Rail Fiction Classics (Review)

Rail Fiction Classics (Review)

swear I borrowed this years ago because when a downsizing friend dumped it in front of me, I snatched it up. So let’s get to it – Rail Fiction Classics  carries three sections, as follows:

The Nerve of Foley and Other Railroad Stories by Frank Spearman in 1900: Written in the time and phrase of the turn of the last century, these quick tales pretty much cover the same storyline; a railroad in crisis (strike, excess cargo, winter storms) and the frantically brave engineers who have to fight these impediments to get their train to its destination (or die, occasionally, in the wreckage). It’s a very satisfying collection, made even more enjoyable because (after years of study) I understand the times and operational principles. The characters are enjoyable and some of the moments pure delight (like the guy piled on by strikers who bursts free and waves a pistol, only later to reveal that his “pistol” was nothing more than a suggestion and a stick of chewing tobacco in bad lighting. Alone, this section is worth the read.

The Last Spike and other Railroad Stories by CY Warman in 1906: Some of these were about trains, but some of them were also about scouts and pathfinders (and let’s face it, I’m in it for the trains). While not quite as good as Nerve, the collection did have its moments, such as when a tailgating engineer who is trying to unnerve the executive of the proceeding business car does so to show him that “California fruit is not all that’s perishable on the road to-night”. Had to laugh at that one.

Whispering Rails by Gilbert A Lathrop in (little jump here) 1936: This one is the full monty, a tale of young Jerry Twyman, son of an engineer who died on a runaway train, who comes to work the same line as his father. I was a little put off when the manager who interviews him puts him directly on a case involving cargo pilfering, where men have died and some of the crews are involved. I had a hard time swallowing this – it’s like hiring a kid to work the counter at a fast food restaurant where other employees, backed by the mob, are stealing boxes of food. Really? And what makes you think a nineteen-year-old is going to do any better than your own railroad detectives? Getting past this, the railroading aspects were breathtaking. Everything happens to this kid – in his first couple of rides, he’s caught up in two wrecks and shows his merit (which, of course, wins allies among the hard-eyed railroad men). Of course, in the end, we’ve got him single-handedly taking on a gang of a dozen criminals (armed with sub-machine guns)  with a board. But Jerry is a clever lad, and a hero in 1936 when pluck was enough to win out against ridiculous odds.

So there you go – three great collections in one book. Good luck finding this. For me, it goes onto the keeper’s shelf.