Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shot in the dark

The biggest problem I've run into while updating my 1994 book Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America for ebook publication this spring is tracking down the old Amtrak train crew members the book celebrates.

I rode the California Zephyr with a dozen of them and interviewed another dozen or so in crew bases and at stations. That was in 1991, more than 20 years ago.

The idea is to tell "Where They Are Today" in a long epilogue written for the new edition.

So far I have located ten crew members and station personnel, plus two civilians also featured in the book. But there are seven to go, and despite my best efforts they are elusive.

Part of the problem is my lack of resources. If I were wealthy, I could hire a skip-tracer private eye to do the magic they do on television cop shows with computers and supergeeks. But no, I've had to rely on free Internet tools available to me, such as

The trouble with these Internet resources is that they are at bottom commercial ones and naturally want to be paid. They may find people with the same names (and ages) as the ones you're looking for, but more often than not the information they display is old and outdated (the phone numbers tend to be out of service) and if you check the box to see what the most recent info might be, you get a page asking for money first. A couple of times I've paid, but to no avail.

Of course some of the old crew members I have found have been helpful—they remember that So-and-so moved to this locality and here's his phone number, but it's ten years old. Often checking a local phone directory for that locality yields a number of identical names, and a couple of times just eliminating them one by one finds the man or woman I'm looking for.

What about Amtrak's media relations and personnel people? Won't they help? I have asked, but they seem to be extremely busy as well as perhaps overextended—right now the national railroad is streamlining its management ranks by downsizing with buyouts and the like. I doubt that they have the resources to help out writers of old forgotten books.

And so here's a shot in the dark—these are the old crew and personnel from 1991 I'm still trying to find:

Reggie Howard, train chief based out of Chicago, now returned to sleeper service
John Davis, chef, based out of Chicago
Altagracia Romo, food specialist, based out of Chicago
Noel Prell, lounge car lead service attendant, based out of Chicago but a resident of New Orleans
Mimi Earley, Denver station manager
Chris Younger, assistant engineer based in Oakland
Bob Pimm, conductor based in Oakland

If by some chance you are a rail buff and happen to know where any of them might be, pray let me know. You'll get a free copy of the e-book in the format of your choice as well as my undying gratitude, for whatever it's worth.


  1. Some of these names are pretty common, but a quick search on turns up one Mimi Earley.

  2. Yup. But it's not the Mimi Earley I'm looking for.

  3. Found Chris Younger on Google Plus. Six to go . . .

  4. Found Bob Pimm, too, on a West Coast rail crew forum. Five to go.