Dick Tracy, an art director at DDB who works on McDonald's, comes from the small town of North Vernon in southern Indiana. His mother is the unofficial town historian, working to preserve the community's heritage, much of which revolved around the railroad.
When a local family came across a box of diaries and photos from an ancestor who had died some 20 years ago, they turned it over to Tracy's mother. She figured her son's artistic talents might help collect the somewhat intriguing trunk of memories.
The result is a self-published book, Through the Smoke and Cinders: The Stories of a Railroader's Life.
Tracy found the diaries' keeper, Louis C. Gearries Sr., had an amazing eye for detail as he chronicled small-town and railroad life in the early and middle part of the century. "The more you got into it, the more interesting it became," Tracy said.
Gearries wrote about such seeming minutiae as the purchase of his first new pair of shoes, recalling how "Mr. Gumbel stood behind the oak counter, putting down his cigar as he spoke." Another entry has Gearries recording every car that passed under a bridge upon which he idled away a summer afternoon.
"This man seemed to always be learning," Tracy said.