Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Rules of the Game

Note: this piece was co-written with the late Peter Putnam Bretz who passed away in May of 2012. It originally appeared in the April 1991 issue of Trains Magazine and is used here with permission of the publisher.

It creeps up on you so slowly you don’t notice it until it’s too late. Maybe it starts when you’re a kid and your parents buy you a Lionel train set. Toy trains are neat! One day the family takes a trip by train. Real trains are even neater! Soon you find yourself poring over Amtrak schedules for an old Official Guide. Planning real or imaginary trips becomes a passion.

You begin to keep track of where you’ve been, mentally at first, but before long using a written log. The route your train took from Spokane to Sandpoint begins to matter. You buy a railroad atlas and ink in the routes that you’ve traveled. Soon you find yourself daydreaming about being able to ink in more lines. You begin planning and taking trips entirely for the purpose of riding new trackage. Without altogether understanding how, you’ve become a railroad mileage collector.

Eventually the question arises, “What counts?” We know individuals who use the following rules (and others), singly or in combination. They only count miles
  • ridden in both directions observing the scenery on both sides
  • ridden in daylight
  • ridden while awake
Others include:
  • count each track of a multi-track main separately
  • all mileage expires after 20 years—go back and do it again (old-timer mileage).
Which of these conflicting rules are correct? Here is where the Rules Committee came in. It was comprised of individuals with impeccable qualifications. The late Rogers Ernest Malcolm Whitaker (a.k.a. E.M Frimbo) was Chairman of the Committee the last time it met. Lucius Beebe was once a member. Because it has been years since the Committee met, the once widely circulated rules have become obscure, but we recently unearthed a copy and submit them for your edification:

The Official Rules and Regulations of the Committee Pertaining to Counting Mileage of a Railway Nature
  1. The only countable mileage is steel wheel upon steel rail. Driving an automobile along rails is rubber on steel, hence the mileage is not countable (unless you are in a hi-rail vehicle). This rule would prohibit counting miles obtained riding maglev trains, since no rails touch rails. Obviously, the Committee will have to meet to issue new rules to cover this eventuality.

  2. All railways are countable. The San Diego Trolley and the Oil City & Titusville both count, although proper identification may be difficult. Subways, elevated lines, streetcars, and incline railways are countable although many collectors elect not to include them. Roller coasters of wooden construction qualify, but those with metal slide devices on tubular tracks are abominations and do not count. Amusement park railways are acceptable if one can fit aboard and take a ride (this disqualifies both authors from most such lines). Remember a mile is a mile no matter the scale of the conveyance (unless it’s a kilometer, see Rule 4).

  3. The method of locomotion does not affect the counting of the mileage. Steam, diesel, it makes no difference. Even mileage obtained while pushing a four-wheel flatbed track car by kicking the ground is countable, as long as the other rules are obeyed.

  4. All miles ridden in accordance with the other rules are countable, regardless of other conditions. That is, if you are asleep or in the restroom, the train moves on and the mileage counts. Also, every ride over a line counts. Many mileage collectors elect to keep a separate total of unique miles traveled; this is acceptable. All countable mileage is equal. No track is more countable than others—narrow or broad gauge, rare or commonplace, shiny or rusty, it is all the same. Mileage must be counted consistently—if your home railroads use miles, count all distance in miles, same for kilometers. Concerning gaps in mileage: If the end of the train is at the end of track, you count the full mileage—the length of the train is what counts, not your placement on it. So , if a photo runby is made and the train loads farther along the track from where it stopped, there is no gap in mileage providing the last car has moved no further than the former position of the locomotive. Be careful of mileages used. Amtrak timetables, for example, are very unreliable—the mileage between Los Angeles and New Orleans has been listed as anywhere from 2022 to 2040 miles. Employee timetables are usually a better source, although errors do creep in. In any event, do not rely on mileposts or the conductor for precise mileage information. What about wyes? A wye is only a dot on the map. If you’ve ridden one leg, you have the wye.

  5. A collector can categorize mileage in any way he sees fit. That is, do it your way: by railroad traveled over (under present or former name), by Amtrak miles, by miles in private cars, by miles behind steam, whatever.
Now that the Rules Committee’s findings have been widely circulated, serious mileage collectors and historians may make adjustments to their lists accordingly. All can be assured that only the correct and proper miles are now being counted.

If anyone feels his favorite method of counting has been slighted, misunderstood, or misstated, remember the immortal words of Frimbo (the Final Authority), uttered after the last meeting when a young upstart questions the wisdom of the Committee’s pronouncements “Listen, Buster, you don’t make the rules, I do.”

Charles B. Weinstock , of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Peter Putnam Bretz, of Los Angeles, can be found on various “rare mileage” excursions around the country, although not necessarily at the same time. Neither will divulge his current mileage total.

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