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KaBar

Scanners and SigInt

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About 75% of the younger trainhoppers that I know carry and use a UHF/VHF scanner when they are in the Yard, waiting to catch out, or on board a train. The old timer tramps had a longer lead time on learning to tell what was going on by the movement of trains, movement of railroad personnel and crummies (crew buses or vans), sound of the air in the airbrake lines and so on, but since they often ride the same lines over and over again, in time, they got to know the trains, the railroad workers and the schedule so well, that they could predict (more or less) what was going to happen.

The younger trainhoppers aren't that patient. First of all, they aren't usually riding trains as a lifestyle, but more like a pasttime. They do it for fun, because it's a challenge, or just for the thrill and novelty of it, but they don't usually reside in a hobo jungle or live for extended periods of time outdoors. They may carry water and snacks and a scanner, but they don't normally carry a whole lot of gear, like the old timers are likely to do. Some of the older tramps I've met consider themselves "all-weather riders." Only the most extreme of winter weather will drive them indoors. The rest of the time, they are riding. Therefore, the younger hoppers are not inclined to lay around in the jungle watching trains hump cars or watch crummies deliver relief crews just to figure out what is going on. They want virtually instant information. They listen to the dispatch communications. In the military, they call this "gathering signals intelligence," or "SigInt."

The most important channel, obviously, for writers, is the railroad police, but they are pretty smart and if they realize that the graff guys are listening, they will switch to another channel, usually one that is not used much, in the field. This is why graffitti teams on the ground need to have somebody monitoring the entire railroad band. When I'm monitoring the radio and I hear people yakking like nobody else is listening, then I know it's the railroad police. The bulls think nobody on earth ever listens to what they say, and I've heard them talking about girls, what's up for tonight at the bar, deer hunting and all manner of personal business on the radio. That's cool. As long as they are busy talking about deer hunting, I'm not likely to be a problem that needs to be pursued. The engineers and conductors, of course, use strictly by-the-book radio procedure, complete with call signs and military time. Their conversations are recorded, that's why they are so strict and precise about it. The bulls' conversations are NOT recorded, and you can tell because they just talk about anything and everything.

I am a strong believer in the use of scanners. And as the railroad gets more sophisticated about it, so will we have to be more sophisticated about SigInt. I suspect eventually their radio chatter will be digitally encrypted, and we will be prohibited by law from trying to break the encryption. And some people will figure out a way anyhow. We always seem to do do so, LOL.

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I'm going to be hitting the pawn shops looking for a scanner soon...any recomendations? I'm looking to pay under $150 (canadian....thats about $100 american I guess)

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when i went hoppin, i didnt use a scanner... if you guys want some real fun... get some that go up to 900 mhz

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Originally posted by Vanity

when i went hoppin, i didnt use a scanner... if you guys want some real fun... get some that go up to 900 mhz

 

i dont think they sell them up to 900 anymore...but i know what you mean...i hear you can modify new scanners to pick up 900mhz though...or maybe you can find some in pawn shops...ive been wanting a scanner for a while...im just broke as fuck...

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FREQUENCIES USED

 

i guess it would help to know what to listen to. there is a list of the main frequencies assigned to what you need to listen to at http://zippy.cso.uiuc.edu:8080/~roma/rr-freqs/ but if the bulls use other channels you'll have to search around on the scanner for them. i've thought about the idea, but the place i hit is so laid back that the workers get off at around 11p-1a and dont get back till early morning. giving plenty of time to hit up stuff. i'm more worried about the real cops getting a suspicious persons call when someone sees me park my car and walk away from it at a closed down business.

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Originally posted by sectorTVA

 

i dont think they sell them up to 900 anymore...but i know what you mean...i hear you can modify new scanners to pick up 900mhz though...or maybe you can find some in pawn shops...ive been wanting a scanner for a while...im just broke as fuck...

 

yes they do, i have one. 800-850 are blocked out though.

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Cross Pollination

 

One of the things I find most fascinating about all this is the cross-pollination of sub-cultures and affinity groups. For instance, who in their right mind would imagine that ultra-conservative militia types, hip-hop graffitti artists, CB "REACT" nerds and trainhoppers would have anything in common? Well, they do, and that thing is scanners. I have run into members of local Texas militia groups in the radio shop, when I was in there with trainhopping buddies of mine looking at radios. Lo and behold, we got into a conversation about scanners and believe it or not, they actually were astounded to discover that they held many beliefs in common. YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED to find out that members of a lot of groups you would not normally associate as having a natural affinity for one another get along pretty good if they just concentrate on what they have in common instead of where their opinions and interests differ. Another natural affinity: trainhoppers and bikers. I got into a conversation about trainhopping and "living on the bum" with a member of the Bandidos MC, and guess what? We had a number of interests that were parallel. That one surprised even me.

I would suggest that the best idea would be to study up on scanners, their features, prices, manufacturers, etc. I bought a cheap Uniden scanner (about $40) and now I wish I had waited and purchased a better one. I highly recommend that you buy a scanner that will allow you to scan the entire railroad band at once. That means a 100-channel scanner, at least. They cost more, but they are worth more. Avoid Radio Shack. Buy a first-rate scanner from a reputable radio dealer, maybe some place that sells HAM radios or a CB shop. Research what you want first, then look for a deal in the pawn shops around Christmas.

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not sure how this will matter, but the fcc recently implemented a narrow bandwith vhf band plan which allows for an additional "narrow band" channel between aarchannel7 and aarchannel8, between 8&9, 9&10, etc. all the way up to 161.6100 (a secondary channel just after aarchannel97, which is shared with the maritime mobile service). this means 7.5khz between channels, i don't think that's going to be a problem for most scanners, but i'd check them out anyhow so i know i was getting the real deal.

 

interesting quote from the "Radio on the Railroad" article by Matthew Sadler in Monitoring Times, Volume 20, No.6, June 2001:

 

"Railroad Police personnel often use 161.205 MHz, simplex, for their communications on the AAR VHF channels, but they may also be found on the local municipality's frequencies, or using cellular telephones. These agents carry the same law enforcement powers on railroad properties as any other police officer, and frequently make arrests of those vandalizing or stealing railroad propertiy or cargoes. The agents also investigate grade-crossing accidents and monitor the track for tresspassers."

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whether they go up to 900 or not... scanners are surprisingly simple internally. i'm sure many people here could actually make one themselves. a quick solder job will do the trick

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Scanners aren't really needed around where I paint. The yards are either active as hell, or dead.

 

You paint when you want to paint. Just make sure that you aren't seen. It dosen't get any more simple than that.

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Check this pals...My friend's sister's boyfriend works for Sprint and is a electronical genius. He made me a scanner from an old Nokia analog cell phone. Does its job, but doesn't beat the real thing.

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I remember way back in teh day when i was into ham radios, my dad bought this scanner from a ham radio swap meet. It was awsome, cause you could hear peoples cell phone calls and everything.... I wish i still had that, i think i will go back to a ham radio swap meet and look for a cheap used scanner.

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HAM radio wonks

 

Suburbian Bum---I think HAM radio is pretty dang cool. It's definately not a hobby that just anybody and everybody is going to like, but I really admire and respect serious elmers. I can see how being a HAM and trainhopping or rocking freights could sort of put one at odds with the world of radio communications. Most HAMs are straight arrow as they come and would turn in a graff-writer-in-action in a New York second. On the other hand, I can definately see where having a HAM link to a friend while blasting freights could come in very handy, not to mention a HAM link between the paint crew and the look-outs.

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