The Home Computer and the Railfan

Home computers have already made their impact upon BRS.  Bob Meldrum uses his to keep the membership records straight and produces the address labels used each month for BRANCHLINE, while John Hal penny and Earl Roberts produce BRANCHLINE using word processing packages on their home computers.  The marketing of TRACKSIDE GUIDE and the 12O1 book is being carried out on my own computer.  While not wishing to downplay the great amount of work put in, these applications are using readily available commercial packages to carry out a function that might be performed in any office.  I thought it would be interesting to describe some of the railfan oriented applications and, if the word processor will allow me the space, to speculate on the future.

Many will know that I have become an industrial locomotive freak through my efforts on Part 2 of the TRACKSIDE GUIDE.  Previous editions have been produced on a word processor but next year's edition will see Part 2 printed direct from my data base.  This allows me great sorting flexibility so that while the GUIDE will be produced by province and location, I can also sort by builder, model, year or road number.  I came across a list of USA Transportation Corps locomotives the other day and was quickly able to print out all those of which I had record in my data base.  The database can quickly be updated so that we are using the most current data at press time.

But what about the average rail fan who doesn't want to go to the bother of inputting a: large amount of data?  I have adapted a commercially available package for my rail fan diary (code name FRNLOG) .  In the past I kept a diary of locomotive sightings with location and train details.  I can call up the diary and simply enter in the details as in the following example:
DATE:  84 O8 O2
TRAIN:  VIA37    
NOTES:  CN3223 and steam generator
The items before the colon are preset and appear on the blank screen.  All I have to do is to fill in the details.  Not very exciting you might think as in its simplest form the output is a straight diary in date order.  This example is interesting in that it is unusual to see a CN C-424 on a passenger train in Ottawa.  By running a search I was quickly able to confirm that this was my first sighting.  The possibilities are endless:
a) list all records of  CN locomotives on. VIA 37.
b) list all records showing five units on CP 85.
c) list all snowplow records during 1983. etc.
What other possibilities are there?  It would be possible to compile a record of local stations and their demise.  One of my biggest requirements is to keep track of my slide collection.

The modem has exciting possibilities.  This is a telephone hook up that will allow one computer to talk to another.  It would be possible to receive BRANCHLINE over the telephone.  I could link up my computer to a central one by dialling a telephone number and receive a printout on my printer.  It would be much quicker this way while long distance charges could be reduced by using an automatic timer to make the data transfer in off peak hours.  Going one step further, it would be possible to access a Bulletin Board that would give continuous details of meetings, events, publications, and even exciting happenings in the railfan  world, such as derailments.  These are possible now and other (non railway) clubs are already experimenting with them.

The possibilities are exciting and are only limited by our own ingenuity and pocketbooks.  I would be happy to share my results, trials and tribulations with others and would be equally happy to hear of other applications and experiences.

Having typed this article, I must check it through.  One of these days I must purchase the software package that will even check my spelling. After that a little relaxation - how about the Train Dispatcher Simulation? I have 12 trains to get over a single track mainline having to weave through Track Occupancy Permits with train crews booking rest at the most inconvenient times. What will they think of next?

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, October 1984.

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