Re: Mr. Bruce Kelly, Five minutes of your time Sir?
Author: Bruce Kelly
Date: 11-03-2018 - 20:44
Peter, this deserves much more than five minutes.
Boy, did you strike a nerve and hit the nail on the head. CTC Board, Pac News, and Flimsies were about all we had back in those days (aside from word of mouth) to tip us off to new motive power, a visiting steam train, new operations, or operations about to come to an end. Even as late as 1999 and 2000, it was news on the printed page, not something posted online, that prompted me to get off my butt and finally drive the mere two or three hours south of home to see what Idaho's Camas Prairie was all about...before it was gone for good.
As for your writing, I would only add a few commas where needed and fix a misspelled word here and there. Aside from that, if I were the one prepping that piece for publication, I'd leave just about everything else as-is. Here's why.
Way back when I was at R&R, we had a T.O. Repp story on Stevens Pass in the works. Somewhere along the way, I found myself chatting with Mike Sawyer, a good friend from the Northwest who was a BN engineer. I asked him if he had any thoughts on running trains over Stevens and through Cascade Tunnel that he would like to share. He said "you bet I do," but he was very self-conscious about being able to produce polished, print-worthy writing. Both me and Jim Boyd assured Mike that all we wanted was honest-to-goodness real railroader storytelling, as if it were coming straight out of his mouth. The kind of stuff that guys like Doug Harrop and Steve Patterson were famous for, stories that read more like you were hearing it from them, not just seeing it as words on a page. Mike agreed, and what we got from him was one of the finest little sidebars on mountain railroading I've ever read.
Some magazines and editors have a habit of re-writing, re-wording, and basically filtering any author's work so that it sounds like it's coming from one common source. Sure, there are legitimate style elements to be adhered to (standard punctuation, terms like "main line" being presented as two words vs. one, etc.). But beyond that, the unique language of the author and his or her way of presenting the subject matter they know so well should be left largely intact.
The analogy I have often used to describe this is a magazine where one particular issue will contain articles on Appalachian coal branch railroading by Ron Flanary, the Amtrak Surfliners by Elrond Lawrence, comparisons of engineering and operations at Cascade Tunnel vs. Flathead Tunnel by Mark Hemphill, and New York City transit by Joe Calisi and/or Bill Vantuono. Anybody who knows these guys would expect terminology, phrasings, and local jargon unique to their personal experiences, as well as to the geographic subjects at hand. What a wonderful and wide-ranging variety of reading it would make.
But there are editors out there would would take the work of these writers and distill it into a fairly similar-sounding format. The urban grit and "yo!" of a subway ride beneath the Bronx, the misty hollers and "y'all" of West Virginia, and the "hey, dude, what's up?" of the California coast would all be lost in translation.
After many years of doing this stuff from both sides of the process, I've learned how to just about satisfy the needs and styles of any editor I submit to. Along the way, I've learned a lot from them as well. But there's always room to grow. And that means knowing when to leave well enough alone and let a railfan writer share his or her personal experience in the way they intended it to be told. Some stories, like yours, Peter, ought to feel as if we're hearing it around the campfire or across the table at the diner after a day's outing along the railroad.