This year’s first blog post and train recollections come to us from my buddy, Jason Fields. Thanks very much for sharing with us, Jason!
My first memory ever involving trains was when I was maybe a year old. We had a VHS tape called “Who Left the Juice in the Caboose?” aimed for preschool kids. My family often would tell me that I started watching that at nine months old, and that my first words were Woo-Woo! A lot of folks seem surprised to learn that Thomas the Tank Engine was not necessarily the jump-start into my passion of trains.
My name is Jason Fields, I’m an ammature railroad photographer and videographer from Chattanooga, Tennessee and I run a YouTube channel called “The ‘Nooga Railfan.” The thrill of a chase and the sights and sounds of a roaring locomotive thundering through various landscapes keeps me going back for more.
Mom and Dad did the typical Day Out With Thomas things with me, as any young child would have loved to have done, and rode behind many trains at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, mostly the Missionary Ridge Local behind steam engine #610. I had a few picture books here and there, but I wasn’t as deep into the history of trains at the time.
My mother purchased a book for me when I was around 11 years old, Steam in the Valley: A History of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, written and photographed by John W. Coniglio, as well as tickets for the Summerville Steam Special for October of 2011, which was hauled by the recently-restored Southern Railway 630. That was probably the moment my interest in trains really sparked.
A few years went by, and I attended Railcamp, a week-long summer camp at the TVRM, where teenagers can get their hands dirty and get a feeling of what it’s like working on engines and cars. My first week there, we repainted the cab of NC&StL VO-1000 36 (originally a unit from the US Air Force). I continued to attend Railcamp from 2013 to 2016, and eventually met one of my best friends there. I’d still come and visit now and then, pre-covid, and would often chat with the kids and counselors.
By that time, I’d really gotten pretty interested in doing railroad photography and videography. I didn’t have a whole lot, equipment wise, that was, per-say “good;” a fairly used point-and-shoot and a smartphone, but it did the trick for a few years until I got my first DSLR camera. As better quality equipment came along, so did my photography skills, having been published in two calendars and a magazine since 2016.
My main focus on my photos and videos is vintage railroad operations, concerning steam and old diesel locomotives. Traveling from state-to-state, meeting new people and experiencing new (to me) engines and railroads is a pure joy. I always plan for the year with at least five-to-seven railroads to visit and photograph. Naturally, I didn’t get to go to all of them when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, but I know I definitely wasn’t the only one yearning for more to do.
Railfanning and the history and lore of railroads is a little bit more than a hobby to me, it’s become a part of me. I’ve met so many friends over the years, some of them I’d consider close brothers and sisters, and they are one of the defining reasons for my interest in the hobby. Without them, I would not enjoy this hobby as much as I do. Taking photos of trains by yourself gets boring pretty quickly. I thank them for always being there for me.
Today, I offer you a brief narrative of my own infatuation with trains. I hope you enjoy this blast from my past!
A very young Tom Rock and the Detroit Zoo train
My interest in trains began at a very early age, probably when I was 5 or 6 years old. My father would often take me to Sarnia, Ontario, to visit my great-grandfather, an engineer for Canadian National Railways. His job involved moving electric freight trains from Sarnia to Port Huron, Michigan. Canadian National rules would not allow me to stay on board the train during these movements, but grandfather made sure I boarded once the engine was parked near the roundhouse. At this time, Canadian National was still running steam, so it was quite an experience for a 6-yr. old to grasp the size of one of those coal-fired giants.
When I was 10 years old, my father accepted a job in California. On the way out west, we stayed in Cheyenne, Wyoming. My father noted my fascination with trains, so he took me to the Union Pacific station in Cheyenne for a closer look. There I saw a diesel locomotive up close for the very first time. When the engineer offered a tour of the cab, I backed away and refused to board. After a little encouragement from my father, I finally climbed the ladder and got into the cab. The engineer tried to show me the entire working components of the engine, but I wanted no part of it. I grew up around steam engines, but the sounds that this new type of locomotive produced frightened me. With that, I gracefully exited the engine.
Back in the 50’s, Chrysler produced locomotives to be used at the Detroit Zoo. These scaled-down versions of steam engines would carry patrons around the entire zoo complex. One day while I visited the zoo, my father took a photo of me studying one of the engines before it departed. I had convinced myself at this age that a railroad life was for me, but like all dreams, some come true and some do not.
Upon my high school graduation, I took a drafting job. This lasted 43 years until my retirement came in 2006. During those 43 years, I worked with many notable NASA illustrators that taught me the art of painting with acrylics.
I had to trade my railroading dream for painting, which flourished into railroad nostalgic scenes. Evidence of this dream can be seen on this blog or at my website, www.TDRProductions.us.