Meet The Foamers

by Jim on 2011/07/07

[It’s okay.  Jimbaux has forgiven you, but in some ways, hope it . . . ]

Yeah, that’s an appropriate one on many levels.

“I’ll Say No Names”

One of my goals in this move far away from the bayou has been to shatter stereotypes about places far away.  To be sure, I have made great friends in the Potomac Valley in the last six months, and I am strengthening those friendships almost every day.  However, I haven’t really made any new foamer pals, and those nasty stereotypes about people from Up Nawth are starting to materialize.

Meet The Foamers

Yeah, and this surely seems like a sitcom.  On one of the foamer internet forums, I was invited to go meet the foamers at the St. Denis MARC station just west of Baltimore.  I had to be in the area on Sunday 26 June, so I decided that after my obligations were done, I’d visit the site and introduce myself to the foamers.

When I arrived there, the man who had invited me wasn’t there, and I could tell this right away because none of the vehicles in the parking lot met the description he gave me of his vehicle.  When I got home later that evening, I had a message from the man who invited me there, saying he had left at a certain time, which was just before I had gotten there.  Here’s what I wrote to him in reply:

I must have just missed you, as I arrived shortly after that, but I have to tell that that was by far and away the most unwelcome I’ve EVER been at any gathering of foamers.  I’m not sure if this is a regional thing or what, but the new foamer in town was not welcomed (not like I expect a red carpet) or even acknowledged.  I walked up to the little green shaded area where there were six men sitting and talking trains, talking about the crash on the California Zephyr, etc.  In the at least 10 minutes (which felt much longer), none of these men even acknowledged my presence, even as I was standing there with a camera hanging from me, obviously identifying me as a foamer, and only two or three of them even made any eye contact with me.  After about five minutes when there seemed to be a break in their conversation, I said “Hi” out loud to everyone, but got no response.  Then, a couple of minutes later, I said, somewhat sarcastically, “Hi, everyone!”  I got no response again, even as I’m standing about five feet from these guys.

So, I just said to myself F*** IT, left, and doubt that I will return.
Regardless, I appreciate your help.


Yeah.  Wow.  I don’t want to sink into stereotypes about people in different regions, but I’ve never been treated like that anywhere else.  However, I sent the same message to a friend (not from this area), and he brought up the same issue in his response:

That sounds stupid.  Guess outsiders are not welcome in their stupid little circle.  Children.  That’s just outright rudeness.  Leave it to northeasterners to be like that, I guess.

There’s another matter too!  Do you see the irony of not being acknowledged by a group of railroad enthusiasts?  Generally, railroad enthusiasts tend to be weirdos in the first place; so, to be an outcast in a group of foamers is a really weird feeling, and maybe it’s actually some weird backhanded compliment, but, as I wrote above, I just removed myself from the situation and put it all in my rearview mirror.  It has made for a funny story, though!

Before I left, though, I grabbed these few pictures.

Well, that’s not the most inspiring view.  It would be nice if there was a train there.  Oh, well.  I should just be happy to be out and about, and I was.

So, is it true, then, that around here, not only does the foaming suck, but the foamers themselves also suck too?  Bah!  I’ll do my best not to judge others by their actions.

It wasn’t long after this that my phone rang.  It was one of my homies from the bayou calling, someone who has lived in New Orleans the last few years.  We had a great conversation.  I had always viewed him as a more popular and liked when we were kids, but, as I learned, we really do face some similar demons.  All will be better, though.

The signal shot ought to please a particular foamer I have in mind.  What are those “D” things?  That doesn’t stand for “Derail” like it normally (from my experience) does, does it?

The irony, though, is that I will likely return to this location this weekend.



1 BobE July 7, 2011 at 16:02

From wikipedia, the D is to remind engineers that they are in a “Delay in Block” territory. To wit,

In the aftermath of the 1996 Silver Spring Collision the Federal Railroad Administration amended its regulations for push-pull train operation to prevent locomotive engineers from forgetting that they were approaching a stop signal after making a station stop. The resulting Delay in Block Rule required that all distant signals in territory where push-pull trains operated in the absence of cab signals were to be marked with a ‘D’ placard to remind engineers that they were bound by a 40 mph speed restriction between any station stop and the point where the home signal became visible.

2 Gene Poon July 7, 2011 at 17:02

Maybe your misadventure with the rude-clique foamers was for the best. Always figure that those stuck-up foamers included the guy who would tell everyone in sight about how the greatest thing since sliced bread was the thingamadoodad that was added to only sixteen Pennsylvania Railroad K4s Pacific locomotives between the full moon and half past October in the third year after his spaniel had a litter of pups that he couldn’t get rid of so he let them all go on the streets of Baltimore at midnight on the Monday before his brother got drunk and wrecked his Buick. This thingamadoodad was to be the end-all that would increase the efficiency of the Pennsylvania Railroad K4s Pacific to equal that of a GP38-2, thus postponing dieselization and saving the Pennsylvania Railroad until at least 1973 when rising oil prices would put the coal-fired K4s Pacific at an advantage again, but the master mechanic at the shop where these were installed was a transplant from the New York Central and sabotaged the installation, thus making it certain that the Pennsylvania Railroad would suffer financial hardship and have to merge with the New York Central, forming Penn Central, which went bankrupt, so this all comes down to this one thingamadoodad and a turncoat master mechanic from the New York Central, and if they had a real Pennsy mechanic in there, the thingamadoodad would have worked, the Pennsylvania Railroad and steam power would have been saved (at least until 1973), there would have been no Eastern railroad bankruptcy crisis and no need for Conrail and Amtrak. All would have been well with the world.

And besides, how many trains went by while you were being ignored by those rude foamers?

Going back this weekend? Maybe that guy reads this blog and will LOOK for you, so he can tell you the same story.


3 Brian "Porkchop" LaFleur July 7, 2011 at 17:38

We’ll take you back.

4 Tom Becket July 7, 2011 at 18:09

Gene’s post made me laugh. I used to camp out on Sunday afternoons on the platform at Bellerose NY on the Long Island, and somewhat regularly at Mineola NY, also on the LIRR, back in the mid 80’s, and have encountered both situations. There was a guy at Mineola whose brother worked for one of the airlines, so he used to get either free or reduced fare flights on a standby basis. He had all kinds of stories about chasing the SP and ATSF on Cajon and Tehachapi, and he told them every time I saw him. Kinda like your PRR guy, but with SP diesels mostly. He and another fairly well known Long Island fan, who was occasionally in attendance at this informal meeting, and also knew everything there was to know about North American railroading, had a love/hate relationship. They were tolerable when they liked each other, but occasionally came to shoving matches when they didn’t. Both guys went 300-plus, so it was like a cross between sumo and WWF to watch them. I just stayed out of the way. Needless to say, the commentary and antics tended to scare off the random other fans that would sometimes happen by. It was not hard to get the impression, as you note, that these guys were a little “off.” But they could be quite cliquish, an attribute I have noted frequently enough to recognize it as a problem. Whether it’s worse in the northeast than elsewhere, I can’t say, but having lived the first 48 years of my life there, I can definitely attest that it was alive and well into the 21st century.

There’s more to this, I’ll continue tomorrow……stay tuned……

5 Tom Becket July 7, 2011 at 18:12
6 John July 7, 2011 at 18:19

We don’t call it “Southern Hospitality” for nothing.

With apologies to the good people of Maryland, the state has historically suffered from an identity crisis by being on the edge. But then, that can be seen a definitive asset.

7 Howard Bunte July 8, 2011 at 01:55

Hey Jimbaux…
Someday, you will return to the ”track of the Cats” in NM…the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR… where the foamers and lovers of old but lovingly cared for narrow-gauge Mikados… are spaced out far enough so as to “NOT get in front of the shooting line”… and seem to be pretty civil to one another…
A Grim situation, that would be for me, being a more gregarious type… but the ‘F-U’ to the assembled multitude might have come earlier from me…given no recognition of my existance there… for the same reasons they purportedly come…
Hey, not worth the sweat or worry…
and…keep on twanging those steel strings…

8 Tom Becket July 8, 2011 at 09:58

Continued from yesterday…..

The other place I would linger was the west end of the Bellerose station on the LIRR Hempstead Branch, which sat just east of the east limit of Queens interlocking, where the Hempstead Branch separated from the Main Line. It was(and is) a good place to watch trains, though since 9/11 you’ll probably get chased off. They’re still a little skittish in NY. I used to play organ for a Christian Science church in Jamaica. We got out about noon, and I’d grab a soda and head for Bellerose. One Sunday, there was a gent already there when I arrived. We exchanged greetings and introductions. He was a local resident, lived about 2 blocks from the station, and would come out to watch the parade. We got to know each other fairly well, even to doing occasional joint trips over to Jersey to catch Conrail’s River Line. The Sunday midday gig got to be a regular event. Every now and then, another fan from elsewhere-usually somewhere in Queens or Nassau counties, but sometimes farther afield-would appear. We always were cordial, though a bit reserved til we had a good feel for the newcomer. Once we had a good idea the new guy was not an idiot, egomaniac, or mentally defective, we welcomed them. Some we saw only once, some got to be sporadic regulars. Our feeling was, anyone who wants to come up and share our perch was welcome. We don’t own it, we’re all here for the same thing, let’s enjoy it. It was a good way to hear some good stories and get to know some interesting folks while catching some good rail action.

Years back-the 80’s and 90’s, the years I had the most experience foaming in that area-there was a large contingent of what I think of as “competitive railfans”-guys who not only HAD to get the shot, but who would actively exclude others from information or assistance to get photos they were taking. Jersey seemed to have most of that type, but by no means was it exclusive to the Garden State. That attitude created a lot of friction, as you can imagine, not only on photo lines-keep in mind, this was when the NYSW had started running Sea Land stacks behind Century 430’s over the newly reopened line through Sparta, and the line was thick with fans all the way from Jersey to Binghamton-but also to the point where people would join or quit NRHS chapters based on who else was in the group. There are some fans who still will not speak to some of the other local guys over things that took place on some photo line in Port Jervis in 1989. For a while there in that time period, there was a lot of polarization in the northeastern fan ranks. Apparently some of it still exists. It’s nuts. I don’t know if the guys you encountered at St Denis were part of that whole mess. I’m inclined to doubt it, Maryland and DC were pretty much out of that orbit, thougb I’m not familiar with the fans in that area. They may have just been unfriendly territorial AH’s, which is most likely. There are a lot of hard edged folks in the northeast, railfan ranks are probably no different.

My approach is that I will help anyone who asks(and some who don’t) to the extent of my knowledge on a particular operation. This is supposed to be fun, not a quest to outdo the other guys. Someone else getting a shot of the last running Alco on the NYSW does not diminish my enjoyment, and takes nothing from me, and the other guy gets a memory he will enjoy for years to come-everyone wins. While it’s nice to get those “gloat shots”, my preventing someone else from getting the same shot serves no purpose.

A couple of shots from Bellerose:

Train 4012, a Montauk run via the Central Branch, typically got 2 units and looked like a real train:

Alco powered freights were an extra treat, and could frequently be seen on Sunday when commuter traffic was lighter:

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