Reviewed by the New York Times (12/22/91) as: a word of praise for Old Rails' Tales, volume one of an up-to-the-minute American railroad oral history edited by Alan Allen...straight-forward, substantial and well-researched...the cream of the crop [of new railroad books]...successfully breaks away from the old self-conscious, hangdog, and almost occultist 'railroadiana' conventions of so many postwar books about train[s]...in which the tone was either wistful or aggrieved, and railroads were presented as part of a time...sealed off from modern life...In touch with railroading! Bold! And bouyant! Energetic! Compassionate! Extraordinary! This oral journalism/oral history book is written in a style blended of classical American anecdotist James Thurber and classical Russian author Anton Chekhov, providing matter-of-fact reporting of the most emotional moments of the on-the-job lives of six generations of American 'rails' (a self-titled term used by those who work running the railroads). The editor says of the book: You're in the cab with the hoghead when all you've got is your kw-how, your pride and your pocket watch. You'll be hookin' her up, droppin' her down, makin' her work harder or easier. You'll learn how to respect the air on long trains, to judge pops (retainers) by the seat of your pants, to manage slack and bridge the air to let the train handle itself with leakage instead of using a service application of the brakes; you'll break a train in two and learn to read a knuckle to see if it was your fault. Then you'll highball and lean your head out the window and watch those drivers roll. You'll hear and run on broken rails, cross your fingers at tankers blocking crossings suddenly bound for glory. You'll run in the fog and wish you weren't. And you'll watch the rails spread and fall over in front of you in run-down and soggy yards. And you'll find out a few tips about making proper drops, flying switches and kicks, class characteristics and engine personality. You'll manage boiler pressure safety; sand out with the right amount of scoops; have water-spouts fight back with a vengeance; learn a few tricks the hard way about breathing in tunnels, and have water fights in the cab on hot days. You'll learn how to keep yourself alive making the air and going on top in inclement weather to safely decorate a car. You'll ride a runaway boxcar down Coathanger curve. And learn about intentional and block derails. You'll put the train together properly; get some tips about handling rowdy passengers. Hang on in the crummy and watch boxcars flipping over in front of you like toys one by one and count your lucky stars. You'll work a humpyard, switch cars, watch your step in the yard at all times and learn to never turn your back on a boxcar. All aboard! for The Original OLD RAILS' TAILS (abridged family edition) The only collection of on-the-job true stories told first-hand by four generations of Rails: engineers, firemen, conductors, brakemen, switchmen, dispatchers, yardmasters, and superintendents; on Santa Fe, Western Pacific, Southern Pacific, and AMTRAK. (And the first women engineers and rails in California.) See through the eyes and hearts and minds of the old-timers, as the Old Rails share their vision and kw-how and humor with you; telling you the inside scoop, and sharing the truth and spirit of their railroadin' lives. Sit back, get comfortable, and enjoy yourself as they unfold for you in real campfire stories the behind-the-scenes story of American Railroading on-the-road and in the yard. Welcome aboard.
Old Rails' Tales by Alan Allen was reviewed by the New York Times as one of the best books of the year.