The Wall Street Journal looks at people who collect obscure railroad routes.
Some people collect stamps, others collect bird sightings and a few count the state capitol buildings they visit. Mike Rose is riding a train to this remote railroad junction in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to track railroad miles.
Mr. Rose’s journey takes him past steep cliffs, towering trestles and cascading brooks. Vitally important is that he is riding over this track for the first time and can therefore add it to his collection. “I got the mileage—that’s all that counts,” says Mr. Rose, a 65-year-old Toledo, Ohio, tool and die maker.
Mr. Rose is a “rare mileage” collector, one of about 300 in the country. Such collectors strive to ride as much of the U.S. rail system as they can, often chartering special trains to access routes ordinarily off-limits to passengers. Collectors mark off the routes they ride on rail maps and record interesting sights—an unusual bridge or a complicated track layout, for example.
“They are looking for the rare and difficult to see views from the rail system and add it to their wealth of experiences,” says Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, which owns short-line railroads and rail-related businesses.
“I want to ride every track before I check out,” says Bill Crawford, 68, a retired engineering manager for General Electric Co. in Nahant, Mass. He was one of several dozen collectors who paid $8,000 each to go on a 2,500-mile, weeklong train trip last April from St. Louis to Tulsa, Fort Worth, El Paso and Kansas City. The train covered freight routes that hadn’t seen regular passenger train service in decades. “I have lusted after that track for 35 years,” Mr. Crawford says.