Louis D. Rubin, Jr., shares a delightful tale of his professional coming of age amid the closing of a wondrous era in American railroading in his latest book, A Memory of Trains. A retired journalist and professor of Southern literature, he shares stories and photographs that illuminate the years after the Second World War.
After being discharged from the military, Rubin returned home to South Carolina, hoping to embark on a career in journalism. Over the next few years, his plans changed as he worked on local papers in New Jersey and Virginia.
All the time he was writing and editing articles, Rubin was indulging a lifelong passion for trains. Primarily, that meant spending leisure hours taking photographs of steam and diesel locomotives, crack passenger trains and unheralded freights in a variety of eastern and southern states on an assortment of railroads. Adding poignancy to Rubin's account is the fact that, as he came to realize, a significant period was drawing to a close in the 1940s and '50s. The demise of the steam locomotive, replaced by the sleeker and more efficient diesel, coincided with the general shift in travel away from the train.
Changes in travel brought social and cultural changes that transformed America, the author's native South in particular. The sense of isolation that characterized the towns where Rubin lived and worked was breaking down. Soon the small papers he knew so well would vanish, swallowed up by regional and national chains. And the railroads he admired would lose their identities through mergers.
While chronicling these momentous changes and lamenting much of what was being lost, Rubin also describes his own coming of age. We see him gain confidence in his writing, endure loneliness before meeting the woman he marries, and decide to leave journalism for college teaching.
Dozens of the author's photos accompany the well-written chapters. A Memory of Trains will leave readers saddened by all that disappeared when railroads lost their grandeur, but they will appreciate the memories this autobiography stirs.
Roger Carp is on the staff of Classic Toy Trains magazine.