Victoria a 'hidden gem' for railfans
Oct. 1, 2011 at 5:01 a.m.
Updated Oct. 2, 2011 at 5:02 a.m.
Equipped with a radio scanner, audio and video equipment and a camera, Randy Smith resembles a detective on a stakeout.
But he is not. He is a railfan. And Victoria residents may have noticed him staking out positions throughout the city's many railroad lines.
"My mother thinks I'm insane," admitted Smith, 63, who has followed the steel-chugging locomotives since he was 5 years old.
He once worked on trains in the 1960s, but gave that up to follow them around via his scanner.
"That wasn't near as much fun as watching them," he explained.
Joe McMillan, president of the Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society, described railfans as more into the actual trains. Train-model fans, on the other hand, devote their time to working on their model layouts.
But the two rely on one another. And, in many cases, McMillan said a railfan is a fan of train models, as well.
For example, as a railfan, Smith takes photos of trains running through Victoria, while recording their sounds and movements. He later posts his photos on websites so that others may model their trains based on his work.
His audio has also been used by train-model fans, who want the authentic sounds of moving steel to go with their sets.
But Smith also likes to put together train model layouts and has asked other railfans for photos. In fact, that was how he met Glenn Laux, a trucker friend from DeFuniak, Fla., who snaps photos of trains on his routes.
Both men said Victoria was a great place to practice their craft.
Laux tries to visit whenever he can. He said a train moves slow enough through the city a railfan can get photos of both sides.
"It's a hidden gem for railfanning," said Laux about Victoria.
But what would drive a man from Florida to Victoria 12 times a year?
"Why do people love football so much?" asked Laux, 32, who has followed trains since 1995.
"Whatever that thing is, is basically the same thing for us."
Yet the hobby doesn't come cheap. Laux has spent about $1,100 for his camera equipment.
Smith, who owns more than just a camera, has been hassled by teenagers with knives, a man with a gun and even suspicious railroad workers.
"They're convinced that we're going to take a picture that's going to get them in trouble," said Smith, about some railroad engineers and conductors.
For all their love of trains, Laux called him and his fellow hobbyists a part of a dying breed. He said he doesn't meet many railfans along the tracks, adding the younger people were more into video games.
"Trying to keep my nephew from doing that," he said.
But for Smith, family is one way to ensure that the craft lives on. His 2-year-old grandson is already into trains.
"Apparently, it's in the gene pool," he said.