My Books

There is always a story of how books come about. In my case, I hadn't thought about writing a book. In the 1970s I was chasing the vanishing Ontario railway station scene, and I happened to call Ralph Beaumont, who had just published Steam Trains to the Bruce at Boston Mills Press, to ask him about some of the stations he had written up. During the course of the conversation (publishers are always looking for authors) he said to me "if you are so keen on stations, have you ever considered writing a book?". Well, no I hadn't. "Well, something on the Hamilton & North Western would be great." Sure had the advantage of not being too far away from Toronto - once I found out what and where the H&NW was. That's how it all started.

So here they are in order of publication:

1. Rails To the Lakes. Started research in 1978, published in 1980 by Boston Mills Press. A history of the Hamilton & North Western Railway that in its heyday connected Lake Erie via Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay. 2,000 copies printed. $19.95, hard cover, 160 pages.  Sold like hot cakes, all gone by 1982.

Looking back - it was when I was doing the research for this book and talking to people in all walks of life across a broad swath of Ontario, that I became a Canadian in spirit as well as on paper.  

Well, Boston Mills Press said - we'd like to do another one. How about the old T&N? The old what? Well, that was even closer than the H&NW. Ran right across my back yard in Thornhill, in a manner of speaking.

2. Narrow Gauge for Us - the story of the Toronto & Nipissing Railway. Started research in 1980, published in 1982, again by Boston Mills Press. 2,000 copies printed. Took about five years to sell out. $24.95, hard cover, 160 pages. Lucky if you can find a copy now for $150. There was talk about re-issuing this book, but the problem was that its focus had become too narrow (sorry about that) among the other railway history publications that were appearing in that era. I remember the late Ray Corley was urging me to do a history of the Midland Railway, but I was still working full-time in the stormy 1980s, when everything was more unsettled than it had been when I first wrote Rails To the Lakes. And both of these books were BC (Before Computers), so had been very labour-intensive to produce. One good spin-off was getting to know Rod Clarke who had in mind to write about both the Toronto & Nipissing and its sister, the Toronto, Grey & Bruce from an engineering perspective - in what was to become Narrow Gauge Through the Bush. All sold out now, and that book will also soon be into a three-figure price, if it isn't already.  

In 1994 retirement beckoned, and with it the thought that I would really like to re-do Rails to the Lakes. I knew there had been quite a bit of research that I had missed, and there were a lot more pictures around. I also wanted to give special attention to the former motive power, the stations, and yes, the trestles and bridges - after winkling out many great pictures taken by photographers around the turn of the 20th century. After all, I had a lot more time now. But what made that book the history that it is, was a great contribution by Art Clowes on the construction basics of trestles and bridges, and by a researcher by the name of Carl Riff. I was referred to Carl quite casually by one of my research contacts - and he turned out to be a God Send. Carl lived in Hamilton (and still does) and undertook to assemble 30 years of microfilmed clippings as the Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton's newspaper, had recorded the doings of the H&NW on a daily, well, almost daily, basis. (Yes, the Hamilton Spectator was a daily paper even then.)

3. Hamilton's Other Railway - So Boston Mills Press (Ralph had left the partnership some years before) kindly relinquished its first publication rights, and I was in negotiations with Norman Helm, author of In the Shadow of the Giants, and owner of his own Preston House publishing company. Unfortunately Norman died suddenly, and that is when I got the tip to ask the Bytown Railway Society if they might be interested.  Turned out they were. My wife Andrea designed the book and the big production was on its way, published in 2001 with 2,000 copies printed - and still available. I remember that Ray Corley was a little taken aback that the book was 420 pages "on a minor railway". How minor it was remains open to debate - it reached right across southern Ontario, became part of the formidable Northern Railway of Canada group that was the last to hold out as an independent road against the mighty Grand Trunk.

4. Canadian Pacific to the East - the International of Maine Division.  I was grateful to the Bytown Railway Society for sponsoring HOR, and inevitably one good turn begets another. Dean of Canadian railway historians Omer Lavallée died suddenly and prematurely in 1992 after completing the manuscript of his book on the International of Maine. The Bytown Railway Society acquired it for publication. Only problem was there wasn't anyone who had the time to take it on - and the Society was starting to get quite a bit of pressure from those who knew where the manuscript was - until I said "I'll do it". That was in 2003, but with other commitments including a move, it was not ready to go for design until 2007. Obviously, this is not "my" book - it's Omer's book - but it feels a little like mine. When I got the manuscript, I was grateful that it was "on computer" - it was in WordPerfect 9. It had to be migrated to PC Word 7, then into Mac Word 5, and then into Pagemaker. Sure picked up a few interesting hieroglyphs on the way! There was some background research that had to be finished off with the State of Maine, and someone had to be found to draw all of the maps that Omer had planned. But, it all did get done.

 Eventually it came out - and a lot of anxious buyers were mollified. Fifteen hundred and thirty copies were printed, and it sold out in 2015. While I received a lot of help from many sources, including from Ron Ritchie, former president of the International of Maine, who identified a lot of his and Omer's pictures, I want to say that I could not have done it without the help of George Pitarys, one-time operator on the International of Maine, and an author and photographer too. It's pretty tough to work on a railway history book when you have to look at a map to see where all the place names are - George was not only my "seeing eyes", but having worked on the line, knew all about train numbers and other good stuff that makes proofing of such a project much less nerve-racking. Thank you, George.