Those that know me well are very familiar with the book I talk about the most. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson challenges me in new ways every time I read it.
But that's not the whole story...
A few Christmases ago, my wife of 24 years really surprised me. I'm notorious for being hard to buy gifts for. She handed me a small present, and as I opened the box, a largely forgotten world I had long ago been immersed in came flooding back into my mind.
I turned 8 in the Spring of 1983, and was perusing the shelves of the Highland Elementary School Library in Downers Grove Illinois. I was obsessed with Trains and Jeeps at this point in my childhood, and on the bottom shelf, where Dewey decimal books in the 625.19 section were sorted, rested a small treasure.
As I recall, the small school library had exactly one model train book, and in my mind I can see exactly where it was. Near the floor, just inches from the well worn library carpet. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can remember the smell of the place. It was the same room where I watched the Space Shuttle Challenger explode on live TV. It's a hard place to forget.
How to Run a Railroad, by Harvey Weiss became my obsession, and in many ways is my favorite book of all time. I pulled out the book and headed to the librarian's desk to check it out. Those my age or older will remember well that books had a card sleeve inside them where you wrote your name so the library knew who had the book checked out.
Over the next several years, that checkout card would have my name on every single line on both sides. I'm guessing I renewed it 40 or 50 times.
When I got home that evening, I read it from cover to cover. It was the first book I read that wasn't part of a school assignment. And by read, I mean devoured.
I can't find any pictures, but my best friend Andy and I spent countless hours researching, building, experimenting and generally obsessing about our model trains during the 1980s.
Mistakes were made, but my skills in electronics, woodworking, model making, planning, engineering, and more were all fueled by our train hobby. This later spilled over into Radio Controlled cars and planes, but the trains are where my true love still lies.
When I take this book off the shelf and thumb through it now that I'm in my 40s, it's eerily familiar. I know every word and every detail in every picture.
I don't know how popular this book was or how many kids like me were so heavily influenced by it. When I think about sharing how to do things with others, I think of Mr. Harvey Weiss and his train book. Maybe he reached thousands of kids, and maybe it was just me. But I'm glad he wrote it and it's motivation to create and write and share my own work and interests.
Thanks Mr Weiss, wherever you are.