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Full 'stream' ahead: Live video of Perham’s railroad tracks garners national viewership

Rich Lee runs Otter Tail Channel out of his home on Main Street. Three cameras capture all of the trains going in and out of Perham for viewers across the world to watch. (Carter Jones/ FOCUS) 1 / 2
Through this ATSC monitor, Rich Luth is able to track every train between Fargo and the Twin Cities. (Carter Jones/ FOCUS) 2 / 2

Local guy Rich Luth was always interested in CB and Ham radios, but he never started paying attention to the trains roaring past his home on Perham's Main Street, until a fellow CB'er asked him to host an Advanced Train Control System (ATCS) monitor.

"You know how a cuckoo clock is — after a while you never hear it," Luth said. "I got to that point with the trains, and then I found out about the rail cams. Now, I hear every last one of them."

After getting acquainted with the ATCS monitor that allows him to see every train from Fargo to the Twin Cities, Luth set up a camera behind a window in his garage. Now for the last year, Luth has maintained a live rail camera that continuously broadcasts traffic on the rails that run through Perham.

"I call it a hometown rail site," Luth said.

Around the clock, around five to ten rail fans tune into Otter Tail Channel on YouTube to watch the freight trains that travel back and forth through town.

"I've got people on here constantly, almost 24/7, talking about trains," Luth said.

Luth has worked to make improvements every week. That first camera has grown to three dedicated cameras that monitor every angle, along with live sound and train radio transmissions.

Luth's live stream also includes a local weather forecast and advertises a different Chamber of Commerce business every week.

Luth runs the show from a command center of five computer screens and a handful of Ham radios.

"Here's one that's leaving Wadena now, it's heading into Perham," Luth says pointing at his ATCS monitor. "I can tell you pretty close to exactly what time they'll be here."

When a train does come into the frame, all a viewer needs to do is type the train number into the chat window. From there, an automated message provides a link to an online database that includes a picture of that exact train.

As the trains go through, Luth logs them into his own database that now includes 12,256 entries including every single BNSF and Amtrak train.

"It's a real full-time job, believe me," Luth said.

Luth puts in 18-hour days from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. monitoring the chat and tending to the database.

While he says he isn't the most knowledgeable about trains, Luth relies on a group of five moderators to fill in the blanks.

"They're rail fans," Luth said of his channel's moderators. "They can tell you what kind of train it is just by looking at it."

Luth currently relies on monthly donations to keep the stream running, with his main goal to expand the channel's audience.

When Luth started his live rail camera in April 2018, his YouTube channel had 78 subscribers, now that number is up to 4,306, as rail fans around the world follow the trains.

While the channel brings in dedicated viewers from England, Hawaii and Russia, the majority are actually from Minnesota who follow the trains across the state on their own ATCS monitors.

"We do have people visiting from everywhere in the world," Luth said. "I'm actually bringing Perham out to the world."