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Live-streaming with Luth: Perham man's 24/7 train-traffic YouTube channel has a growing global audience

Rich Luth has been drawn to trains his whole life. His YouTube channel, which features 24/7 live-streams of the BNSF Railway train traffic that passes right by his Perham home, has garnered international attention from train enthusiasts, and has 8,000 subscribers from around the world.

A screenshot of the YouTube home page for Otter Tail Channel.
Rich Luth began live-streaming the train traffic that goes by his Perham home in 2018, and has seen his YouTube channel grow 70% since then.

As kids, some people are lucky enough to find a special interest that sticks with them through the rest of their lives. For Perham resident Rich Luth, that interest is trains.

Luth's lifelong love of trains has, in recent years, grown from a hobby into a full-blown business, as he live-streams local train traffic over his YouTube channel, Otter Tail Channel . The stream is live 24/7, 365 days a year, and since launching in 2018, it's garnered thousands of subscribers and an international community of train enthusiasts.

"We're bringing Perham to the world, is what we're doing," Luth said.

A Perham resident for the past 11 years, Luth is originally from southern California, and that's where his interest in trains started. He grew up in a home that was near train tracks, and playing with a toy train set is one of his favorite childhood memories.

When he decided to move to Perham to live closer to his daughter, he bought the only house on the train tracks that was for sale at the time. It was just off of Main Street, right on the BNSF Railway line that runs from far northeastern Minnesota all the way through the southern part of North Dakota and into Montana.

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"That just was a prime opportunity," he said of finding that house.

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A BNSF train travels west near the County Highway 80 and Pikewood Lane intersection just outside of Perham.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

A longtime CB and Ham radio operator, Luth first began monitoring trains at the request of a fellow CB'er, who asked him to host an Advanced Train Control System (ATCS) broadcast. He'd pick up the signal and place it on display, and with that, he'd monitor all the trains between Fargo and the Twin Cities — which direction they were going, which track they were on, and more.

He enjoyed that pursuit, and eventually expanded it to include a video live-stream of the trains that passed by his house: "I thought, 'Since I'm doing that (the ATCS monitoring), I wonder if I could put up a camera?' So I put up a camera in my garage behind a window, and people loved it," Luth said.
He started Otter Tail Channel in April 2018 with about 78 YouTube subscribers. As of February 2022, he had nearly 8,000.

These days, Luth covers everything from protests to fireworks to demolition derbies to tractor pulls on his YouTube channel. But his train live-streams are what he's best known for. He has two cameras now — one in Perham and one in Wadena — that are constantly operating, streaming every train that goes down the tracks, every second of every day.

"People love it," Luth said. "There's someone on that channel nearly 24 hours a day."

In case one or both of his cameras malfunction, he has two backup cameras at the ready, so his stream won't stop. He also has someone on standby who can access his computer remotely in case a camera drops.

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The ATSC monitor, which has since changed its frequency and is no longer available, is what originally inspired Rich Luth to track trains.
Perham Focus File Photo

People from all over the world are interested in helping Luth and watching his streams, he said. He's spoken with people in England, China, Siberia, Germany and more who tune in to watch his content, and has started keeping a list of everyone he's sharing Perham and its trains with.

"I've found that there are a lot of other people who love trains," Luth said. "It's nice to have a community."

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Some of those people have become dedicated enough to Luth's channel that they are now personally involved in keeping it going: 13 of them are moderators for the channel, and nearly 20 help edit the train log, which can be found at otclive.live . The log records the date and time a train passes by, its road, direction, cargo, symbol, axles and more. There is even someone who counts all the cars and engines on each train, one-by-one, in order to record that information in the log.

Luth has been told by people involved in the train-streaming community that his is the best-looking log and most amazing database around.

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Rich Luth runs Otter Tail Channel out of his Perham home on Main Street.
Perham Focus File Photo

In addition to that train coverage, Luth live-streams community fireworks, parades and more for Otter Tail Channel. A bot he created for his live-streams heeds over 42,000 commands and can give people anything from Perham facts to international times.

"It started out as a hobby, and now it's grown into a full-blown business," Luth said of his channel, though he joked that it pays very little. "I do this from the time I wake up to the time I go back to bed. I put in at least 18 hours a day."

He made sure to emphasize that it's a labor of love.

"This is what I like to do — keeps me occupied," he said with a smile. "I just love it."

He also emphasized the importance of safety around trains. He covers all the train-versus-car collisions in the Perham area, and believes that, while fascinating, trains are dangerous, and the public should be wary around them and the railroad tracks.

Otter Tail Channel can be found on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook . Every stream and video, as well as the log, can be found at ottertailchannel.com .

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Rich Luth, who's lived in Perham for the last seven years, has loved trains his whole life. He's pictured here at his home in February 2022.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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