The Internet is coming down the tracks

Coal train rumbles through Livingston

Dave Winer called me tonight and we had a nice chat about families and parents and all that. In the middle of the conversation a long train rumbled past. "The Internet is here" I told Dave. My end was being held in front of the Chop House, which is an excellent restaurant in Livingston.

He didn't quite understand until I explained it to him. See, the Internet is powered by electricity. What, you think those data centers at Yahoo and Google and MSN don't require much power? Think again. In fact, Google is planting its data centers near power sources because they require so much power.

So, when a train loaded with coal rumbled past, the first thing I thought of was that coal was going to power some of our Internet.

Of course I took a picture.

I told Dave that the railroad is a big deal here in Livingston. I know train buffs (they call them rail spotters, or if you really are a train buff, a "flimsie") come from around the world to watch the trains go over the Bozeman pass between Livingston and Bozeman, Montana. It's one of the most scenic train crossings in the world. Tomorrow I might follow a train or two and try to capture a picture as four, or six, electromotive engines pull a mile-long train over the pass.

It's an awesome sight to watch. The sheer physics are amazing.

Are any of you train fans? What draws you to watching trains? I think that's something I picked up from my ex-boss, Steve Sloan. When I worked for him he wrote a newsletter, named "Flimsies." Today he has a train page, although much of that doesn't seem to link up anymore. I'm sad, cause he had some really great photos of trains all over the Western United States.

But I think my love of trains goes back to the Lionel set that Uncle Victor gave our family when I was young. I still remember setting that up and driving it so fast that it flipped off of the tracks. Weird what we remember from when we were young.

Anyway, tomorrow I hope to catch a train after I take my brother to the airport. Even as I type this I hear a train horn in the distance. I wonder what's on it? Toys? Cars? Oil? Or more coal?

Comments

  1. Hi Robert,

    I guess I would call myself a train fan, although I wouldn’t define myself by it!

    I’m from the UK and am mostly a fan of high speed trains, in particular the TGV in France. I’m not so much into watching trains as riding on them, but you put your finger on what is interesting – it is the shear impressivness of it all. The human creativity and ingenuity that goes into making a TGV run at 186 mph is mightly impressive, as is the way it works as an integrated and safe system. I have the same slight fascination with planes – when I first had a window seat on take-off I was stuck by the human inventiveness that went into machines that had that much power harnessed in a controlled and safe manner. So I guess it is in a way parallel to an interest in computing, it can all be so impressive! And usually it is a constructive use of human abilities.

  2. Hi Robert,

    I guess I would call myself a train fan, although I wouldn’t define myself by it!

    I’m from the UK and am mostly a fan of high speed trains, in particular the TGV in France. I’m not so much into watching trains as riding on them, but you put your finger on what is interesting – it is the shear impressivness of it all. The human creativity and ingenuity that goes into making a TGV run at 186 mph is mightly impressive, as is the way it works as an integrated and safe system. I have the same slight fascination with planes – when I first had a window seat on take-off I was stuck by the human inventiveness that went into machines that had that much power harnessed in a controlled and safe manner. So I guess it is in a way parallel to an interest in computing, it can all be so impressive! And usually it is a constructive use of human abilities.

  3. Robert, I thought train spotters had all been banished to UK. I spent a year in UK and was amazed how many people would spend time on it and how many longed to go to India to see the still running vintage steam engines. Fitting that Thomas the Tank engine came from there too.

  4. Robert, I thought train spotters had all been banished to UK. I spent a year in UK and was amazed how many people would spend time on it and how many longed to go to India to see the still running vintage steam engines. Fitting that Thomas the Tank engine came from there too.

  5. Why am I attracted to trains? I think it has something to do with the scale of things. When you’re used to working on model trains and go carts and mini bikes as a kid, there’s something neat about seeing the same technology but 1000 times larger: cylinders you can stand in, connecting rods as tall as you are, massive wheels, axles, nuts & bolts…

    I’ve been a railfan since I was a kid. I grew up in Chicago about five blocks from a rail yard that was off limits to us kids. What better incentive? We used to find broken sections of fence, sneak onto railroad property, go climb in and on parked freight cars and cabooses and sneak into railroad buildings whenever we could. As I got older, I stopped trespassing in the rail yards, but my son took an early interest in toy trains and I started taking him to the rail yards, legally (access roads, employee parking lots, etc.), when he was only two years old. We’d sit and watch trains from the car for hours. Chicago is a great place to watch trains!

    p.s. I know trespassing is wrong and it’s particularly dangerous on railroad property. Kids, don’t try this at home.

  6. Why am I attracted to trains? I think it has something to do with the scale of things. When you’re used to working on model trains and go carts and mini bikes as a kid, there’s something neat about seeing the same technology but 1000 times larger: cylinders you can stand in, connecting rods as tall as you are, massive wheels, axles, nuts & bolts…

    I’ve been a railfan since I was a kid. I grew up in Chicago about five blocks from a rail yard that was off limits to us kids. What better incentive? We used to find broken sections of fence, sneak onto railroad property, go climb in and on parked freight cars and cabooses and sneak into railroad buildings whenever we could. As I got older, I stopped trespassing in the rail yards, but my son took an early interest in toy trains and I started taking him to the rail yards, legally (access roads, employee parking lots, etc.), when he was only two years old. We’d sit and watch trains from the car for hours. Chicago is a great place to watch trains!

    p.s. I know trespassing is wrong and it’s particularly dangerous on railroad property. Kids, don’t try this at home.

  7. Glad to see you spending some more time outside Rob
    Watching the world go by from a different view

    My dad had a bumper sticker on his Old Winnebago
    “Take time to stop and smell the roses”

    Best Wishes

    JP

  8. Glad to see you spending some more time outside Rob
    Watching the world go by from a different view

    My dad had a bumper sticker on his Old Winnebago
    “Take time to stop and smell the roses”

    Best Wishes

    JP

  9. I love trains. My freshman year dorm at Duke was a stone’s throw from the tracks and I started recording the times when the trains would rumble by so that I could work out a basic schedule. Eventually I started hopping freight trains on the weekends and “staying at school to work” over holidays so that I could hop out for longer periods. I learned way too much about the different kinds of cars, engines, and the railway employees. I routinely got very, very dirty. It was grand.

    My son is five and has been very into trains for the past two years, starting with Thomas the Tank Engine. We pull over when we see trains and get out and go up to the tracks, and go to train exhibits in museums, and stop by train stations whenever we’re in town.

  10. I love trains. My freshman year dorm at Duke was a stone’s throw from the tracks and I started recording the times when the trains would rumble by so that I could work out a basic schedule. Eventually I started hopping freight trains on the weekends and “staying at school to work” over holidays so that I could hop out for longer periods. I learned way too much about the different kinds of cars, engines, and the railway employees. I routinely got very, very dirty. It was grand.

    My son is five and has been very into trains for the past two years, starting with Thomas the Tank Engine. We pull over when we see trains and get out and go up to the tracks, and go to train exhibits in museums, and stop by train stations whenever we’re in town.

  11. Weird to see you posting from/about MT. I work two blocks from Jake’s in Billings. If you ever have any questions about the area, I should be able to answer.

    I’m mostly indifferent when it comes to trains. I used to despise freight trains when I lived in Miles City, MT. Small town centered around the tracks. The horn blasts at 3am can get annoying.

  12. Weird to see you posting from/about MT. I work two blocks from Jake’s in Billings. If you ever have any questions about the area, I should be able to answer.

    I’m mostly indifferent when it comes to trains. I used to despise freight trains when I lived in Miles City, MT. Small town centered around the tracks. The horn blasts at 3am can get annoying.

  13. Nice of you to remember my train chasing aka “railfanning” or “foaming”. I updated the page you linked to. I had almost forgotten about it. Bozeman is a great place to chase trains, there on the Montana Rail Link. I remember a trip I took there many years ago. I have a friend who lives there, Kyle Brehm.
    Of course, Susie and I have been thinking of you and your family over this mother’s day. I have lost relatives suddenly (as in my first wife’s car accident) and slowly (my own parents and sister) they are both very hard and have their own pluses and minuses. I really appreciate you sharing all this. Through the pain you are expressing you are able to get alot of folks to examine and improve their family relationships.
    Again, I am very sorry for what you are going through. Hang in there my friend.
    ~Steve

  14. Nice of you to remember my train chasing aka “railfanning” or “foaming”. I updated the page you linked to. I had almost forgotten about it. Bozeman is a great place to chase trains, there on the Montana Rail Link. I remember a trip I took there many years ago. I have a friend who lives there, Kyle Brehm.
    Of course, Susie and I have been thinking of you and your family over this mother’s day. I have lost relatives suddenly (as in my first wife’s car accident) and slowly (my own parents and sister) they are both very hard and have their own pluses and minuses. I really appreciate you sharing all this. Through the pain you are expressing you are able to get alot of folks to examine and improve their family relationships.
    Again, I am very sorry for what you are going through. Hang in there my friend.
    ~Steve

  15. I love trains myself. But, at least on the right coast, train buffs that follow trains are mostly called chasers, or they are going on a chase. A somewhat comical term also for rail buffs are foamers.

    Note that while coal, cars, consumer goods are a common load for a train, many are garbage trains. Every year or so out here in NJ we can see the circus train for Ringling Bros.

    Now something that has been slow to catch on to passenger rail is wifi.

  16. I love trains myself. But, at least on the right coast, train buffs that follow trains are mostly called chasers, or they are going on a chase. A somewhat comical term also for rail buffs are foamers.

    Note that while coal, cars, consumer goods are a common load for a train, many are garbage trains. Every year or so out here in NJ we can see the circus train for Ringling Bros.

    Now something that has been slow to catch on to passenger rail is wifi.