The Genesis Of The Railroad Man


Now, what would an exploding tank car flying through the air and a one shoed girl have to do with the start of this novel?  Well, everything.

Take a look at this picture:

Nightmare In Laurel

This was the artwork at the start of a Reader’s Digest story.  Now if you recall, I wrote the first proto-manuscript for my story back in 1990, but the idea for it really began here, in July 1971!  In that issue of Reader’s Digest was a story titled Nightmare In Laurel.  It was part of their Drama In Real Life series.  It told the story of a horrific train wreck that occurred in Laurel Mississippi in 1969 where a train full of liquefied propane gas (LPG) derailed and caught fire and the heroic (Some might say stupid!) efforts of the train crew to pull parts of the train that were still on the rails away from the wrecked and burning tank cars.  In the course of the event, a tank car exploded with such terrific force that it was propelled through the air like a rocket, landing over a quarter of a mile away.  This moment is captured in that dramatic picture.

I was only nine years old when I first stumbled across this story.  And it made a lasting impression on me.  Ever since then, every time I would “play” with my toy trains, there would be a derailment that would lead to an imaginary fire, ending in an exploding tank car that would “sail” through the air and “crash down” some distance from the tracks.  Of course, this was all child’s play.  As I matured, such play stopped.  But that powerful image of an LPG tank car flying through the air stayed with me, lingering in the back of my mind and imagination like the LPG vapor cloud in the story.

In 1989, I married my beautiful wife, Annie.  We moved into an apartment complex and of course were surrounded by a number of people, some more colorful than others.  However, there was this one very attractive young woman who most everyone in the complex knew.  She worked at some kind of office and when she would come home, she would immediately take her dog for a walk dressed in her skirt suit, and a pair of heels.  She always wore heels, at least whenever I saw her.  On one particular day in December of that year, I returned home early from work.  It had snowed that day, not too heavy, but enough to coat the ground.  Along came this girl, clacking along in her high heels and being dragged along by her medium-sized but spirited dog like she always seemed to be.  I happened to see her as the dog pulled her up the walkway beside my apartment.  The snow had made the narrow concrete walkway indistinguishable from the grassy grounds on either side.  She must have stepped off the walkway and into this area because her heel plunged into the snow and in the blink of an eye, her foot popped right out of her shoe.  Now here she was, being dragged by her dog up the walkway, hopping on one high heel, her now unshoed foot dangling up behind her, trying desperately to stop her dog from taking her farther and farther away from her lost, shinny black little pump.  And all I could do was watch and laugh at the sight!  I did think about rendering assistance.  After all, she was a neighbor, and a very attractive one at that!  But before I could, she got the dog stopped and hobbled her way through the snow back to her shoe.  She dipped her now probably soaking wet foot back into it, pulled it out of the snow and with the dog dragging her forward again, disappeared up the walkway alongside my apartment.

It all happened so fast, and yet for some reason, I found the image intriguing.  The sight of a beautiful young woman being dragged against her will by some force beyond her control (In this case it was just a dog) and losing a shoe in the process proved to be a very powerful image indeed.  And then, the vapor lurking deep in my mind ignited like the tank cars in the story.  I started to think, how could I combine the image of a woman being taken away in such a violent fashion that she leaves behind only one of her shoes (Itself very forlorn and foreboding-looking) with an exploding LPG tank car?  Well, she’d have to be on a freight train.  So why was she there, dressed like an office worker?  Well, she had to have been kidnapped, and the kidnappers wound up on this train in order to get away, but it wrecks.  Now how and why does all this happen?

And so The Railroad Man exploded to life!  The creative process is a very strange and sometimes disturbing one, isn’t it?  More later.

Like This Post? Share It

Next Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *