Thursday, May 24, 2007
Eureka newspaper columnist turns novelist, tells tale of a famous railroad dog
By DAN BARNETT
Tim Martin normally writes a column about running for the Eureka Times-Standard. But he was so entranced by tales of a black Labrador that rode the lumber trains in the early 1900s he decided to write a children's book.
"The Legend of Boomer Jack" ($16.95 in paperback from PublishAmerica) is aimed at readers from 9 to 12 years of age, and it's a fast-paced story sure to draw reader interest with its account of old steam locomotives, a little girl who longs to be Boomer's owner and a mean-hearted drunken dog catcher named Fisk.
"Boomer was no ordinary dog," the narrator tells us. "He loved trains, and more than anything he wanted to be a railroad dog. But he belonged to Mrs. Warren Palmer, whose husband was a very influential man, and she wanted Boomer to be a house dog. Boomer was just a pup when he climbed aboard his first locomotive. It happened on October 23, 1914. That was the day Mr. Palmer officially opened the Northwestern Pacific Railroad line at a place called Cain Rock, California."
The story Martin tells really gets started a year later at the Willits Station, about 70 miles away from Cain Rock. Old Number 12 arrives on time, carrying a load of lumber. "The brakeman grabbed a club, stuck it through a hand wheel and gave it a wrench. The brakes of the car clamped tight on the resisting wheel, slowing the big train." Paddy the engineer is inside with Jonsey the fireman, who is "absentmindedly stuffing wood into the firebox."
Then: "The safely valve lifted, singing a high pitched wail against the full pressure. A column of steam shot high into the air. Nearby, a horse reared, throwing its rider into the mud. Jonsey glanced sheepishly at his partner. 'Pressure's down,' he said."
That's when Boomer shows up, obviously escaping from the confines of Mrs. Palmer's perfumed drawing room. Mr. Tilley, the station manager, tells Paddy: "He's just like those railroad workers who pass through town. He's a boomer, a drifter."
But Boomer has a part to play, especially some while later when Number 12 has to high-tail it to San Francisco. Boomer proves especially adept at scaring elk, bulls and cows off the tracks, and much later at saving 10-year-old Sara Parsons.
Before the end, Sara has a lesson to learn, "that true happiness is not to possess, but to love." The story is cinematic (Martin has written a screenplay of the book), full of humor, danger, sadness and new beginnings.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.