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Tom Boon
Railroading 978-1-304-88739-9
Tom Boon, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

As a retired freight train engineer, Tom presents a unique perspective on what it's like to work in the rail industry. The book opens with Tom operating a motorcar and continues to the day he and his conductor rescued a fully loaded Amtrak train that was stuck between snow drifts in the Columbia River Gorge. Railroading puts the reader in the locomotive cab, and in the union hall, as Tom influences railroad policy during his thirty-nine year career.
The heart of this memoir-in-short-narratives from Boon (author of Room 303C) is the title story, which invites readers to travel along through the life of a freight train engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad in Oregon. Boon recounts starting his career as a track inspector and later being encouraged to become an engineer, and his vivid storytelling will transport readers to the locomotive cab, feeling the reverberation of train tracks and beholding Multnomah Falls, the Columbia River Gorge, and moments of danger and excitement involving snow drifts, fallen trees, and storms “that instantaneously turn a tranquil Columbia River into a raging torrent.”

The book also explores the emotional turmoil of having to balance a job that can make or break the nation’s infrastructure, challenges dealing with the powers that be, and his sometimes circuitous path through life. “The Fixer-Upper,” a story whose title refers to Boon’s passion for remodeling homes(but also to a whole lot more), boasts this line, emblematic of Boon’s crisp candor: “My next ex-wife soon moved into that place and gave me two children in less than three years.” “The Bridge” shares a glimpse of a father-son relationship, where Boon faces complicated questions about when his eight-year old son asks about his divorce. “Zachary,” on the other hand, is the story of a beloved family dog whose life is spent chasing squirrels, unaware of the deadly disease slowly eating him away, while “A Bowl of Ice Cream” ends the book on a sweet note about making everyday count and letting life take its turns.

On the professional front, Boon played a major role in influencing the policies of railroading to encompass better safety standards, not without pushback and controversy. His well-drawn experiences as a railroad engineer, complete with convincing dialogue and enticing descriptions, will be fascinating to those interested in the history of railways.

Takeaway: A railroad engineer’s evocative memoirs of life on and off the rails.

Comparable Titles: Carlos A. Schwantes’s Railroad Signatures Across the Pacific Northwest, John Cockrell’s 45 Years of True Railroad Stories.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+