How we discovered Milepost 1147.2

Our story begins in the spring of 1991. George Bush was president, the economy was struggling and no one had heard of BNSF. Trains were the furthest thing from our minds as we found ourselves searching for a new home after the owners of the apartment complex where we were living in Antioch, Calif., decided to sell the place as condominiums. Having spent the past three years as apartment dwellers, we were eager for a house with a real yard and walls we didn't have to share with noisy neighbors.

When we checked into the ad for a three-bedroom rental house in Oakley it was love at first sight. It had an enormous back yard(!) with a spa(!) and the price was right. There was just one minor detail: "What about the trains?" we asked the rental agent, concerned by the close proximity of the tracks to our back fence. "Oh, you only get a couple of trains a day," was the reply. We signed the rental agreement the next day.

The first few nights in our new place took some getting used to, particularly when a train would rattle past while we were trying to watch TV or go to sleep. But soon we grew used to the blaring of horns, the ringing of crossing bells and the shaking of the house every time a train passed. And as the rental agent had said, true enough, train traffic was light. Bear in mind that this was 1991, during the height of the recession, and  business was down for the Santa Fe just as it had been for everyone. That began to change as the economy heated up and merger mania kicked in. Suddenly the newly rechristened BNSF line was rocking and rolling with dozens of stack trains, trailers on flat cars, coil cars and locomotives of seemingly every size and paint scheme. We had learned to ignore them for the most part and probably would have continued to do so if not for other factors.

Factor 1: Our son, Benjamin. Born in 1994, Benji couldn't help but be a railfan. Like most little boys, he developed a fascination for trains through watching Thomas the Tank Engine on TV, playing with wooden and die-cast metal train sets, and of course seeing the real railroad action just beyond our back fence. Like any dad eager to explain the world to his little boy, Glenn took to hoisting Benji over the top of the fence whenever the crossing bells rang and the gates dropped. This innocent ritual evolved as Benji grew older. Soon father and son were both paying more attention to the consists that rolled past our home. Glenn began versing himself in the technical details of how the railroad works, railroad history and model railroading. By late 1996 he was becoming hooked on trains.

Factor 2: Our landlords. In early 1997 we got the news that our home was going to be sold. We had always wanted to own our own place and the time seemed right. We looked at some other properties, but by now the idea of leaving the home we had lived in happily for six years seemed unthinkable. We were involved in the community and had no desire to leave Oakley. The other houses we saw paled by comparison (although admittedly we had a bit of a bias going in, as we compared everything to what we were already living in). By May we had worked out a deal to buy the house. As new homeowners, our interest in trains suddenly took on new meaning. In addition to marveling at the sheer spectacle of thousands of tons of rail equipment and cargo thundering past our crossing several times a day, we could also appreciate how two thin ribbons of rail enabled these machines to roll uneventfully from point A to point B without an unscheduled stop at point C — Roni's vegetable garden.

The railfan bug bit hard in 1997. We started making train-watching trips a regular part of our outdoor activities, traveling to museums and rail attractions around the San Francisco Bay Area. We checked out the modeling clubs in our area and Glenn began work on an N-gauge layout in a spare bedroom. Suddenly the railroad behind our house that we once took for granted became an integral part of our railfanning. Spurred by Benji's love of trains, we turned the tracks into our own private theater and enjoyed front-row seats for the drama on the rails. Home videos of the action soon followed, as did still photos. With the addition of a programmable radio scanner in 1998 we were listening in on the activities as well as watching them.

Today we have taken our love for trains one step further with the creation of this World Wide Web site. What we once ignored and treated as a nuisance has now become an exciting part of our lives. Sometimes you overlook the wonderful things that are in your own back yard. It is difficult for us to believe that there was ever a time when we didn't like watching trains, and it is equally difficult to imagine a future in which trains aren't a part of our lives.

Glenn, Roni and Benji Gehlke

March 26, 1999

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Please send e-mail to Glenn or Roni Gehlke.

Proceed to Milepost 1147.2 on main track. Hold main track at last named point. Over.

This page was last updated Friday, March 26, 1999 at 02:10 hrs.