Well, what can I say – or more appropriately what can I write – to explain another absence. The reason is simple. I got sidetracked by a new project – appropriately enough for this title – involving trains. My writing passion these past few months has been with screenplays. My earlier messages document my progress retelling the story of Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, who were imprisoned by the Nazis for sheltering Jews during the German occupation of Holland during World War II.

Running parallel with my writing is the attempt to learn more about the technical aspects of screenplay composition, such as formatting, as well as understanding the demands of the feature film industry. My pursuit to learn the latter proved something of a deterrent in completing my work about the Dutch sisters.

The industry, it seems, likes action over talk, showing instead of telling. There also seems to be some desire for true stories. Of this I am a bit skeptical when you consider the common fantasy fare at movie theaters and on streaming services. However, without any intention on my part this combination of action and true life adventure spurred a thought about a historic event of Biblical proportions although not based on the Bible. To explain this requires a personal bit of my own history.

Once upon a time I was the executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Museum. During my brief tour of duty in the Twin Cities an artist acquaintance of mine offered to donate a series of paintings he did to illustrate a story about an event known as the Great Hinckley Fire. The offer was made to me because Hinckley is in Minnesota and the story involves a train.

I said yes to the offer because I wanted to curry favor with the artist. I had no clue where Hinckley was located, no idea about the magnitude of the fire and virtually no knowledge about the railroad involved in the story. So mine was not a gesture of gratitude for illustrations of pertinent history, just a suck up for the prestige of having an instant and free collection of Ted Rose originals.

Ted’s gift also came with an autographed copy of the book written by Josephine Nobisso entitled John Blair and the Great Hinckley Fire. When I left the museum’s employ the paintings stayed with them. I took the book, which I still retain in my paltry private collection as a personal gift from an acquaintance.

In the midst of writing about the ten Booms I thought it acceptable to set aside some time to outline the events mentioned in the book. The focus of Nobisso’s creation is John Blair, the African-American porter on board the train, and his heroic efforts to comfort and save the passengers and Hinckley refugees seeking salvation from an immense conflagration. The outline was easy but it sparked some questions for the purpose of establishing a greater context to a limited aspect of a story presented in a children’s book replete with Ted’s illustrations.

Context requires research and research is demanding. I am now in possession of six more books and my own feature film script about the fire. I succumbed – not to the flames – but to the compelling accounts of people caught up in a conflagration of such magnitude, the fire created its own weather system. Now I can’t wait to see how it plays out on the big screen.

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