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Rolling Home A Cross Canada Railroad Memoir [Hardcover]

Tom Allen


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Book Description

Oct. 11 2001
History, drama and personal memoir combine in Rolling Home, a clear-eyed look at the changing fortunes of Canada's railway, an icon in our nation's life. Tom Allen, host of CBC Radio Two's Music & Company, crosses the country east to west and north to Hudson's Bay, meeting passengers, engineers, cooks and porters, in a story that is part celebration, part travelogue and part lament.

Tom Allen grew up during the last hurrah of passenger rail travel in Canada. By 1961, the year he was born, the Canadian Pacific Railway passenger service was in trouble. In this huge and sparsely populated country, people were turning more and more to airlines and cars, to the point where only a small percentage of the travelling public took trains.

But even as the Canadian railroad steadily declined, its image has been steadily buffed with lore and romance. For early immigrants, it was their first introduction to the vast space of their new country; for later generations, crossing Canada by train was a rite of passage for many young people, eager to travel the length and breadth of the land.

In Rolling Home, Tom Allen travels with his family and alone, from Halifax to the interior of British Columbia, riding everything from a two-car dayliner held together with duct tape to a luxury rail cruiser through the Rockies that's packed with wealthy tourists. Along the way, he meets honeymooners and abandoned spouses, ordinary folk and deranged passengers, and has a memorable encounter with a charming man with no short-term memory. He meets visitors from abroad, local people on the milk run that provides a vital link between small remote communities, and veteran railwaymen who sustain pride in their work despite the massive cuts to their industry. Allen weaves his own memories of railroad travel with a family narrative past and present, all the while conjuring the drama, the disappointments, the history and the magic of Canada's railway history.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Canada (AHC); Canadian First edition (Oct. 11 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670884731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670884735
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 612 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #553,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

Tom Allen's cross-country rail-riding trek, Rolling Home, is far more than a travelogue--it is a resonant and significant work of social history. The railroad has played a pivotal role in the economic and political life of Canada, but years of government neglect have taken their toll. In his introduction, Allen explains his goal: "I went looking for what was left of the institution known as the Canadian Passenger Train." That search is the core of his memoir, and the author tackles his quest with serious dedication: Over a 15-month period, he travels from the Atlantic to the Pacific, even detouring up to Hudson Bay. Not content with simply peering out the window, he interviews those who work on and in the trains, conveying a real sense of the camaraderie of this mobile fraternity. He's not afraid to take the odd side trip, too, as when he stops in Toronto for an informative close-up look at the workings of that city's TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) system.

Taking the trip with Allen proves a delight. His agile sense of humour is complemented by a strongly humanistic approach to his journey. At times he lapses into a dew-eyed view of train travel, but he's generally very realistic about the experience. For instance, on the way to Churchill, Manitoba, he notes that "the black prairie stretched out into nothingness.... I looked up, hoping for northern lights. It was cloudy." His prose enhances the view out the window. The "dirty brown hare" he spies in a train junkyard is described as having "the kind of nasty, slow-moving lope of a neighbourhood thug."

In the intro, Allen writes that "a large metal box full of humans is never a pretty thing." Happily, he undercuts that premise by demonstrating in Rolling Home that travel in such a box can indeed be a beautiful and enlightening experience. --Kerry Doole

About the Author

Tom Allen, an accomplished trombonist, storyteller and broadcaster, is host of CBC Radio Two’s morning show, Music & Company. Previously, he hosted Radio Two’s Weekender out of Halifax, and Fresh Air, the weekend morning show for Ontario and Quebec. He has earned degrees from McGill and Yale Universities and has worked as an office temp on Wall Street and as a cook in a Mexican restaurant. His first book, Toe Rubber Blues: Midlife Thoughts on the Prospects of Aging, was published by Penguin in 1999.

After a ten-year hiatus from the trombone, Tom has begun playing again as part of a storytelling and music show with multi-instrumentalist and composer Andy Creeggan.


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