Book Review: A life on the rails: Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum board chair Alden Dryer pens autobiography

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 06-28-2024 12:53 PM

The Tired Telegrapher’s Terribly Tall Traveler’s Tale
by Alden Dreyer
privately published
160 pages, $19

Alden Dreyer has lived in Shelburne for decades and is the chair of the board of the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. As his autobiographical book reveals, he is a true New England character.

“The Tired Telegrapher’s Terribly Tall Traveler’s Tale” is subtitled “The Novel by Alden Holeywell Dreyer: Thief, Lunatic, Railroader, & ?” The most apt word in the subtitle is “railroader.” The book is not in fact a novel, although the author coyly claims to have invented some details.

Born in 1942, Dreyer had the misfortune to fall in love with trains just as the railroad industry in this country went into decline. His early jobs were spotty, but he finally found full-time work in his chosen field. Ill health forced him to retire early, but the writing was on the wall for trains even before then.

Nevertheless, he never lost his enthusiasm for railroading. After his retirement, he took train-oriented tours in many parts of the world.

His book is fascinating in many ways and frustrating in a few others. He writes early in the book, “I did not, and do not, understand why anyone would want to be a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Democrat, a Republican, a Catholic, etc. I just wanted to a person and work on the railroad.” Readers may be able to relate.

Even as he bares much of his life to the scrutiny of the reader, however, he hides more. He provides genealogy and many details about his parents, but the reader comes away with little sense of his home life growing up.

Similarly, he describes many women with whom he was involved and the briefness of his first two marriages, but he doesn’t share much of the emotion involved in those relationships.

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He is clearly a devoted father but doesn’t go into detail about his reactions to the developmental difficulties of one child and the death of another.

It seems callous to ask him to bare his feelings, but it’s hard to read about some of the events of his life (including his mother’s mental struggles) and not wonder how they affected his psyche.

Nevertheless, Dreyer does some things very well indeed in his book. It is beautifully laid out, with illustrations of many parts of his life, from photographs of ancestors to examples of paperwork from his railroad days. It would be a wonderful resource for someone hoping to put together a personal or family history.

Despite his reluctance to talk about feelings, he does allow the reader to peer through the window into his struggles to farm and to find love through the years.

And he shares his sense of humor and his love of all things railroad related.

Alden Dreyer will speak about his life and his book on Wednesday, Aug. 21, at 6 p.m. at the Greenfield Public Library. Copies of the book may be purchased at that event.

Meanwhile, the book is available at the World Eye Bookshop, and on Amazon and eBay.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning cookbook author and singer known as the Diva of Deliciousness. Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.