Coming this Weekend: Railroad Train to Heaven
Beginning Saturday, Collingswood Patch will join fiction writer Dan Leo's serial odyssey in weekly blog installments.
Railroad Train to Heaven is the living work of fiction writer Dan Leo, who's been working on its more than 300 weekly installments for the better part of five years.
In an e-mail describing the project, Leo says he had no idea what he had begun until after he wrote the first chapter. It's evolved as a sort of open-ended, experimental fiction: the invented memoir of a Philadelphia man from a bygone age of fantastic and noirish elements.
With 305 episodes in the books already, there's something of a backlog for completists. That's why Leo offered this one-sheet, below, which will catch up new readers to the project.
We hope you enjoy Railroad Train to Heaven, and invite your thoughts each week as the story continues.
THE ACTION SO FAR...
In January of 1963, a quiet Philadelphia bachelor of forty-two named Arnold Schnabel suffered a complete mental breakdown.
Schnabel, a brakeman for the Reading Railroad, an usher at St. Helena’s Catholic church, and a part-time poet, had lived with his mother in a row home in the Olney section of Philadelphia his entire life, except for three years’ service with the army engineers in World War II.
After three months in the Byberry state mental hospital in Northeast Philadelphia, he attempted to go back to work on the railroad, but was soon, for undisclosed reasons, put on an indefinite leave of absence at half-pay.
That summer his mother took him to stay with her three maiden sisters at their boarding house in the quaint Victorian resort and fishing town of Cape May, New Jersey. It was her hope that the change of scenery and the seaside air would facilitate Arnold’s recovery.
Sometime in the June of that summer Arnold began to compose -- writing with a Bic Pen (innumerable Bic pens) in marble copybooks which he bought at the local Dellas’s 5&10 -- the mammoth prose work which would prove to be his masterpiece, perhaps the greatest prose work in the English language: Railroad Train to Heaven.
Encompassing some three million words, this strange and wonderful memoir recounts Arnold’s adventures not only in Cape May (and encounters with a dramatis personae including Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, both the son of the Deity and the Prince of Darkness, a talking Victorian doll called Clarissa, and an ancient shop-keeper by the name of Mr. Arbuthnot with the ability to stop time), but also in other times and other worlds, including the next world, or perhaps we should say “a next world”.
Let us join Arnold now in his current predicament, trapped in the lurid pages of a cheap paperback novel called Say It With a .38, written by the forgotten hack Horace P. Sternwall, and narrated by an adventuresome seafaring fellow named Big Ben Blagwell...
Want to begin at the beginning of Railroad Train to Heaven? Start with Episode I—posted June 8, 2007—on Leo's blog (warning for the faint of art: some of the hardboiled story elements may contain racy images).