A Railfan's Journey: From Engineer to YouTuber


November 5th, 2020

Railfans in the 21st century will no doubt have been curious enough to search YouTube for engaging railway content and one such outlet is that of DJsTrains. DJ has, for over two decades, been an engineer with CSX but also knows a great deal about railroading in the miniature world, with over 200 helpful tutorial videos on modeling. We caught up with DJ and asked him a few questions about his life as a railfan.

So DJ, Engineer, Railfan, Modeler - which came first?

I probably said “Choo Choo” before I could say “Mama”. I drove my family crazy by making them stop the car so I could see the trains. Growing up in the 1970s in Pittsburgh, there were plenty. When I was a teen, I’d ride my bike after school to the tracks. I have great stories about it on my YouTube playlist under “Life as an Engineer” that even shows me as a kid obsessed with trains:

How has your career on the railroad enhanced your passion for railfanning / modeling?

Truth be told, I knew nothing about how the railroad worked before I hired out in 1999. I grew up, pre-internet, and not having any friends that were railfans, so I learned by doing it for a living. Now that I fully understand how the railroad works, I enjoy teaching it and modeling it. I don’t like operating sessions where people take it too seriously. I do that all day. Most of my layouts focus on the scenery and rail fan aspect of it.

What made you take your hobby onto YouTube?

I was a Disc Jockey for most of my life (DEEJAY The DJ). I mostly did weddings and clubs, and enjoyed making people laugh. I also was an extra in a lot of movies because I wanted to make movies for a living. Ten years ago, I was selling model train stuff on Ebay and I decided to make a video about the item. Then I made a few more, but showing how I built stuff. I then added comedy and story telling into the videos, and then started teaching how the railroad works. The past 2 years with the drone has allowed me to do all this but with incredible views, like this:

There's loads of people out there that want to model, but don't know where to start - what advice would you give them?

Join a club. A quick google search will help you find a model railroad club in your area. The best part of the hobby is the friendship. With a club, you can learn from others and you don’t even need a layout to run trains.

You model N Scale, why is that?

N Scale allows more room for longer trains and more realistic scenery. I don’t have a big house or large area, but it is amazing what I can do in a small space.

Your railfan videos are very popular. What's your favorite thing about railfanning?

Great question. I am starting a new layout to show my answer. I love traveling and discovering either an active or abandoned rail line that I didn’t know about. Walking old tracks and finding historic items like faded railroad signs, concrete where signals used to be, etc. My new layout will focus on that.

What have been your best railfan moments out 'in the field’?

When my friend Ron & I flew the drone over the old turntables and roundhouses. We knew we'd filmed something epic. Just spending the day with a great friend and exploring places that we never been to. Like here:

The railfan community is full of great people - do you get feedback and advice yourself on YouTube?

Yes! Trust me, the railfan community is very vocal when I get something wrong. Some more polite than others! I do get great ideas on places to visit for future videos. The majority of comments are overwhelmingly positive because they see me as an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job, and very approachable and friendly. I like to share things I enjoy with them, and viewers say they can hear the excitement in my voice when I show them something I am truly excited about.

What projects / layouts / railfan trips are you working on at the moment?

I have a lot of footage, but always try to think about how to use it in a video to make sense, rather than just random shots. Often I film in 4K, which makes editing way more time consuming. I have a daughter, Morgan, who is my world and she will always come first, and take precedent over anything else. But while she does her schoolwork, I work on the new layout in the next room.

Where would you like to see things head with the YouTube channel in the future?

I have over 200 videos with more to come. Sometimes I feel like I've covered everything, but I have no plans to ever stop making videos. I have a website https://www.djstrains.com and also social media accounts where I connect with viewers and share photos. I feel like I am doing something not many railroaders do, and that is share their knowledge. I also would like to travel more and do speaking engagements, be more of an ambassador for the hobby, and reach a larger audience. My time on Earth is limited, so I want to teach all I can and share my experiences that I was blessed to have as a railroader. I am grateful for people like you who promote the hobby to a new generation of modelers and railfans.

Keep up to date with all of DJ's uploads by subscribing to his YouTube channel. To find out more about DJ, you can visit his website, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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