Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Building the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe

The main components of what we know today as the BNSF Railway began with the mega-merger in 1970 of three major railroads: The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, The Northern Pacific and The Great Northern.


Known as the Burlington Route or The Q, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad was founded in 1849 with the primary connections from Chicago (headquarters), Minneapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver.

Trackage ran as far west as Wyoming and Montana. The most famous trains on The Q were the Zephyrs, known for their efficient passenger service betweeen the major cities on the route. This name is continued
today by one of the Amtrak passenger trains.


Headquartered in St. Paul, MN, the Northern Pacific line was founded in 1864 and ran from Chicago, IL to Seattle, WA. The line itself was built along the trail first explored by Lewis and Clark.

The North Coast Limited was the flagship passenger service train, beginning in 1900 and ceasing operation in 1971, when Amtrak took the name. Running from Chicago to Seattle, this train was best known for introducing not only the popular Vista Domes for viewing, but also the rare Vista Dome sleepers.

GN (The Goat)

Founded in 1890 by James J. Hill, the Great Northern Railway ran from Chicago to Seattle and parts of Canada, with its headquarters located in St. Paul, MN.

One of the most famous and best-loved passenger trains ever to serve the United States, Great Northern's Empire Builder streamed from Chicago to Seattle, dazzling riders with stunning scenery through parts of Yellowstone.

While smaller buyouts and mergers had taken place during the 1950's and 60's, the 1970 merger of these three giants resulted in the formation of the Burlington Northern Railway.

This union created one of the biggest players of all western railroads (Chicago to the Pacific Coast) and as passenger service was slowly phased out across the western United States, the Burlington Northern dominated the northern half of the western and midwestern freight traffic, especially coal and grains.

During the 1970's & 80's, only the Santa Fe, Union Pacific (which merged with Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific in 1981), Chicago Northwestern and Southern Pacific remained as major competition for the BN.

Many smaller lines were being bought out, while some were abandoned through bankruptcy (most notably the Rock Island.) As for the BN, they made a bold move. A 1980 merger with a smaller railroad gave the BN reach to the Gulf Coast.

SL-SF (The Frisco)

The St. Louis-San Francisco Railway never made it to California. Begun in 1876, it soon adopted the nickname Frisco. Both the name and markings disappeared with the merger, as Burlington Northern maintained its own moniker and colors.

The Meteor was one of the heavily-used passenger trains, closely following the famous Route 66 path from St. Louis to Tulsa, Oklahoma.


From the Big Four to the Big Two

By the mid 1990's, only four major railroad names remained to service the midwestern and western United States: Southern Pacific, ATSF (Santa Fe), Union Pacific and Burlington Northern. In 1994, both the UP and BN were making offers to acquire the Santa Fe, but in 1995 the UP abandoned their attempt and the Burlington Northern announced plans to merge with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. Subsequently, the UP merged with the Southern Pacific and both these unions were completed in 1996.


The storied history of the Santa Fe Railway could (and does) comprise an entire web site.

Headquartered in Chicago, the company was founded in 1859. The main line never made it to Santa Fe, New Mexico, because the terrain proved too difficult to lay the necessary track, but the Chicago to Los Angeles route became very profitable, especially for passenger service and selling adjacent plots of land to homesteaders.

The Santa Fe Chief was one of the most cherished passenger trains ever to traverse the United States. There were many Chiefs, but the Los Angeles to Chicago run was used by countless Hollywood celebrities and therefore, the service and efficiency were second to none.

In later years, blue and gold schemes appeared along with the red, silver and gold War Bonnets. Like so many railroads now gone, the logos and colors of the Santa Fe are sorely missed. They were a part of our
culture, and citizens who lived along these rail lines were and still are nostalgic for the railroads that served their particular communities.

Count me among them.

Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Today

The Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway has made a concerted effort to preserve the heritage of both railroads, incorporating the design of the Santa Fe logo with colors of gold and black, orange and green (an homage to the Great Northern RR).

The paint schemes are in fact named Heritage 1, 2 & 3. The blue and gold of the Santa Fe is still used, as is the aforementioned War Bonnet scheme, with BNSF replacing the words Santa Fe.

Old landscapes fade away to be replaced by the new, but the people who run the railroads are the same. Regardless of the weather, they maintain the rail lines, rolling stock and locomotive power to deliver coal for our electrical power plants and commodities to fuel the country. Guess that's why I have a special fondness for railroads, railroading and railroaders.

As further proof of my interest, the Santa Fe RR plays an important role in one of my upcoming books, so I will next deconstruct the BNSF. I'll go back in time to tell of the mergers that resulted in the railroad we see today. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jasper McCutcheon interviews Halsey Pearson

Near the end of October, I sat down with WWII veteran Halsey Pearson, one of two characters in the Jardonn Smith short story, The Caricature. A summer-like day allowed us to chat while on the screened-in porch of Halsey's Appalachian Mountains cabin, where he likes to relax by singing folk tunes.

Jasper: So, Halsey, what made you take up the guitar and singing?

Halsey: Just a late-life hobby for the most part. I wanted to learn songs from the 1930's, my growing up years. Tunes like the Delmore Brothers were doing. The Blue Sky Boys and the Monroe Brothers, you know, Charlie and Bill, before Bill Monroe started up his bluegrass sounds.

J: Are they easy to learn?

H: Some are, some aren't. A lot of them sound simple enough, but they'll throw in an awkward chord to the progression, like a minor third or augmented seventh.

J: Does Floyd enjoy listening to you play?

H: He's usually reading in another room, but if he hears me make a major mistake he'll let me know I hurt his ears. Jokingly, of course.

J: Did the cricket really synchronize its leg rubbing with the tempo of your song?

H: It did, and that's a fact. Exactly on the date of our 25th Anniversary. Next day, he rejoined his other crickets, rubbing legs any old way they liked.

J: You and Floyd first met in 1944, correct?

H: Well, we never met. Never spoke. I just saw him after we rescued him from that Japanese camp, and he was in no condition to be socializing.

J: Did you ever dream it would be forty years before you'd see him again?

H: At the time, I didn't give it a thought. And I sure as hell never entertained any sort of physical attraction to him, just a curiosity as to what the Japanese had done to him during interrogations.

J: What about later?

H: Hmm... well, I suppose it did begin to gnaw at me through the years. Look, homosexuality wasn't part of my thinking. Not overseas. Not when I came home to the States. I got me a job and started ladder climbing. Found me a woman who was beautiful inside and out, and we got down to the business making a home and raising a family.

J: And you never thought about Floyd?

H: All right, you pushy son of a gun. Sure, I thought about Floyd, but in my subconscious. That's where he needed to stay, but then after my wife died, well, I got to thinking that maybe thinking about him wasn't such a bad thing.

J: Still, you never took the initiative to find him?

H: What for? I figured he'd married and done what I'd done. What reason would I have to think that he'd be looking for a boyfriend?

J: And then you saw him at the forty-year reunion?

H: Yep. In 1984.

J: What did you think when you first saw him?

H: I thought, Halsey, you better find out what he's doing here and what his situation is.

J: And what was his situation?

H: Ha! Let's just say he was available, after we worked out a few kinks.

J: And the rest is history.

H: As they say.

J: All right, Halsey, you and Floyd were in your sixties when you hooked up. Right?

H: Correct.

J: Now, you're in your eighties. Do you and Floyd still, you know, do it?

H: Like rabbits.

J: Rabbits in lust?

H: No, rabbits in love. Without that, I doubt either one of us could even get it up.

J: Well, thank you for giving up your guitar-playing time for this little chat.

H: Stay right where you are, mister. The price for this little chat is that you have to suffer through my singing.

J: Gladly.

The full story of Halsey Pearson and Floyd Strick is told by author Jardonn Smith. It's called The Caricature, is available in ebook formats and can be viewed at either the author's web site HERE, or the publisher's web site, MLR PRESS.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

So I Wrote a Romance Called TRICKS

My latest novel is now available. Read to the end to find out how you can win your own free, signed copy of Tricks, delivered right to your door personally...by me...in a leather jock strap. Well, that last part isn't true, but I do ship first class.

This book is different.

Yes, boys and girls, this is my first full-length gay romance, an endearing little opposites-attract tale about a male stripper in a sleazy gay bar in Chicago's Boystown and the nerd who falls for him. Those of you in Chicago might recognize the bar that inspired me.

"What are you? Getting soft? A love story...really?" You might be wondering. Well, Tricks does have my own distinctive and dark touches, so I hope you'll give the book a chance and see how I make a gay love story wholly my own.

Here's the synopsis from the back cover:
Tricks can mean many things: sex partners, deceptions, even magic. In Rick R. Reed searing love story, it means all three.

Arliss is a gorgeous young dancer at Tricks, the hottest club in Chicago's Boystown. Sean is the classic nerd, out of place in Tricks, but nursing his wounds from a recent break-up. When the two spy each other, magic blooms.

But this opposites-attract tale does not run smooth. What happens when Arliss is approached by one of the biggest porn producers in the business? Can he make his dreams of stardom come true without throwing away the only real love he's ever known? And will this question even matter if the mysterious producers realize their dark intentions?

And here's a little taste:
Arliss had everything he needed right in front of him for that night's performance-hardhat, check, steel-toed boots, check, tool belt, check, black mesh thong with pouch for his rather prodigious endowment, big check. Yes, Arliss was just about ready for his turn on the stage at Tricks, located in Chicago's infamous Boystown neighborhood, at its epicenter on the corner of Belmont and Halsted. He also had before him a tall tumbler of Stoli vodka with just a whisper of cranberry juice cocktail in it for color, and a half-empty pack of Marlboro Ultralights. The latter two items helped the twenty-one-year-old calm himself before a performance, and the vodka in particular went a long way toward reducing backstage jitters.

He lit up a cigarette and regarded himself through the smoke. The lights in the crowded dressing room, which he shared with the other eight or so exotic dancers, were unforgiving. Fluorescent did little to hide any imperfections like rings under the eyes, reddened noses from too much partying, and, for those on their way out of the club, track marks on the arms. But Arliss didn't have to worry about signs of drug abuse showing up on his person. He had learned to just say no a long time ago, in a manner that he preferred not to dredge up, at least not now, when he was trying to put himself in a cheerful, high-energy mode.

The face that looked back at him was young, handsome, and vital. Arliss had a shock of white blond hair that stuck up in a manner reminiscent of rocker Billy Idol back in his glory days, before Arliss was even born. Both ears sported piercings-from one a single razor blade, cast in sterling, dangled; from the other, three hoops crawled up the side of his ear, growing smaller as they ascended. Arliss had full lips, sharp cheekbones, a cleft in his chin, and the most piercing ice blue eyes in the Midwest (or so he had been told). The only thing that marred his nearly perfect face was a gap between his front teeth, which he comforted himself by saying that the space gave him character. Cigarette clenched between his teeth, he struggled into his costume, ending by stuffing his dick into the pouch that protruded from his black thong. His member stuck out in such a way that invited grasping hands, which is what Arliss wanted, as long as there was cash in those hands to stuff the thong even more fully.

Attired in a costume that would make the construction worker from the Village People look demure, Arliss turned in front of the mirror to ensure he was the perfect fantasy specimen of pornographic machismo. He was grateful he had added the angel wing tattoo to his back and the snakes that twisted around each bicep. And the one on his chest, the tiny heart with the name "Helena" in it, always brought a lump to his throat-or a splash of bile to the back of it, depending on his mood and how forgiving he felt.

But now was not the time for being sentimental! Arliss was glad for the tattoos because they added a bit of manliness to his six-foot-two inch frame that held only 160 pounds in weight. He was what the older men at Tricks referred to as a twink and, thankfully, was a desirable commodity in some circles.
He set the cigarette down in a tin ashtray and took a swig of vodka. He could feel as much as hear the heavy bass of the techno music playing in the bar and knew that Antonio, a Puerto Rican dude with a shaved head and heavy stubble, was probably just about finished with his set, which meant his boxing ensemble cluttered the small stage.

Arliss would come out, dance briefly and flirtatiously with Antonio, and then have the stage to himself. He didn't know how he did it, night after night, but somehow he managed. He had always been the shyest boy in Ruskin, Florida, where he had grown up. If they could see me now... Well, if they could see me now, they'd probably still call me a fag and try to beat the crap out of me. Once again, my dear, now is not the time for sentimentality. He took another swig of vodka, draining the glass and feeling the warmth of the liquor as it spread through his chest and extremities. Show time!

Arliss hurried to the door that separated the cramped dressing room from the bar proper. Tricks didn't really have a stage, although the dancers liked to think of the bar upon which they danced as one. It was Friday night and, from the burble of conversation beneath the pounding beat, sounded as though they had a good crowd. He sucked in a breath, looked down at his perfectly smooth pale skin and six-pack abs and told himself he was gorgeous.

"Don't forget to smile, Toots! You always look like some gloomy Gus out there!" Leave it to Emmett Myers, owner of Tricks and Arliss' boss, to try and unsettle him just before he went on stage.

Arliss flashed the man a big, Farrah Fawcett smile. If the prissy older man with the pencil moustache recognized it as fake, he gave no indication.

"There! That's what they like to see! For heaven's sakes, you have to remember that if they think you're having a good time, they'll have a good time. And a good time means more money for all of us."

Arliss listened as the song wound down, morphing into yet another bass beat that signaled him it was time to stride out through the door, amble across the crowded room, ignore the covert feels and pinches he got as he made his way to the bar, and climb up on it to join Antonio in front of the crowd.

This moment, just before he went out, was always almost surreal. He felt as though he became someone else when he opened that door, or more properly, that his everyday world changed when he opened it. It was kind of like when Dorothy opened the door when she touched down in Oz and saw the color-filled Munchkinland, but instead of munchkins, his world was populated with bitter old queens, alcoholics, and trolls trying to put some oomph into their libidos by staring at boys young enough to be their sons.

"Get out there, gorgeous! Shake your groove thing!" Emmett cackled and placed a hand on Arliss' back to propel him forward. Just as much to get the hand off his back as to get to the stage, Arliss threw open the door, plastered on a big smile, threw his shoulders back and strode through the crowd, keeping his eye on the narrow strip of bar that would, for the next fifteen minutes, be his stage.

And yes, here is how you can win a copy in three easy steps:
1. Leave a comment, along with an e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win.
2. Help me spread the word about Tricks. Retweet or post news of Tricks and today's blog on your Twitter or Facebook account or just drop your reader friends an e-mail about it. This part is honor system but I will be spot checking.
3. Subscribe to this blog, using the link on the right.

Note: To enter the contest, you must do so at my official blog at http://rickrreedreality.blogspot.com/
Do not enter on Amazon, Goodreads, or Facebook.

I will announce the winner on Sunday morning.

Don't want to wait? Click on Tricks anywhere in this blog and it will take you to the publisher's website, where you can buy an e-copy direct from them or be linked to Amazon to purchase the paperback. Or buy a Kindle version here.
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