March 2004
© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Two Trains Running by Lucius Shepard
Golden Gryphon Press HCVR: ISBN 1930846231 PubDate: 03/01/04
Review by Bill Herriman

125 pgs. List price $22.95
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Lucius Shepard risked life and limb to produce a magazine story about “train tramps” (A.K.A. Hoboes) that eventually evolved into a most-readable book entitled Two Trains Running published by Golden Gryphon Press. The Book contains one non-fiction piece and two fictions stories (one of which is previously unpublished).

In the factional piece Shepard immerses us in the not-so-pleasant world of those folks, both male and female, who ride the rails from coast to coast. It is a world invisible to most of us. A world where death and dismemberment are constant traveling companions. Where murder may lurk just inside the open door of a pitch black boxcar. It is a landscape where one develops the instincts of a prey animal because every human being you see can be a predator – let loose from the nation’s mental institutions and prisons. For even a serial killer rode the steel highway, dispatching victims with virtual immunity because, after all, the dead were just “bums”.

Shepard enters this uneasy world to uncover the facts about an organization known as the F.T.R.A. (Freight Train Riders of America). Rumor has it that the F.T.R.A. is, in essence, a train-riding clan dedicated to robbery, rape and murder. If it happened on or near the railroad tracks it just had to be the F.T.R.A. (or at least that’s what the majority of law enforcement people believe). Shepard enters the world of the train tramps willingly to seek out the truth – which, of course proves to be more grey than black and white. He rides the rails with a variety of train tramps, eats and sleeps in their hobo jungles and tries to shine a light on the F.T.R.A.

He risks the myriad ways of being killed or injured around the tracks and trains of contemporary America. Fellow tramps can beat or kill you, so can “yard bulls” (railroad police), and many are the ways to gruesome injury when you must grab hold of a moving car and hoist yourself aboard.

Shepard experiences this world and writes of those experiences in a forthright and polished manner. His descriptive scenes of people and places linger long after the book is closed. The characters that he encounters lead him into a landscape of surprising beauty and serious menace where the steel behemoths whistle and rumble through the moon-washed night and folks with colorful nicknames swallow cheap wine and gaze on a world we seldom, if ever, see.

The fictional parts are the stories "Over Yonder" and "Jailbait". The first involves a train tramp named Billy Long Gone, the abduction of his dog by a big man in a wide-brimmed hat, and a mysterious black train that has secrets aplenty. The world Shepard describes in this piece is at once both bizarre and believable. It is a place where huge flying creatures attack trains, railcars bleed flowing yellow fluid, and if you can make it over Yonder’s Wall you just might find sanctuary and answers for a world turned on its edge. The last story, “Jailbait, it is a finely honed tale about a tramp named Madcat and a run-away girl. And the murder of a bad piece of news named F-Trooper.

For me Two Trains Running is right on track.

© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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