Railroad (Double) Crossing

Railroad (Double) Crossing

by Jim Mortensen

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Overview

As the twentieth century turned to the twenty-first, there was a civil war raging in the toy train hobby between those who ran and/or collected O-gauge toy trains. The icon of the hobby, Lionel LLC, was being challenged by an upstart company, Mike's Train House (MTH), for the minds, hearts and pocketbooks of those in the hobby or just beginning in it. This was a war being fought by more disinformation, innuendo, or out-right lies than either of the 2000 or 2004 political campaigns. The skirmishes and battles of this war would be fought out in some of the darnedest places and in the strangest of ways.

The people of Palatine County and Snyder's Corners are back, this time it is those on the other side of the tracks. When Bill and Amy Weaver inherit a rare, one-of-a-kind toy train locomotive they are targeted by two of Snyder's Corners' wealthy collectors who will do anything, legal or otherwise, to obtain this valuable addition to their collection. If they can't buy it then maybe they will have to kill for it.

Railroad (Double) Crossing is an inside look at the toy train hobby and the collectors who make up a large group of those involved in it. If you thought toy trains were just kid's toys, think again.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450201209
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/21/2010
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.41(d)

About the Author

Jim Mortensen's first electric train was a Christmas present from his parents in 1946. Fifty years later, because he thought his grandkids might be interested in them, he bought his next set. Jim, a retired high school math teacher, lives with his wife, Karen, in upstate New York.

Read an Excerpt

Railroad (Double) Crossing: A novel

A Skirmish in the Lionel vs MTH Train War
By Jim Mortensen

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Jim Mortensen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-0120-9


Chapter One

There was a huge wad of paper stuck to the face of the clock above and behind Bill Weaver's head. How and when it got there, he had no idea, but apparently one of his third period social studies students had fired it from someplace in the room. He chose to ignore it for the time being and just hoped he would remember to get rid of it before the end of the day so the custodians would not know how undisciplined some of his classes were. Although they could probably figure it out from other clues left around the room, like the "Fuck Weaver" gouged into the top of one of the desks.

It was a Tuesday, which, after Mondays, was the worst day of the teaching week. The students had recovered from the weekend and it was just far enough from Friday to discourage them from making weekend plans. Therefore, they took their frustration out on the teachers and their fellow students in the form of inattentiveness and harassment. Unfortunately, too, since it was only the third week of October, it was early in the school semester so that even the threat of final exams was not a deterrent.

Bill was getting sick of the whole thing. Having taught eighth grade students in the Rye Junior/Senior High School for twenty-nine years, he had seen it all and was reaching the end of his tether. He remembered that during his first few years some of the more experienced teachers had lamented about how student behavior was deteriorating badly as the years went on. Bill had laughed and just dismissed those complaints as the onset of old age. Now that he found himself in the latter stages of his career, he could not help but agree. Kids today were worse than their parents had been.

Was he coming down with burnout? He was not sure, but between increased New York State Education Department regulations, parental pressure, asinine requests from the administration, more testing, and increased discipline problems, Bill found himself looking more and more toward retirement. Fortunately, he was Tier One in the New York State Teachers' Retirement system so he could go out anytime after fifty-five. He found himself already counting down the days of those five remaining years.

Thank God and the teachers' union for a free period, he thought. At least he could get out of his room and get a shot of coffee. Slowly, Bill pushed himself up from his desk and grabbed the folder of essays on the causes of the Civil War that his honors class had turned in that morning. He knew that half would be direct, word for word, copies from the Internet while the rest would be a jumble of misspellings and grammatical mistakes. Either way, they were something he had to wade through since if the students realized how little he cared about what they had written, they might revolt. This kind of assignment was one of the many requirements handed down by the powers above to get the students to do more writing, with emphasis on quantity not quality. As with most of these added requirements, it was done without regard to the amount of extra work it made for those teachers who felt they actually had to correct this stuff.

Bill poked his head out the classroom door and checked for stragglers in the hall. Since classes had already passed and the halls were clear, the trip to the faculty room would be uneventful, without the usual jostling and banter from the students. So, aside from making his obligatory stop at the boy's restroom, his duties were over for one, fifty-minute period.

After checking each stall for smokers, Bill could not help but catch sight of himself in the mirror. He noted that, for a guy just at fifty, he still did not appear to have aged that much. His hair was still light blond and, if he sucked it in, his paunch was not especially noticeable. While in high school he had been a fairly decent athlete. At an even six feet and one hundred-eighty pounds, he had been a fairly good tight end and defensive back in football and sixth man on the Rhinebeck High School basketball varsity his senior year. He was good enough to consider walking on the football team in college but opted for the social life rather than put up with the training. Still, he played pickup basketball with the faculty team up until he turned forty at which point he realized he was taking more time to recover from the exertion than he wanted to. So now he confined his team sports to slow-pitch softball in a beer league during the summer months where he caught and batted cleanup. Aside from that, he played a number of rounds of golf during the warmer months of the year. While he was good enough to carry a 9 handicap, he limited his actual physical activity to getting in and out of a golf cart for most his rounds.

Other than those pursuits, his main exercise came as part of his vocation. He was the type of teacher who while in the classroom, kept moving, constantly observing his students and not making himself a stationary target. It occurred to him that all this moving around probably kept him in shape and looking younger. Ruminating on this, he pushed his way out of the bathroom door and made the rest of the trip to the teachers' lounge.

Once inside the room, Bill gave a general greeting to the few teachers who were sitting around the main table, tossed the folder down in front of one of the empty chairs, took his coffee cup down from the rack and filled it. He tossed a quarter in the jar next to the coffee urn to pay for what passed as coffee, stirred in some sugar and cream using a communal spoon, and set the filled cup down next to his place at the table.

"More papers to correct, I see." Mildred Kline looked up from her class book as Bill took his seat. Mildred was also a social studies teacher but in the high school. A few years younger than Bill, they had dated seriously a few years ago but mutually broke it off. Since neither one was willing to make a total commitment, they decided their relationship was not going anywhere and parted on amicable terms. Bill's biggest concerns, other than a past divorce, stemmed from the fact they were colleagues and he was struggling to make it on a teacher's salary while paying alimony and child support. While there was definitely an attraction, they just remained on a friendly basis.

"Yeah, this time it is the honors class so some will be reasonably intelligent reading. At least those copied from someplace on the Internet." Bill smiled as he flipped open the folder and took out the first essay and a red pen from his shirt pocket.

"Probably they used Wikipedia."

"What in hell is that?" Bill was puzzled by Mildred's reference.

"Oh, that's right, you're a Luddite. I forgot: no computer and no cell phone." While Mildred was needling Bill, she was also vexed by his lack of interest in these two modern appliances.

"I'm not a Luddite, exactly, I just don't trust that stuff." In truth Bill was not willing to put his faith in cyber gadgets. For one thing he was frightened by all the stories of identity theft stemming from computer use that were constantly in the news and, as a consequence, was one of the few on the faculty that had neither a computer nor a cell phone. Nor did he want either one. "Besides that, those damn cell phones can't get service where you need them anyway. I try talking to someone that is using one and they break up or get cut off. Why anyone would want one is beyond me."

"That may be true but don't you find it annoying that your students are more computer savvy than you?" Mildred was smiling.

"Not really. But when they finally get a computer that will grade these damn papers, then I might be interested in one. I suspect I'm going to be doing this by hand for a long time."

"Sure would be nice if the guys in the front office and state department who think we should be assigning more of this kind of thing were to come down and correct some of them."

"Yeah, and could, somehow, convince the kids that the writing they were doing for social studies and English classes were to be done in the same language." Bill had already circled the misspelling of the "Fart Sumpter" which he assumed was for "Fort Sumter" and underlined two partial sentences that made absolutely no sense. "It would help if the kids had some typing skills too. Hell, I'll give this one credit; at least he tried to copy from the website rather than just print it off."

"Makes you wonder if they think we won't actually read what they hand in."

"Ok, face it, a lot of teachers don't. You can't blame the kids for trying to get away with it with all their classes." Bill was beginning to worry if his red pen would have enough ink to get him through the period without returning to his room for another one.

"I agree. Laziness falls on both sides of the desk, I would guess." Mildred rose and went to the urn to refill her cup. "God, it seems like I need more and more of this stuff just to keep going." Smiling, she sat down and began copying marks from the student's papers into her class book.

Engrossed in trying to decipher a paragraph that was either about slavery or salivary-even having a spell-check program was no help to some of them-Bill did not notice the secretary from the main office enter the room until she tapped him on the shoulder.

"Mr. Weaver?" It was a question even though she knew perfectly well who he was since she not only had been a secretary in the system since graduating from high school three years ago but also was one of his former students. "You have a phone call in the office."

Had this been a normal classroom, the public address system that was wired into every room of the school would have been used to deliver this message. However, one time when the office secretary called in to inquire about a student, she left the return speaker on a little too long and the assembled faculty batted around unkind but truthful comments about the student without realizing it was being picked up and relayed back to the office. Inasmuch as the open mike transmitted these unflattering observations into the office and since the parent was standing within hearing distance of the main console, there had been fallout that placed the principal in an embarrassing position. Consequently, the PA system in the faculty room was rewired so only general announcements could be heard in the teachers' room and there was no two-way communication between the room and the office. Now, in order to get a message to a teacher, a secretary or a passing student had to be used to walk the dozen or so steps from the office to the faculty room to deliver it.

"Ok." Bill put down his pen and closed the folder. "Who from, do you know?"

"It is a woman who says she is your mother."

Bill was curious why his mother would be calling him at school but relieved that it was not a parent of one of his students.

"Hello." The phone lay on the counter in the office and Bill picked it up.

"Billy?" It was his mother's voice and she sounded as if she had been crying. His first thoughts were that something had happened to his eighty-two year old father.

"Yes, Mom, it is me. What's the matter?"

"Uncle William has died."

Uncle William? Bill had to stop and think for a moment to place his mother's brother. Of course, his uncle William Lawyer-never Bill or Will, always William-was his mother's only sibling. For years he had been the sole operator of the family's hardware/toy store in the upstate city of Snyder's Corners until the economics of the area caused him to abruptly shut down the shop in the early nineteen eighties'. Bill was in his late twenties at the time and away from home. The last time he had visited his uncle was when he was in his preteens, fifteen or so years prior to that. His most vivid memory was of spending hours poking around the store and the storage area on the floor above it. However, once he reached puberty and, having discovered girls, Bill was no longer interested in hardware or toys so had stopped making the upstate trip. In fact, he had not thought much about his uncle William in about thirty years and only vaguely knew his uncle had been in a nursing home for the last ten or so years.

"When? How?" Bill could not think of anything else to say.

"Apparently last night in his sleep. The nursing home called this morning. He was, after all, ninety-one, so it isn't a surprise, just a shock." His mother seemed a bit calmer now. "The funeral is on Friday at ten o'clock in Snyder's Corners and I hope you will be able to come."

"Of course, I have a lot of family days coming to me I can certainly take one or two for my uncle's funeral. Should I come by and pick you and Pop up or will you get up there some other way?"

"No, we'll be fine, Dear. Your father is a good driver and we can get as far as Snyder's Corners with no trouble."

Yeah, Bill thought, Dad's a good driver. Hah! His father was eighty-two, diabetic, with failing eyesight and almost total hearing loss, not to mention slow reflexes. Fortunately when he got behind the wheel he drove slowly and his mother did most of the navigation by shouting "Harold, look out for that!" when anything appeared to be menacing. Bill just pitied anyone who happened to be stuck behind them in traffic between Rhinebeck and Snyder's Corners.

"OK Mom, I'll meet you at the funeral home in Snyder's Corners sometime before ten on Friday. If I remember the city correctly, there can be no more than one funeral home so it shouldn't be a problem. You make sure Pop drives carefully now. Love you." Bill was about to hang up wanting to get some work done before the end of his free period.

"Oh Billy?" His mother always insisted on adding the "y" to his name, something he had dropped as soon as he graduated from high school and gone away to college.

"Yes?"

"Would you call Amy and tell her about Uncle William? I never seem to be able to get hold of her and you always manage to. Maybe she would be interested in going to the funeral too."

Amy was Bill's sister, a dozen years younger, thrice divorced and now single; she was living in New York City and working in New Jersey. Estranged from her parents for reasons never made clear to him, Bill was the only family member that managed to keep track of his wayward sister, who, despite two undergrad years at Vassar, was currently working as a waitress in a diner on Route 7 in Paramus.

"Sure, I'll give her a call. If she's interested in going, I'll swing by and pick her up. See you on Friday." Bill really had to get back to his papers.

"Thank you, Dear. By the way, the name of the funeral home is Gates and Sons and it is right on Main Street. See you on Friday. Bye." There was a click on the other end of the line.

Bill went back to the faculty room and picked up the folder. With only five minutes left in his free period, he had corrected exactly two papers, leaving him another twenty-four to go. This meant he was going to have to work late tonight not only correcting papers, but also making lesson plans for Friday so whoever substituted for him would have something to do. Luckily, since it was a Friday, he could plan to give the students a test, assuming he had time to write one up. Of course, too, it would mean more papers to correct when he got back. Dumping the half-cup of cold coffee into the sink and replacing the mug on the rack, he took his folder of papers and trudged back to his classroom. Mentally preparing himself for the rest of the day, he moved his Uncle William and Snyder's' Corners to the back of his mind.

Damn, he thought, I should have told them in the office while I was still there. I'm gonna want Friday off. He made a mental note to tell them on his way to lunch duty.

Chapter Two

Thomas Bisignani saw William Lawyer's obituary in the Oneonta Star. Tom always checked the obits first thing upon opening the paper to see if any of his peers had passed on. He joked with is wife, Becky, that he needed to check to see if he was listed just to make sure he should make plans for the day. Not that his demise was imminent as Tom was, at seventy-four and aside from a few aches and pains, in excellent health, the result of a lifetime of working outdoors. He prided himself in being able to keep up with men half his age when it came to lifting and hauling.

Tom had several memories of William Lawyer but he especially remembered the combined hardware and toy store the Lawyer family ran in Snyder's Corners. Foremost in this recollection was Lawyer's display of electric trains in the store window every Christmas. It was always one of the highlights of Tom's early years to stand, nose pressed to the window, watching the trains make their circuit of the track, ducking under tunnels in the snow-covered mountains only to reappear in the opposite corner of the display. A preteen boy could lose himself in this action. Second, and maybe more importantly, it was from Lawyer's store that his father had purchased Tom's first electric train set. It had been in 1938 and the train set had consisted of a used Lionel, Union Pacific streamline steam locomotive with four matching passenger cars, twenty feet of track and two manually operated switches. For an eight-year old boy, it was the best Christmas present ever and, even as a used set, probably set his father, who was a logger, back a couple of week's salary.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Railroad (Double) Crossing: A novel by Jim Mortensen Copyright © 2010 by Jim Mortensen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Railroad (Double) Crossing 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
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