Friday, December 16, 2016


What got in me is something more than envy.
I should be above it I know, but I just can't let it go.
- Jennifer Nettles, "Jealousy"

This is "Confessions of a Train Geek", so I have something to confess: sometimes I am jealous of other railfans.

Jealous of the opportunities other railfans had to shoot trains I couldn't see.

Jealous of the accolades that other photographers received.

I've been jealous, off and on, ever since I became a railfan back in 1998 or so.

I remember seeing posts on the old mailing lists (mostly dormant now) where person X caught a few CN trains and a VIA train outside Halifax, while I was sitting in trainless Fredericton, and feeling a burning jealousy that they had the opportunity and I did not.

I'd like to say that this has changed, and in some ways it has, but in some ways... not so much.

Logically I know I have little to be jealous of. I've had a lot of good opportunities come my way. I have photographed trains in every province in Canada. I've caught some special trains like the Coors Light Silver Bullet train, I've been to Banff several times and caught trains on Morant's Curve.

I live in a city that has tons of trains with CN, CP, VIA, and four short lines, and if a week goes by where I haven't seen a train, I get anxious and step out and shoot a few trains. I know a lot of people who do not have that access.

I should have nothing to complain about.

And yet, sometimes I feel jealous. Still.

Jealousy vs Envy

I should clarify that when I say "jealous" I mean it in a negative way, a resentful way, maybe even a hateful way. I will freely admit I often feel envy of others' photos and opportunities but I don't see that as a negative thing. To me, envy is an appreciation of someone else's good fortune or skill, without any sense that they didn't earn their opportunity.

For example, I am envious of Greg McDonnell's work. He is well known among railfans for his stunning books, many of which I own. He has had many opportunities through the years to photograph and write about a large variety of topics from trains to ore ships to grain elevators. To me, he's earned those through hard work and dedication, and he's developed a style of photography and writing that I admire greatly.

I think I am jealous when I feel that someone is unjustly getting accolades for their work... or when I could or have done a similar thing without getting the same response.

How to Deal With It?

OK, so sometimes I am jealous. How do I deal with it?

I have a few strategies:
  1. Differing priorities
  2. You make your own opportunities
  3. TANJ
  4. Suck it up, buttercup

Different Priorities

One thing to remember is that everyone has their own priorities. Some railfans prioritize great shots over seemingly everything else, so they spend hours or days waiting at a particular location for "that" shot.

Some railfans spend a lot of time and money travelling around to get a rare leader on a train.

That's their choice. Everyone has their own priorities.

I love trains, but I am a father and a husband and I work full time. I have commitments beyond railfanning that I hold more important than railfanning. So trains usually come second, or third..

I don't get up early on a Thursday morning to chase a GWWD RS-23 out of town into the wilderness of eastern Manitoba. I haven't explored the grain elevators of northern Alberta. I haven't caught the Canadian going over the Uno, MB trestle at sunset. I haven't seen MLWs on the prairies of southern Saskatchewan. I hope to do all these things someday.

I could do those things. I have a vehicle. I have money. I could make the time, but I have other priorities. I'll enjoy the photos that others take, and feel envious... maybe... but hopefully not jealous.

You Make Your Own Opportunities

People make their own opportunities. A lot of times, a so-called "lucky break" really comes from a lot of preparation and hard work.

Think of those people who get a cab ride on a mainline freight... or a tour of maintenance shops... or any other kind of exclusive access. How do you think that happened?

You develop relationships. You network. You give freely.. and sometimes these opportunities will come up.

They don't come to people who just stand trackside with a camera... and talk to no one... and don't share anything. Those people get nothing but photographs.

It took me a long time to realize this.

Of course, sitting at home blogging doesn't always bring photo opportunities...


Fans of Larry Niven will know what "TANJ" means, but for those who don't know, it means "There Ain't No Justice". It's used in Niven's books as a swear word, but its basic meaning is clear. Things don't always go your way. The universe doesn't owe you anything. No matter what you were told as a child, things aren't fair and not everyone is treated equally.

Sometimes people just get lucky. Good for them.

Sometimes people are just more sociable than you are. That's the way it is. Life ain't fair.

Which leads into...

Suck It Up, Buttercup

My final method of dealing with jealousy is just to suck it up.

Except for this post. :)

Thanks for reading...


Unknown said...

You do excellent work Steve. I surely appreciate all those grain elevators you drove around to visit and photograph. You've done some great archival work there. Hats off to you.

Now get over to Saskatchewan and start over, archiving all their elevators..

I really enjoy reading all your posts and exploits, I can live vicariously thru your adventures.

Thanks Steve. You are most me.

Glen along the CEMR

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, Glen, very kind of you to say. I intend to get over to SK soon and photograph a few elevators, but they have been well documented already by many people. That doesn't mean it isn't worth doing again with my own eyes. :)

Shane said...


Your BLOG is something to be proud of. Not many people can continuously pump out interesting articles.

I think it's important to focus on what you enjoy about the hobby. If it becomes a competition or even an obsession, it can quickly lose it's enjoyment.

Merry Christmas,

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, Shane, I appreciate your comments! You're right that it's important to focus on what we enjoy. It's not a competition, and although it's natural to compare oneself to others, ultimately it's a hobby and we should enjoy it and not stress about it too much.

Merry Christmas!

Eric said...

Whether it's creating opportunities or just suck it up buttercup, I don't know, thing I find common in railfanning, rail photography, model railroading and other fields are turning jealousy of some sort into copying. So many of us are now making our model railways look like Soeborg, Fallowfield, McLellan, even John Allen.

Going to busking shows or watching stand-up comedy, so many of them adopt each other's jokes and gags, that it's impossible to tell who originated them, therefore who to potentially be jealous of.

I prefer to operate in a creative bubble. Countercultural, even counter-intuitive sometimes. Do things your own way, and others will be comparing themselves to you, and getting jealous of you, and you won't have to worry about being jealous of others.

Oh, and Jennifer Nettles can SING!
Thanks for being a great blog partner, Steve. Merry Christmas!

Canadian Train Geek said...

Very good point, Eric, to be a true creative you forge your own path and don't copy the style of others. I do see a lot of "copying" versus "inspired by".

I'm not sure how exactly to operate in a creative bubble these days - we are both more and less well-connected than ever - but it's a good idea to try!

I've loved Jennifer Nettles since her Soul Miner's Daughter days.

Best blog buds ;) Merry Christmas!

Michael said...

Oh, the stories I could tell about wondering why the fates decided I should live in Ottawa and be a railfan again at this stage of my life. I look at it this way-- when you see trains rarely, as I do, you learn to make the most of the opportunities you do have. You also learn to appreciate the time you spend trackside a lot more. In other words, focus on what is rather than what might have been or what might be.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Michael, you've done very well at making lemonade from Ottawa's rail lemons, if I can butcher a phrase!