James D. Porterfield

What'd he say?

A sample of railroad jargon:

bake head: An experienced fireman, as in "When you get your brains all baked out firing, we promote you to an engineer."

beat: To catch a free ride with, as in, "The boomer asked me if there was any show for an ex-railroad man to beat his way to Riddle."

Has he got sand? : Will he pitch in and help when the going gets tough?

hundred-proof guy: Someone you could count on

iron garden: A railroad yard

prowling the rattlers: Robbing freight cars

release your air: Get moving, or, State your case

show: Compensation (see "beat"), in the form of a question, as in "Do I have to show for the ride?"; or whether or not it is any trouble to do something, as in, "Will it be OK to show on a run to Snoqualmie?"

smilin': What porters who maintained their pride and dignity were said to be doing

tie up: To lay over at a location

wiping the clock: If the main or side rods on certain steam locomotives broke, they could swing up and hit the cab and anyone who was in it

The Boomer

A Story of the Rails by Harry Bedwell

A boomer's capacity to roam and to find work made him the perfect character to carry a work of railroad fiction. Of boomers, Bedwell, in an essay published in 1937, wrote, "They were a restless breed with tingling feet, and their lives were high adventure. Arrogant and belligerently proud of their craft, generous and cheerful under stress and strain, dubious and pugnacious when all things seemed serene, they were nonchalant of hardships, virtues, and veracity. They were the glamour and the glory of railroading."

Eddie Sand is the vehicle Bedwell chose to portray these qualities. In The Boomer, Sand participates in a series of exciting episodes across America that require him to interact with brakemen, conductors, engineers, train dispatchers, superintendents, and others in the railroad community, as well as with townspeople, including women. The book, massaged from seven Eddie Sand stories published between 1936 1941, reveals all of the tricks trainmen used to, as one reviewer noted, "see to it that the trains do not bump into one another, suffer derailment as a result of a storm, or encounter any one of a dozen accidents that trains are heir to." In that it is as current as today's headlines. The book also illustrates the boomer's struggles with restlessness and offers insight into its origins and effects. The continuing dramatic situation centers on whether or not he is about to settle down, to undertake, as he says, "the upkeep of a blonde."

What reviewers said about The Boomer in 1942

"...a pleasant, readable story, dealing knowledgeably with a world one knows little about, and not without thrill and adventure."
The New York Times

A "welcomed" book "written with understanding."
Library Journal

"...an exciting yarn in sinewy prose . . . Eddie Sand is a genuine and winning character . . . It has almost everything except sound effects."
New York Herald Tribune

What reviewers today are saying about The Boomer

"...pleasureable reading. . . .this Bedwell novel holds significant historical value. . . .the reader can sense the rhythm of the daily lives of railroaders a century ago."
The Lexington Quarterly

"...a light, entertaining saga that any fan of 'traditional' railroading will enjoy."
Railfan & Railroad

"Rich in railroad slang and imagery...an entertaining read."
Classic Trains

Selected Works

Web Site
A State-by-State Guide to Locations with a Connection to Railroad History, Travel and Preservation
The History and the Recipes of America's Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine
The Recipes and Stories Behind Today's Greatest Rail Dining Experiences
A Story of the Rails
The Life of a Pennsylvania Railroad Engineman: 1904-1949
A monthly magazine