A train enthusiast recalls a lifetime of rail journeys in this evocative memoir.
After teaching biology for 41 years, Heppner (Emeritus, Biological Sciences/Univ. of Rhode Island; Railroads of Rhode Island, 2012, etc.) decided to fill his retirement time by writing about his lifelong passion: trains. At the age of 3, he received his first toy engine, named “Big Red,” and not long afterward, his first train book, Smokey the Lively Locomotive. So began his fascination. In this endearing book, he charts his most memorable rail journeys, although his first, he concedes, occurred prenatally—when his mother traveled from San Francisco to Auburn, California (“I must have been a passenger in the ‘baggage car’ ”). Born in 1940, Heppner counts himself fortunate to have experienced an exciting period in railroad history, having witnessed “cab-forward steam locomotives” and ridden high speed trains such as the French TGV. Among countless other journeys, Heppner recalls the severe grades of the Raton Pass in New Mexico and Colorado, the ugliness of the Italian Settebello, and the efficiency of the Japanese bullet train. Heppner admits to being “a certifiable nerd” and gives enough attention to railway minutiae to satisfy other train geeks—a photograph of the train to Tenom, Malaysia, bears the caption: “Japanese equipment, but note the American style knuckle coupler.” However, it is Heppner’s attention to detail that beguiles the reader. An early train journey took place when he was 10 years old—an overnight from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. He recalls lying in his bunk: “It was a moonlit night on the Nevada desert. I could see in the distance the shadowy outline of the Great Basin mountain ranges, and there was a hint of sage smell through the vent.” Heppner’s sensory descriptions transport the reader to the very carriage in which he traveled. On occasion, the author digresses, making the memoir read more like generalized travel memoir as he discusses air and sea travel. All but the most hardcore rail fans will forgive these meanderings. Illustrated with the author’s accomplished photography, this is a treat for anyone with a love of trains.
Observant, spiriting writing that conveys the author’s infectious enthusiasm for railroads.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)