That fanaticism is railroading, which Mr. Frailey, 62, embraces to such an extent that he not only rides and photographs trains across the country, he also writes books about them and contributes frequent freelance articles to Trains, the enthusiasts monthly (circulation: 99,000).
"Fred Frailey has been at the top of the heap in the railroad writing fraternity for more than 30 years," said Kevin P. Keefe, publisher of Trains. "Our readers love him for his ... mixing the rich romance and hard business realities of railroading. Fred's incurable passion for the industry comes through in everything he writes."
That passion was born more than a half-century ago in Mr. Frailey's hometown of Arkansas City, Kan., a stop on the historic Santa Fe Railway. As a 7-year-old, he was hoisted into the cab of the Texas Chief streamlined train's locomotive on two occasions at the Arkansas City station.
"The first time it happened, I cried because I wanted my mother," he recalled. "The second time, I cried because I didn't want to get off the train. That was an indelible experience."
In the decades since that epiphany, Mr. Frailey has had occasion to be in countless locomotive cabs, combining his dual interests as writer and enthusiast. "I have reached that wonderful state that's outside the dwelling space of most rail fans," he said. "I have the opportunity to write about that world."
His railroad writing has taken him into myriad nooks and crannies of the industry.
In addition to riding in locomotives, he has spent overnight shifts with train dispatchers, walked the dank depths of the Baltimore railroad tunnel and watched the New York City commuter-rail rush hour from a switching tower in Rahway, N.J.
Earlier this year, he and Mr. Keefe drove a rented SUV along the main line of the old Santa Fe (now part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe) through such dots on the map as Hereford and Woodlawn, Texas, and Vaughn, N.M. When we talked, Mr. Frailey was about to embark on a driving trip along the route of the CSX rail system in southern Virginia and North Carolina to view its operations.
He has written about such diverse aspects of railroading as merger problems, enlightened executives, unenlightened executives, disputes between Amtrak and the railroads its trains run on, traffic-control technology, specific railroads, and the decline of long-distance passenger service. And while he does a good deal of photography as well, he conceded that editors at Trains are less than impressed with the quality of his pictures.
Like many rail enthusiasts, Mr. Frailey has a model railroad as well, but he said that "it never seems to work quite right." He also is a collector of rail memorabilia, including desktop-size train dispatch sheets (10,000 in all) and employee timetables for every division of the six major U.S. and Canadian railroads. A prized possession is a rare 1904 New York & Hudson River railroad timetable he recently bought on eBay.
Mr. Frailey said his wife tolerates his fascination with railroading. But when asked if any of his five offspring also had become enamored with the romance of trains, his answer was a terse "Heavens, no!"
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Favorite train rides:
* The Auto Train to central Florida. "World's longest passenger train. Great crews."
* Rocky Mountaineer out of Vancouver, B.C. "One 'oh-my-gosh' vista after another in Canadian Rockies."
* Amtrak's California Zephyr, from Denver west: "Everything from mountains and tunnels to deserts."