My name is Mike, and I’ve been a railfan since 1973. I was born in Chicago, but when I was four years old my parents moved to the southwest suburb of Downers Grove where I grew up. As a kid most of my exposure to trains involved Lionel and riding with my mother down to the station to pick up my brother from work. It wasn’t until college that I got into photographing trains, and as to exactly why, I can’t tell you. All I know is that somewhere along the way I had a choice of going whole hog into fanning or model railroads, but I simply did not have the time, or more importantly, the money to do both, and I chose the big guys.
Thru the 70’s and early 80’s I fanned Chicago and central Illinois heavily. A favorite road of mine was the TP&W before it was absorbed by the Santa Fe, but that didn’t keep me from shooting trains of other roads that I encountered along the way I also got in a fair amount of Minnesota fanning after a high school buddy of mine, Kurt Haubrich, moved to the great white north. It was a great time to be a fan, there were a couple years that I took over 3,000 photos, which with film is a lot of shots (and labeling!). Life was good.
In the early 80’s I was working for Zenith Electronics when my entire department was transferred to Springfield MO where I lived for the next ten years. Springfield was a bit of a shock for a fan used to the variety and volume of trains around Chicago. Except for a very small presence by the Missouri Pacific, it was a Burlington Northern town all the way. Not a bad place, but not a whole lot of trains either. However I grew to really like it, especially when I ranged father afield to fan the KCS as it switched from white to gray, and the Katy ran it’s last independent years.
In 1994 Zenith pretty much closed up shop in Springfield MO and I ended up being transferred south, way south, to Reynosa Mexico! I actually lived in McAllen TX, which meant that I had to commute across the border on a daily basis. Definitely an experience that I will never forget, even though at times I try fairly hard to do so. Working in Mexico wasn’t a problem, my co-workers were really wonderful people, it was living in McAllen that was a pain in the you know what. Unless your idea of fine entertainment involved sitting in a bar there was basically not much to do. Rail action consisted of an every other day visits from the Rio Valley Switching or a Southern Pacific local, and after fanning those lines a couple times you had pretty much seen and done everything. A couple times I considered making a dash for San Antonio, after all on a map it was only an inch or so away, but then I’d check the actual mileage and get a reality check on just how big Texas was. I was not a happy camper.
After a year down in McAllen a miracle happened; I got called into the office and was offered a chance to transfer to Ft Worth. Not a hard decision. Ft Worth turned out to be a railfan’s dream. While it didn’t have the massive variety of Chicago, it more than made up for it be being far more concentrated and easier to get around. It also didn’t hurt that I arrived just in time to catch both the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific in their last years. Believe me, Ft Worth is a great place to be if you’re a railfan.
Unfortunately all good things must come to and end, and so it was with my employment with Zenith Electronics. More and more people and departments were cut in an attempt to stem the flow of red ink, and one day my turn came. I worked a number of other jobs in Ft Worth, but none paid well. It got increasingly obvious that I too needed to cut costs, so I moved back to my home town where things were more under my control.
They say that you can never come home again, and so it was with Chicago. Lots of spots that I’d fanned with ease back in the 70’s were now off limits for various reasons and railroad consolidation had taken its toll. My biggest shock was how congested the area had become. When I moved away in the 70’s corn was still being grown a short distance from my house and there were many nearby areas where not a building could be seen except for farm houses. Not any more! It was now wall to wall development all the way to the Fox River and beyond, and I did not regard this as positive. Finding the open space that I loved now involved an hour’s drive, which was a real pain. Heck, down in Ft Worth fifteen minutes would either land me downtown or out among the cows, so this was a definite comedown. However that did not stop me from fanning, not by a long shot!
Currently money woes are keeping me close to home so that’s why you see way to much of my home town; it sure saves on the wear and tear on my car! I’ve been thru this before and have always come thru, so hopefully sometime in the near future I’ll be able to spread my wings a bit!