What is “Enough”?

Sometimes I know that it’s never enough
Survival is fine but satisfaction is rough
– “Ain’t It Heavy”, Melissa Etheridge

As I sit, looking at the pile of employee timetables that I recently acquired, I wondered when I will stop collecting timetables. When will I have “enough” timetables?

Railfans are notorious collectors. We collect so many things, from timetables to railway passes to lanterns to dishes to photographs to slides to… well, the field seems almost infinite.

This doesn’t even include the model train collectors. People spend thousands and thousands of dollars on model trains, many of which never turn a wheel on a layout. I consider myself really fortunate that I am not one who “needs” a particular locomotive when it comes out. At $300-$450 per locomotive these days, that adds up fast.

I do have my addictions. I collect paperwork – employee timetables, public timetables, car control manuals, train orders, waybills – and I have a lot of timetables.

CN Oct 1968 Employee Timetable
CN Oct 1968 Employee Timetable

I have well over 100 CN employee timetables and probably almost as many CP employee timetables. I’ve even started a new list of BC Rail employee timetables as I have started to grow that collection.

Not all of those are physical paper timetables. People have scanned timetables over the years and I have those in my collection as well. I have almost all of the VIA Rail timetables in scanned form, and I’m totally OK with having a digital copy and not the physical copy.

I really want the timetables for reference, but I’m willing to admit that I just like collecting the paper employee timetables too. There’s something soothing about flipping through a worn timetable, knowing that it may have been referred to in some locomotive or caboose on a freight train rattling down some now forgotten branch line.

Chris Mears touched on that in his post There’s never enough space. He wrote about the distraction of stuff, and it really resonated with me. Lots of things beckon to me from the periphery of my vision. My model train workbench is cluttered with half finished projects. I’m pretty sure that soon they are either going to be finished, or they are going straight in the trash.

I don’t think I’ve reached “enough” yet with my timetable collection. I probably never will.

What do you collect? What’s your “not enough”?

14 thoughts on “What is “Enough”?”

  1. Hi Steve,
    I’ve gone the other way. I used to “collect” about 5 or 6 train magazines
    a month. But it was taking up too much space so now I get one: Classic Trains.
    “If” I buy Trains Mag (and that’s rare), I treat it like a newspaper. Read it and dump it unless there’s two “good articles”. Plus friends tell me when there’s a
    good article.

    • Hi Ian, I’ve dumped my old Branchline collection in favour of their DVD… much more compact and easier to search. I’d like to do that for CTC Magazine and a few others that I have in my collection as well. Digital is the way to go.

      For me there’s the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that keeps me subscribed to some magazines… plus I like to support the Canadian magazines in particular, so I subscribe to Branchline and CN Lines and CP Tracks.

  2. You raise an interesting addition to my question – fantastic!

    My library was equally reduced during my main purge of unnecessary stuff when we moved to Halifax three years ago. “Saved” from this was my “special” railroad paperwork: train orders, switchlists, and timetables like you collect. I collected these things because of interest but also because I recognize their historical value and the singularity of their existence – a point made more resonant as time makes them one day older and one day more obscure every day. There’s no archive for this stuff, no library to give it to. I can’t ignore this feeling that if I hadn’t saved it, it would be gone. I wonder what the direction for this should be? (At best, it’s fun to discover a friend who shares the interest who I might be able to give those things to if they fit their collection)

    • Yes, some things can go (books, magazines) but some are unique, like train orders. Where should they go? Would museums take them? There isn’t really an archive for that kind of thing.

      We can pass them along to friends, but someday the chain will be broken.

    • Hi Chris.

      Enough is never enough. Believe it or not there is a group of us digitizing everything we can find and it is being shared freely around the country and world. I have over 50,000 items in my collection, TTs making up about 15,000 pieces.

      If anyone is interested please contact me at raildataatyahoodorcom. I can send an Excel workbook listing the collection contents.

      There is a tremendous amount of info at wx4.org that is available for downloading. Utahrails has a large collection of UP material.

      Be glad to help anyone if I can, and if anyone wants to contribute digital files to this collection they are welcomed.

      Allen Stanley

  3. Good points. Like any good museum, we need a Collections Policy. And like most museums, the Collections Policy usually gets ignored or left on a shelf when something bright and shiny and new comes along.

    My wife frets about getting rid of my collection more than I do. I think that says something. I’m just not sure what. She says I need to listen more carefully to what she says. At least I think that’s what she said.

    The opposite corollary might be, “What if Zero was Enough?” Does it make a difference if our collection is, let’s say, all digital rather than shelves full? It definitely makes it easier to delete or ignore, and there is no physical space limitation or decision-making.

    In that same vein, even our blogs are collections. How much blogging is enough? At least we can share this common collection!

    Coffee-fuelled Sunday morning ramblings, all!

    • Hi Eric, I like your coffee-fueled rambling!

      I have my own collections policy. I try to stay away from anything physical other than paper. No hats, no lanterns, no badges. My sole exception is number boards..

      I am all for digitizing everything. Easier to search, easier to share, takes up little space… ideal.

    • What is this “enough” you speak of when it comes to blogging? There are never enough blog posts – just not enough time to write them.

  4. Hi Steve,

    Just wait until a well-meaning family member of a former railroader brings you ‘their lantern’ and looks at you with sad eyes and wants to give it a good home…with you!

    What a great hobby, nonetheless!

    • Hi Eric, that’s already happened, with a conductor’s hat. Those things belong in museums, not in my private collection.

      • Hooray! Someone who recognizes that these things belong in institutions that can and will preserve them in the longer term. I’m so sick of fans of everything from railroading to old records to vintage movies who have this bent need to hug and hold everything they can put their hands on just to gain some imaginary status in this world. Collecting things is always their objective, but long-term preservation isn’t.

        Good for you, Steve!

  5. I am in a similar situation. I collect RR timetables, paperwork, books, slides, stamps, and some “physical” items, though its mostly paper items at this point.

    Having them in digital form is nice (for research) but having the ability to touch and flip them open is a nice feeling.

    Luckily I have kept it to a few totes my items. The model railway items I have are all boxed up at this time, not enough time (or knowhow) to get that going.

    I have tried to be “picky” in the items I acquire, mostly to southern Alberta, though I do have a few items from BC, Saskatchewan, etc. I can be fun to find “new” RR things though, be it on eBay in an auction or in a dusty box in an antique store.

    I volunteer at a local railway museum and its hard sometimes to deal with RR artifacts and donations. Sometimes people dump stuff off at our Park, just because its “train stuff” and we are a “train museum”, but it doesn’t mean we want it. We have items donated 10 years ago that we are just starting to clear out as they are sitting in our archive room. Some items don’t fit our collection requirements, and in that case, they will be either donated to an different museum or sold. Museums have to be picky and stick with their collections policies and not grab everything just because.

    I am not done collecting yet, but with restraint should be able to balance having and wanting RR items.

    • Hi Jason, I think the key is to have a focused collection, as you do and the museum does. Collecting anything train related is a recipe for a huge disorganized mess.

      I am focused on paper and on (mostly) Canadian items, specializing on the Prairies and the Maritimes.


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