When I was eight years old, my aunt used to take me on weekly train rides in the summer to Burntisland, across the Forth Rail Bridge that connected Edinburgh to the Kingdom of Fife.
It was always something I looked forward to. From the train ride itself, to traversing the majestic rustic bridge, to the little cobbled path that took you from the train station to the main street, and then down to the seafront where the annual fairground would reside.
It was moments like that that made my otherwise fairly shitty childhood fun, and I lived for them.
Yet I also recall seeing trainspotters for the first time, and wondering why they would find trains so fascinating. After all, it’s just a piece of metal that takes us from one place to another, and nowhere near as cool as space rockets.
As I got a little bit older, probably just before my teen years, my adolescent friends and I would take our own train rides to whatever adventures awaited us. And this time, whenever we saw trainspotters, we wouldn’t limit our curiosity to our minds.
Instead, we’d yell insults and call them sad, and why don’t they get a real hobby instead of acting like a kid playing with train sets? The fact that we were kids ourselves escaped our common sense.
“Common sense is the best distributed thing in the world, for we all think we possess a good share of it.” Rene Descartes
It was only years later that the mindset of appreciation found me, and I realized what it was that the people that braved the wind and the rain to follow their passion saw in their beloved trains.
Everything is Amazing
When I was 15, I developed a love for the museum. Because I was only a short bus ride away from my home city of Edinburgh (my family moved to the Scottish Borders when I was 11 years old), I’d hop on the bus every weekend and travel to the capital.
There, I’d maybe watch a movie, or visit the Sci-Fi Bookstore for my comic book fix, or even take in a football match (real football, my North American friends!).
Mostly, though, I’d continue the love affair I’d discovered with the Royal Scottish Museum (now the National Museum of Scotland) in one of my pre-high school field trips taken before I left Edinburgh for the Borders.
There were many exhibits there that I loved – the dinosaurs, the history of flight, the Native Indians of America artifacts being just some.
One that always brought me back, however, was the story of how the Forth Rail Bridge had been built, and what it took to maintain (for example, the bridge is painted by hand every year, and it takes so long to paint that by the time it’s done, it needs a new coat of paint).
This particular exhibit had a little movie that you could watch, that showed how the bridge came together, and the dangers of building it across the mighty River Forth.
While the video below isn’t the one from the museum, it does give an idea of the scale involved in the construction of the bridge in 1833.
As a complementary part to the history of the bridge, you could also learn about the history of the trains that crossed it upon its opening. At that time, they were the steam-powered trains that would be the forerunners to the legendary Flying Scotsman.
It was during these mini history lessons that I finally found the appreciation for the trainspotters that my friends and I had teased in years past. And I felt like an idiot.
These lovers of industry and workmanship weren’t sad geeks – they were aficionados of a time and invention we could never have imagined. They were respecters of history, and determination, and – when all is said and done – things of beauty and amazement.
After all, could you build a steam engine that could travel from one end of the land to another? Me neither.
We All Need to Be Trainspotters
As that realization hit me, it opened me to a new level of determination to find out more about the world around us, and the amazing things we take for granted because they’ve always been with us.
For example, did you know the simple zipper that keeps our pants and dresses held together is over 100 years old? Up until 1906, buttons and clasps ruled the day, when Swedish-American electrical engineer Gideon Sundback decided there must be a better (and less expensive) way. The modern zipper was born, and we’ve never looked back since.
Or did you know that despite our advancement in space exploration over the last 50+ years, and the new species we find on a daily basis on this blue dot we call home, we’ve still barely touched what we know about the waters that surround us? Our knowledge expands to less than 7% of the world’s oceans.
The point is, we have amazing things around us. Some we think are cool. Some, we may think less cool. Some, we may even think of as “sad” and “nerdy”.
But aren’t we all nerds in some form or other? Aren’t we all sad in some form or other?
Just because we don’t find appreciation in the passion and life goals of someone doesn’t mean our own passions and life goals are so good. Everyone has a different place to be, and takes a different path to get there.
Instead of finding fun in that, perhaps if we found appreciation for their love of what they’re passionate about, we might just truly appreciate the thing we’re trying to find, too.
It can’t hurt to try. Can it?