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Buffs …

When right out-of-college, I had the great good fortune to work for the American Freedom Train Foundation

I grew up in a railroad family – but certainly not a conventional railroad family. Our railroad is the Black River & Western Railroad, a short-line tourist excursion line that runs between Ringoes and Flemington, NJ – and on to Lambertville on rare occasions.

As a teenager, my summer and weekend job was tending the concession stands at the station in Ringoes or selling tickets in Flemington and the experience brought me into close contact with a not-so-rare breed of enthusiast: the rail buff.

I learned to spot rail buffs by their unmistakable accoutrements. Buffs were often typified by a phalanx of expensive cameras hanging from their necks. Or in those days it might be the reel-to-reel tape recorder ingeniously strapped to their chests – not unlike a Snuggli baby – ready to capture the chugging of a locomotive. Or perhaps it would be the Samsonite briefcase full of snapshots of very particular railroad arcana: in one memorable case it was semaphores – those signal posts along railroad rights-of-way — from everywhere in the Northeast. (Mind you, these were just thrown into the satchel willy-nilly without even the benefit of labeling. Yet, the buff in question could tell you whether the photo had been taken in Hoboken or Harrisburg.)

Railroad buffs are a well-known strain to anyone who actually works around railroads and many of them are even recognized for their sub-specialties – a certain type of diesel engine or a fascination only with steam — or semaphores, evidently. Some are so ubiquitous around rail yards, they’ve acquired not-so-flattering nicknames like Diesel Dan or Willie-Lump-Lump.

When right out-of-college, I had the great good fortune to work for the American Freedom Train Foundation, the only Bicentennial project of a national scope. As an advance person, I traveled the 48 contiguous states planning for exhibitions in major markets. To say the Freedom Train was a buff-magnet is to understate it by several degrees of magnitude. When I received my first letter from a famous Washington, DC buff whose communications were single-spaced, manually typewritten missives on onionskin without the benefit of any punctuation, I was told “I’d arrived.”

The point of this polemic – and there is one – is that I find the enthusiasms of the human race fascinating. When in my dotage – and some would say I’m getting dangerously close – I imagine writing a book about buffs. And to start my research, I am hopeful I’ll hear from you. I have no doubt that many of you will know of rail buffs yourself, even if not extreme ones like the ones I’ve described. What I’m interested in learning a about are buffs with other equally esoteric interests.

For instance, I’m sure all modes of transportation attract their share of buffs. I know there are those who are courtroom junkies or are never far from their police scanners. I have heard of people who collect barbed-wire specimens – who knew there were so many varieties? And I almost consider the collectors of glass insulators from telephone poles a step-cousin to the rail buff.  Do you know of other unusual hobbyists – those who have a single-minded devotion to an obscure collection or interest?

Please let me know – I plan on becoming a buff of buffs!

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More Stories By Karyn Price

Karyn joined the Bailiwick Company ten years ago, and spends the majority of her time managing media relations and corporate, employee and marketing communications for her telecommunications and technology clients. She currently leads the company's public relations practice. With an eye toward results, she works diligently to secure meaningful coverage for clients in relevant print and online publications, as well as in key financial and analyst reports. Her new-found passion for social media has ignited additional interest for the clients she serves. Prior to joining Bailiwick, Karyn was the communications manager for the Bucks County Conference & Visitors Bureau, where she publicized the beauty, art and culture that the region offers to leisure travelers. Under her direction, the county saw a 43 percent increase in travel leads. She has also spent time in advertising. Karyn holds an M.A. in Professional Communication from La Salle University and a B.A. in Communication from Elizabethtown College. Outside of the office she enjoys music, spending time with family and reading great novels. Please note that the views expressed on this site are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the clients I represent.

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