Long-time "Trains Magazine" columnist, journalist and railroad author Fred Frailey retired this year from his regular column in Trains. His column was the first item I would seek out to read in each new issue of "Trains." Easing the pain of his loss to rail enthusiasts is his recently published Last Train to Texas. Fred collects in this book a number of his notable columns for "Trains" and a couple of articles.
I have long been a fan of Fred Frailey's writings and observations on railroading. He brings a classic journalist's eye for a story together with an enthusiasm for railroading-the industry and the people-that I found particularly perceptive. He has a keen eye for detail and well-developed "BS Filter" that I find hits closer to the mark of truth than most writers. Over the years, he cultivated ties to men who became leaders of the industry that gave him access to decisions that form the modern North American rail net.
The forty-six chapters are arranged in three thematic groupings: Running the Railroads, Travels Around Trains, and Kicking the Trains Down the Tracks. The first grouping on "Running the Trains" profiles a number of rail industry leaders, often pointing out positive attributes of men otherwise reviled by rail workers or railfans. The second grouping on "Travels Around Trains" documents a number of Fred's own travels, either by rail or car-to chase and photograph trains.
The final section titled "Kicking the Trains Down the Tracks" is a collection of his perceptive journalism reflecting upon events and management choices that continue to shape railroading. The final chapter of this section and the book covers the traffic meltdown in Texas that took place soon after the Union Pacific acquired the Southern Pacific in 1996. This longer article contrasts Fred's observations against official UP pronouncements during the traffic meltdown that nearly brought all UP traffic to a standstill. This chapter represents some of the best of Fred's writing.
I have long enjoyed Fred's writing in "Trains," first as articles and then as a regular columnist. His 1991 "Blue Streak Merchandise" book published by Kalmbach sits proudly-and well-read-on my bookshelf. It will be joined now by Fred's latest work which gave me a great collection of his past work for bedtime reading. Last Train to Texas is a wonderful send-off for Fred as he enters a well-deserved retirement. His writing will be missed in the current tense, but some of the best of his body of work is now bound between hard covers in a convenient collection.
Published by Indiana University Press and available through booksellers, Last Train to Texas belongs in rail enthusiasts' libraries--certainly for those who want to understand how we got to where we are today in railroading.