If you've seen a group of people walking around your local railroad museum dressed up in turn-of-last-century or Victorian garb, especially around your local museum, you've been exposed to Steampunk. It's the future, or is it the past?
Steampunk is a fashion-based interest group (like goth or cyberpunk) that centers on a fictional proposition: What if the technology revolution had come through the same inventions that served the industrial revolution? Literally, what if steam, steel, and gears replaced electricity, silicon and diodes? The result is a retro-revolution where 19th century clothing meets 21st century ideas and culture.
In railroad parlance, it would be a vision of the world where the diesel-electric revolution never happened. Locomotives like the C&O M-1's steam-fed turbine and the Union Pacific Big Boy would have been state of the art in the 50s onward, and not some fading relic from the past. Imagine a network of steam driven railroads, where diesel and electric locomotives would be an interesting novelty, nothing more. That's the railfan's equivalent of a steampunk world.
"So what has all this got to do with railroads?" you might ask. Well, it's pretty simple. Where in America can you find the largest collections of 18th century technology? Your local railroad museum. All those hulking, looming, rusting ghosts are irresistible for the steampunk. Observe:
Imagine how much fun they would have had with a live steamer!
If you see someone at your local museum who looks like they just stepped out of a Jules Verne novel, give them a smile and maybe even introduce them to your favorite locomotive. They'll know that they're welcome as fans of a bygone era of steam, steel, cinders and smoke.