exploring on foot.
I went walking to the Schriever Overpass because that previous summer, I had written a love story about two runaway teens who boarded a freight train from underneath there. I was there because I wanted to meditate on that story. It’s one of my weird, quirky writing habits, I guess. I was walking on the tracks when I heard a loud rumbling. I wrongly assumed it was an eighteen wheeler applying the jake brake on the overpass. I kept looking to see the truck, but never saw it. Then I realized that it was a train. Hurriedly I hauled my butt off the tracks, almost getting my foot stuck between the rails and the cross ties. With seconds to spare, I made it off the tracks and saw a mighty freight train pass by me. The ground shook. Everything in my hands shook as well, especially when the horn was sounded. That was the first time I saw a train up close and I thought it was so cool. I think this was the catalyst that caused my train interest to come back. In that moment I was so impressed by the power and speed of that train that seemed to have forgotten how I nearly got myself killed a mere seconds before. I was wrong to walk on railroad tracks and I’ll admit that until the cows come home. That day, I could have easily been another statistic presented by Operation Lifesaver, but God was watching over me. Nowadays I preach to people not to pose for pictures on railroad tracks and to stay off the tracks in general. This has made me quite unpopular at times, but most of the time, I don’t care. Most recently, two young ladies blocked me on Facebook for preaching this to them. I’m hurt, I guess, for the simple fact that I only posted that warning because I cared enough about them to say that their lives are astronomically and exponentially more important than having a cool looking background for a picture.
In the months prior to the summer of 2004, I began looking online at pictures of trains that were taken in my state. I did this throughout the summer as well and kept it up continuously.
In the summer of 2006, I was now nineteen and rode on a [conventional] train for the first time, namely, the Washington DC Metro. Later on, in that summer I was hanging out with my dad in his bedroom and my scanner was picking up railroad traffic. We both listened and he said how it reminded him of what we heard while on the DC Metro and the WDW Monorail. What we heard was a “Proceed from Point A to Point B on the main track” from a track warrant.
In the fall of 2006, I began attending trade-school, so I completely forgot about trains for that period of time which would last until I finished two years later in 2008.
At some point in 2009 or 2010, I discovered people were recording videos of trains and posting them on YouTube. I would watch them sometimes for hours on end during my off hours.
In February of 2011, I attempted it but wasn’t too successful.
At some point in 2011, I decided to go on Yahoo answers and describe what I was hearing on my scanner when it picked up railroad traffic. A few people kindly explained to me about track warrants and that is what I was hearing. I was now beginning to have an understanding of what was being said on those channels.
By September of 2011, I quit my job because I wasn’t getting enough hours to make it worth the gasoline I was burning to go to work. I was fed up with that God Awful job at this point as well. I was twenty-four going on twenty-five and suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands. This is what allowed my train interest to become full blown. I decided to start meeting up with other local foamers and began to make many friends.
In December of 2011, I purchased a scanner that was dedicated specifically to listening to railroad traffic. I began to research which frequencies were used by which railroads in Louisiana. At this point, I began to find police communications boring and depressing, but railroad communications could keep me entertained for hours, sometimes days on end.
In 2012, I traveled several times to the Raceland Junction and would watch trains there. I was once accused of being a terrorist, but the track foreman soon realized I was just another foamer. Now the place is locked off to the public.
In September of 2014, I started a Facebook group formerly known as “The Railroad Scanner.” It is a group dedicated to listening to railroad communications. Three years later, in 2017, I changed the name to “Foamers With Scanners” after remembering reading that phrase used in an online conversation a few years back.
In the spring of 2017, I began working on a story series about two foamers who are in love. Unfortunately, I’ve only written two pieces.
My train interest is still growing at the time I am writing this in November of 2017. A good bit of the friends I have on Facebook around the country and world are also foamers. Most days I listen to railroad traffic on my scanner, though I can usually hear only two lines under normal conditions.
I hope my train hobby will continue for the rest of my life. It’s good clean fun and gives an appreciation for the logistics of just about every item we use in our lives.