- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

NEW BRIGHTON, Pa. (AP) - The red engine is in sight. And then the worst happens.

Another train comes roaring past on the track in front of the Canadian Pacific. The shot is blocked. The chance ruined.

“If you weren’t here, he would probably be throwing that pop bottle right now,” Terry Stuart, owner and innkeeper of the Fallston Flagstop Railfan Bed and Breakfast, said to other visitors this day.

“He’s handling it extremely well. We have just witnessed one of railfanning’s greatest frustrations.”

A birthday surprise

Razpotnik, from Saltsburg, Pa., considers himself a “railfan” - or railroad enthusiast - and it all started when he was quite young, adopting the hobby with his father with the advantage of a Conrail line right in his backyard. Since that spark, the enthusiasm has spread to the rest of the family, including grandma Deb Dietrick.

That’s why, for Razpotnik’s 15th birthday, Dietrick knew she had to come up with something special. With the help of Stuart and 12 pages of emails later, everything was set up for a surprise.

“I’m notorious for telling my grandkids, ‘Well, I have a friend …,’” Dietrick said with a chuckle.

To which Razpotnik jumped in with, “Yeah, I never trust her when she says she has a friend.”

“We got here and he was like, ‘Really? Your friend has train tracks in his backyard?’ And I was like, ‘Happy birthday. We’re staying here,’” Dietrick said.

“I wasn’t even super excited at first because I was like, ‘Do we know this guy?’ I was pretty sure we were just staying in a random dude’s house.”

Stuart set him straight, though, with a welcome packet to his B&B; that’s packed full of information on Beaver County and the railroads that weave throughout, including the six tracks that run straight through Stuart’s backyard.

Stuart, who reserves his one guest room for railfans only, said he’s usually hesitant about letting young adults and children stay at the B&B; (the brochure points to age 12 as the minimum), and tries to make sure they’re responsible enough to know the safety measures that need to be taken with the hobby. But after the lengthy discussions with Dietrick, he knew he wouldn’t have to worry.

“I just liked the idea of a young person with this hobby - anything, a direction,” Stuart said. “If he clings to it and sticks to it, he’s got a lifelong interest.”

And Razpotnik plans to stick to it.

“I want to work for the railroad. I think that’s everyone who’s in the hobby’s motivation, kind of,” he said. “But if I can’t get into the railroad, then obviously I’m still going to take pictures of them. That’s definitely something that I’ll do.”

But a life on the rails comes at a price, said Stuart, who used to work in the railroad industry.

“They all say the same things, they basically work for the Franklins - the hundred-dollar bills. It’s a high-paying job if you look at the big picture. On the other hand, it’s long. You’ve heard ‘I’ve been working on the railroad all the live long day,’ and it really is,” Stuart said.

Sound like fun?

“Yeah,” Razpotnik said without hesitation. “Getting paid for something you like? That sounds like fun.”

The niche B&B;

Despite missing the Canadian Pacific, Razpotnik had a couple of other chances to get a good shot at the Flagstop. More than 100 trains pass by Stuart’s backyard in a 24-hour span, with the porch overlooking both CSX and Norfolk Southern lines.

That was enough to make Stuart scoop up the property a little over 10 years ago.

“The bottom line is I bought the house so I could watch trains, and it simply evolved into this. It was like winning the lottery.”

Stuart, who was born and raised in Cleveland, passed through Beaver County often during his childhood on trips to visit his father, who was in the sandstone business, when he was in Pittsburgh for work. And they always went by train.

“There was only one car and my mother didn’t drive. So there were four transportation options. Car, nixed that. Greyhound bus, was too far away. Flown, but that was absolutely ridiculous,” Stuart said. “One thing I enjoyed was all the railway activity. That’s where my interest developed.”

But opening a bed-and-breakfast? That was not always the plan.

“I got down here and was immediately beside myself. Railfans from all over the place suddenly started calling up to see if they could drop over. ‘Can we sit on the porch and watch the trains?’ I love my fellow railfans, but I didn’t know if I wanted permanent houseguests.”

A friend who lives in Altoona, Pa., who runs his own railfan B&B;, suggested Stuart go into the same business. A couple of guinea pig guests here, a few suggestions there, and Stuart morphed his property into a locomotive enthusiast’s paradise, equipped with windows facing the tracks and company color schemes throughout.

With a nod to the house’s modest size, Stuart landed on “flagstop” for the name, after points on the track where train operators know to stop only by a signal, and not a staffed station. Just like a flagstop, the B&B; is simple and efficient, with the one guestroom and a continental breakfast.

“Railfans are usually eager to get outside, so it works out pretty well. That’s in essence what we do.”

The bulk of the guests who come and stay usually don’t live too far away, much like Razpotnik. But with maybe only a dozen or so railfan-type lodges in the country, Stuart said, he’s gotten a few guests from out of the area. Way out of the area.

“Australia. I think that’s the farthest. And several people from Germany, Switzerland and England. Several from Canada. Of course, those travelers are rare and they’re in the financial position to do that.”

What started as an experiment turned into a business. One that Stuart feels was meant to happen.

“The train (he rode as a boy) would switch over to the P≤ (Pittsburgh & Lake Erie), the original railroad that’s behind the flagstop that’s now CSX. I was riding the passenger train as a child to meet my dad going through the backyard of my present house. I feel like it was all programmed. God had a hand in it.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1S33Imf

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Information from: Beaver County Times, https://www.timesonline.com/

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