Updated 4-14-2015

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In A recent video I presented to my viewers asking for suggestions to be used on my Web Domain www.carknocker.com, one of the many excellent responses, I recieved was from my friend Jon, Railfan 439. I will use his Email as the first post on A new page, and I will title it "Rail Fan Email and How To Input". It will make an excellent, place for Rail Fans to post their ideas of how to produce better quality videos. None of us will make our videos quite the same way, but we can get ideas and learn A few tricks of the trade from each other. You may or may not agree with everything, and your comments and responses or alternative ideas are welcome to be Emailed to me at walter@Carknocker.com or send me A message at my Pwalpar YouTube channel, and I will try to respond when time permits, and from time to time I will add other Rail Fan Emails to this page. keep in mind I have thousands of viewers and can't post everyones stuff, but will try picking the best and most helpful ones. as time permits me, as I have to recode (HTML) everything to be put on the servers, (not an easy job to do for A busy old man LOL). I do hope many of my viewers will use this page to their benefit and learn from it. Those who do get their suggestions posted here will get full credit as their YouTube User or Google+ name. No personal email addresses will be shared by me to anyone, so rest assured of that. Hopefully your Emails might get you new subscribers and contacts as well. Keep it clean and polite as any vulgarity or overly harsh criticism will not be tolerated. Subscribe to my YouTube channel below and recieve an Email every time I upload A video as well as earn my sincere gratitude for the support. Walter (Pwalpar)

4-12-2015 Email from, Jon Krup, Railfan 439, Oxnard CA

Taking and presenting a video is like telling a story. If you jump around, it makes the story line hard to follow. My suggestions for taking good railfan videos can be as basic as getting a GOOD tripod, and using it every time. Trying to hand-hold the video camera doesnt make for a steady picture. I saw a video made by a guy in San Diego where he must have had the camera attached to his hat, and he was doing some sort of dance. Almost made me seasick, and thats saying a lot for an old Minesweep sailor.

Plan the scene. Figure out what do you want to show, then show it. Dont move the camera all over the place. Danny Harmon, on his YouTube channel, Distant Signal has it figured out. You have it figured out. Im still figuring it out. Dont try to follow every locomotive or car, unless its a special locomotive, then dont do it as a close-up. Keep your zooms to a minimum. Again, seasickness can ruin a perfectly good afternoon. I saw one video where the guy couldnt keep his fingers off the zoom control on the camera. He zoomed in and out, in and out, in and out. Almost made me want to puke!

Dont get all ARTSY with your editing and special effects. KISS Keep It Simple, Stupid, is a good rule to follow. I watched a video from someone here locally, and every transition from one shot to another had fancy dissolves and sound effects that detracted from the basic story he was trying to tell. He was more interested in trying to wow everyone with his editing abilities, than telling the story.

Dont be afraid to cut out a scene in editing. If there is a lot of camera shake, or out of focus, or bad framing, or something you just didnt like, dont use the scene. In the movie industry it is common to keep only 10% of the scenes shot. Most of the scenes end up on the cutting room floor. We, as railfans, dont have the luxury of staging a scene over and over again, so we must use what we got, but that doesnt mean we must use everything. Good editing, (see Danny Harmons stuff) will pay off in the long run.

Theres a television program on one of the cable channels, Alaska Railroad. Its pretty good, but the editing crew plays the sound effect of an air horn, every time they show a locomotive, even if the locomotive is in the middle of the wilderness or from an aerial shot. For us serious railfans, that only brings a little idiocy to the program.

Speaking of sound effects, have you noticed the loud background (I hate to use the term) music on some television programs. This is starting to creep into videos. Dont be afraid to edit out a scene because of improper noises. Wind noise is the most common, but someone talking, or using foul language, in the background can be just as bad. The only four letter words we need are RAIL and ROAD. In the video from San Diego (see above) the camera guy kept using foul language, which detracted from his story. So unnecessary!

Dont be stuck in one spot. You go from Bunch to Jenkinsburg, to Jackson, to ... and get different points of view. Half the fun of railfanning should be driving around to find a different and unique spot to video the trains. Danny Harmon does this. Google Earth is a great tool to drive around at home and explore places. Cheap too, it doesnt waste gasoline. Here in Oxnard, which is pretty much flatland and farm fields, there are very few unique places, but since this is the Union Pacific Coast Line, there are many places near the beach where the tracks run. I am often on Google Earth, trying to figure out a nice scenic place to video a train.

Im trying to get away from taking the same videos over and over again, of the same Amtrak train from the same spot. It gets boring to the viewer. Thats why I havent posted a video in a while. Around here, Saturday and Sunday are NOT good railfan days. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays seem to be better. A good suggestion is to get a radio scanner and listen to it whenever you can. I have mine set up on the kitchen table, and I listen when fixing and eating breakfast. Its almost like having coffee with the dispatcher in Omaha. By listening often, you can learn a lot about whats happening. Thats where I learned about the train/truck collision at M.P. 406.23, a few weeks ago.

Oxnard is on the Santa Barbara Subdivision, and we dont get all that many freight trains during the day. Twelve Amtraks and six Metrolinks come through Oxnard daily, with the Metrolinks not running on the weekend. There is the Oxnard Local, that delivers cars that have been dropped off in the yard. There even is a caboose that is used often, but through freights run mostly at night. Perhaps a couple times a week, in the late afternoon a semi-local freight runs from the Van Nuys, CA yard to Oxnard (train 65) and return, or to Oxnard, then on to Elwood, and Guadalupe (train 67), to return at night. I have been trying to catch the arrival, but there is no set schedule for these trains. I usually get there after he has already uncoupled his cuts and is moving cars to various tracks in the Oxnard yard, or onto the local short line: Ventura County R. R. (autoracks). We have a deep water port here where RO-RO ships arrive bringing cars from Japan and Korea. Ive attached a diagram of the Oxnard yard.

As to suggestions from you as an old pro railroader (not from you as a railfan), what would you do to keep yourself safe around trains? More than the common sense things like stay off the tracks, but simple things like: at a crossing, even though the arms are up and the lights are not flashing, still, stop and look both ways. Or suggestions on the minimum distance to stay from the tracks while videoing. When Im railfanning, I wear a bright orange safety vest, and a bright yellow ball cap. I take my two greyhounds with me, and they both wear bright yellow doggie safety vests. I add battery powered lights to their vests in the late afternoon during the winter. Besides, I wave the ball cap at the engineer of the passing train. This does many things: makes me more visible, makes me more familiar with the crews who will recognize me in the future, and when I doff the cap, the engineer occasionally will toot the horn in greeting. The crews of train 65 and 67, and the Oxnard Local are almost on a first name basis with me. When I was videoing my Day of Trains video, the conductor of the Oxnard local gave me a dozen bottles of water. As a railfan, and if you are near a rail yard, a dozen donuts taken to the working crew first thing in the morning goes a long way to cement good relations.

How about descriptions of various cars and their uses. For an example, are they called gonDOlas or GONdolas. I have noticed that some gondolas have been modified to be much deeper than normal. They have become trash gons, running from a city to a land fill somewhere. Whats the purpose of a coil car? Why do empty boxcars sometimes have their doors open? You gave a great description of the camber of a flat car. Do other cars have camber? You also gave a great description of the A and B ends of cars. Do that again. I enjoyed it when you went back to your old work shed in the NS yard, and videoed where you worked as a carman. What do you look for on a roll-by? How or WHO, would you contact in the event you spotted something wrong with a train? We all seem to be carrying cell phones these days, so this should be an easy thing to do. I watched a video of a coal train somewhere in the mountains, and on a long left hand up hill bend. The lead truck of the first hopper car was in the dirt, but the engineer didnt notice, but the railfans did. They were able to yell to someone in the helper engines at the rear that there was a derail. That stopped the train, and the railfans were able to walk up to the trailing locos to explain what was happening.

In this day and age of everyone bringing law suits against everyone else, I know that the railroads are serious about trespassers. Thats why Locust Grove, and other towns, are building train watching platforms. By making yourself known to the local train crews, asking their advice about where to be to stay safe, they may have suggestions on other places to set up your tripod to get some unique shots of passing trains. Recently when the Oxnard Local had problems with the locomotive, I was listening on the scanner. The locals crew didnt have any tools to fix the problem, so I grabbed a bunch of mine, and hustled down to the tracks, but the repair crew had already arrived. Still, they expressed their thanks. Its a case of one hand washing the other.

Hope this helps. And I hope your eye is recovering. Thanks, Jon Krup, Railfan 439, Oxnard CA

Note to Jon: Thanks my friend for your time and input. Walter

Railfan439 ChannelSay Hi to Jon, tell him Walter sent you

Add or Expand on these Ideas

  • Porschedude8
    Hiya Walter! I hope you're doing well. I was going to suggest different railway lines, but then I thought you could also do certain types of locomotives. You also may do a concentration on some passenger lines in your area too. Another idea is perhaps the different stations as well. Especially, if they are historic in some way. ( I wish I could do code, but it looks like Sanskrit to me). Lol! I hope your doctor appointments go well. Thanks again Walter!
  • trainroomgary
    Hi Walter I am a Mac User, do not understanding, the PC world. Suggestion: On the web page, show the viewers railroad maps, where you go rail fanning.
  • scott erman
    walter parker this is scott erman put Atlanta trains on there i love trains
  • B.D. Cooper I like a lot of the ideas mentioned here (mapping the locations, longer videos). I do have two websites that could go great on your website for related links. walthers.com sells all kinds of stuff for model railroaders. rrpicturearchives.net has pictures of all kinds of trains and rolling stock, similar to railpictures.net, but a lot different in you can search for specific locomotives and the like.
  • Frank Parnell
    Walter, speedy recovery, my friend. Great videos. Suggestion: See if you can get some more Yard work/switching work, even if they are long videos (20-30 mins.) so viewers can see what/how is going on in building a train. I know that would be very interesting to watch RR workers going about doing their daily jobs to serve us. Frank
  • Carter W Hern
    talk about where the trains are coming from and going to. talk about individual cars and what they are for. Thanks.
  • larry robinson
    How to tell the different locomotives apart from each other and what does the model number stand for.
  • henrycems
    I like the idea of where to rail fan list. I know I have been watching some old videos about the histories of trains and some safety videos for rail workers. I love all kinds of history it may be something people would like, just a thought thanks and take care my friend.
  • Railfan 439
    How 'bout a "how to" section. Suggestions on making good railfan videos, what to do, what not to do, what to look for, etc. You know, helpful hints that anyone can add to. Another would be what railroaders do to stay safe, what to do when, ... , what to look for, things that you have learned from experience as a railroader.
  • gtee1997
    Hi Walter. Any chance of getting some videos of the NS training facility up the road from you in McDonough? That seems to be one of the most unique facilities around (and with a good variety of locomotives assigned there). I know it's private property, but there are a few vantage points from the public roads... Keep up the great work; I do enjoy your videos.
  • Big Toys for Big Boys
    You could do a railroad museum of each state and have a link to their web site.
  • Jacob Allday
    longer videos instead of 2,3 or 4 min ones,maybe 30 mins
  • John Teeter" From carknocker.com email
    Walter , I'm going to take you up on your offer for assistance with railfan sites.Here's three websites that may assist you [and others] thedieselshop.us -- locomotive rosters from large to small nsdash9.com Yep, you guessed it: NS locomotive roster [updated very frequently; in fact, it had been updated about 2 hours before I checked it] rrpicturearchives.net -- railroad photography site; photos from all over the world. People can also log in and submit photos themselves. Now, as to railfanning spots?Here in Illinois, I know of two really good spots Rochelle City-maintained shelter [with scanner information] smack in the middle of a BNSF-UP crossover very busy. Homewood Railfan shelter [possibly with or without scanner information] CN/Amtrak/Metra trains busy location. The Amtrak station is worthy of photographs too; it's really a beautiful sight to see. I'm getting a wild hair about possibly getting a railfanning shelter constructed here in Champaign Urbana IL CN/NS crossing] although about 30 miles south in Tuscola would be better CN/UP/CSX
  • shamrock767
    Hi Walter, for me personally I really like your Carknocker site, can't tell you how much amusement that I and workmates have had relating to your experiences and also just reading about how things are done in the States. There's not much difference, we're all the same brotherhood! The locomotive types had me foxed for a while but a visit to the dieselshop got me sorted out. Maybe a link to the types of locomotives that run there? I'm grasping at straw here Walter, I'm about as helpful as a parking brake on a boat! I hope you are in good spirits, have a great weekend my friend!
  • Don Atus
    I am new to rail fanning. The names of the various rail cars would help me. ie: gondola, boxcar, etc.?
  • Ed Ray email at Carknocker.com You ask for comments and suggestions to be sent toyou on carnocker.com (good idea). You have knowledge and experience that most of us rail fans dont have access to and you probably have sources for the difficult ones. Suggestion: Section on carnocker.com where fans can leave you suggestions and comments. Thanks for this opportunity and good health to you.Ed
  • cny02253
    Walter, I immersed myself in your website when I first found out about you and I really liked it -especially all the 'carknocker' stories and your insights into rail operations, cranes, etc! So more of that and any carknocker experience and wisdom you remember! A lot of the first hand knowledge of how things were done on the rails in the war, 50's and 60's is being forgotten. No computers and not much radio - people can't even imagine that now. Maybe also some things about how to be a good rail fan -from an ex railroader and carknockers point of view? Rail fan do's and don'ts, tips about getting special access, rail fan safety, 'So you want to do some rail fanning -advise for beginners"etc. Also, did you take any more pictures at work back in the day that you could put on your website? Or maybe put together a glossary and list of railroading definitions for rail fans? Just a few ideas.
  • dapster
    I like the "how to" video idea Walter. Teach the newbies with little or no experience making railfan videos a few things. What to do, what not to do, as well as the type of equipment you use and could recommend. I think it would be a great idea. Please do something like that Walter. Oh and I hope your recovery is going well.
  • tewiginton1s
    There are some great suggestions here, I really like the idea for the "How to railfan" section. Maybe some pointers on land characteristics that make for good videos, which way to face at different times a day, equipment recommendations, and other basic things that the guy or gal that has an appreciation for railfaning would need to strike out on their own. Thanks for your hard work and dedication to railfaning that brings so many people many hours of enjoyment. I'm praying for your return to good health Mr. Parks. Trey

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Carknocker.com and everything on it, unless otherwise noted: © Copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2015, by Walter Parks, "Carknocker" and Retired Railway Carman.