Off the Rails

photo: dennis rittson
Thursday September 1

There’s a new hard-core sport rapidly achieving cult-status in the U.K. – Extreme Trainspotting.

In common or garden-variety trainspotting the aim is to spot as many different trains and rolling stock as you can and to write down in a notebook their identifying numbers or even names.

Extreme Trainspotting has taken spotting to another level - to try and write down the numbers of every single carriage or wagon in a train. And it’s not easy. You need nerves of steel, a steady hand, quick reflexes and plenty of stamina.

Extreme Trainspotters can be found lurking around goods-yards, peering over railway bridges and waiting patiently trackside bundled up in anoraks, clutching Thermos bottles and binoculars. Injuries such as chilblains and hypothermia are common.

Ardent E.T. , Dave Bloggs of Putney, England says

You have to be pretty fit in this game. A lot of people think it's just a matter of picking up a notebook and sharp pencil...but there's more to it than that. You've really got to be on the ball. It can take a lot out of you. Especially in winter. I keep to a strict exercise regime, myself. And so far I've got some pretty good scores on the board. Yeah...some people think I'm mad. But each to his own, eh?

Your hard-core Extreme Trainspotter (E.T.) employs all the high-tech tools in the pursuit of the ultimate thrill. He’ll be logged onto the Internet for tips from other spotters. He’ll be equipped with thermal underwear, mobile phone, digital camera and tape recorder. And he'll be prepared to waits hours for that special train to come along.

Trainspotting has a long and glorious history in the U.K.. It is, after all, the birthplace of the Iron Horse. At the peak of the popularity of trains, at the end of the Victorian era, Britain was covered with railway track and there were many railroad companies. There were ten of thousands of locomotives, hundreds of thousands of passenger carriages and millions of commercial rolling-stock in operation.

With the increasing popularity of the motor-car the number of private companies declined until the Government created British Rail out of the four main companies at the end of the Second World War. Now it’s gone full-circle with the Government selling off British Rail to companies like Virgin, Southern, Central etc.

A development from Trainspotting is the haulage enthusiast or basher. These individuals are not content merely watching trains; they want to ride in them as well. As many as they can. Marking them off in their notebooks just like a regular Trainspotter. Others try to cover as much of the railway network as they can. These types are known as Gricers or Track Bashers.

In the United States, trainspotters (anoraks) are known as Railfans or Railbuffs or even Foamers – from an old railwaymens term for people who foam at the mouth when they see a train.

Some Trainspotters like to call themselves Ferroequinologists - from the study of the iron horse. And I believe in Australia the term Gunzel is sometimes used. While here in France trainspotting is known as Ferrovipathe which literally means “railway disorder”.

Wikipedia has this to say : The term trainspotter is often used as a derogatory term towards someone perceived to have an enthusiasm for acquiring or hoarding detailed or humdrum information.

Have a look at this wonderful Australian site,  "wasting time and bandwidth since 1992" -

And Dennis Rittson's seriously-good train photos at -

I have him to thank for the photo of Neath Bank  illustrating this story.

Extreme Trainspotters – I salute you.


In a Flap

click on ornithopter
click on ornithopter
It’s said that Leonardo da Vinci drew up plans for the first ornithopters – planes that flap their wings. He got the idea from undressing birds with his eyes. LOFL.

I first came across them about twenty years ago in an Esquire Magazine. Back then a select group of American afficionados was building them from cigarette paper, microfilament and rubber bands.

They weighed about as much as a cigarette and usually only flew once, they were so delicate. If they hit wind turbulence or anything solid they would come apart. Usually they were flown in sealed aircraft hangers.

They’ve come a long way since then. Check these babies out at

Have a look at ”Stuff people built”. Maybe you can build your own and beat Ray White’s record ornithopter flight (rubber-band-powered) of 21 minutes, 44 seconds!



Arsey Airplane

                                      Tuesday August 23

click on arsey airplane
click on arsey airplane
Hi gang. Gosh and Gee Willickers! Look at this. The World's Lightest R.C. Airplane. Build it yourself.  Weighs only 4 grams! It's got a carbon-fibre prop., Swiss-engineered gearbox, 4mm coreless motor (whatever that may be), wings and everything. Hours of fun for young and old. And won't interrupt your television viewing - well not by much anyway.  Have a decko at the goose on this video -

...come fly with me...come fly... let's fly away

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