Monday, March 7, 2011

Down by the Railroad Tracks

'Down by the Railroad Tracks' is a fascinating look at life in Northern Ontario, as seen from the eyes of a child living in abject poverty through the recession-stricken 1930s.

Author Cal Smith's gift for captivating story-telling brought him outstanding acclaim for his first book, 'When Devil Fish Come Out To Play' published in 2009. He weaves the same mix of adventure, humor, and historical fact into this unique look at his family's struggle to survive on the outskirts of North Bay, next door to one of Canada's largest hobo jungles, during the 'Great Depression'.

In 1929, when Cal's father met his younger brother's bride-to-be, for the first time, only a few hours before the wedding, the two of them fell instantly in love and ran away together, leaving Gordon weeping at the altar.

Herman and Ruth crossed the border into the U.S. and were married in Niagara Falls. The author was born the following August, the first year of the 'Dirty Thirties'. It's hard to understand what could have prompted their return to North Bay to face the scorn and hatred of their parents and siblings, and endure the extreme financial hardships that would force them into the city's worst slums.

(That question prompted me to speculate and resulted in a new gangster novel, yet unpublished, called "Rise of the Titans")

Down by the Railroad Tracks is a dog's breakfast of stories about bullying railroad cops, quicksand, shadflies, the Dionne quintuplets, a one-eyed, one legged fisherman and his one-room poker palace, a budding serial killer, and 'honey wagons'. The result is a highly entertaining book, that transports the reader to a time and place that few people living today -- even those who lived there, but on the 'right' side of the tracks -- have ever seen or imagined.

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