A couple of choices: One if by rail, two if by sea

Monday Book Reviews

August 24, 1992|By Geoffrey W. Fielding FISH DECKS. By William McCloskey. Paragon House. 307 pages. Illustrated. $22.95.

TRACKSIDE MARYLAND FROM RAILYARD TO MAIN LINE. By James P. Gallagher and Jacques Kelly. Greenberg Publishing Co. 224 pages. Illustrated. $49.95.

JACQUES Kelly continues to amaze with his wide-ranging and in-depth knowledge of Baltimore and Maryland. When his talents are combined with those of James Gallagher, noted photographer of the Maryland railroad scene, the result is a coffee-table book that will have railroad buffs drooling.

"Trackside Maryland: From Railyard to Main Line" recalls that period when the nation's railroads, following the lush days of World War II, changed from steam to diesel. From the very beginning steam had dominated the railroad scene, both here and abroad.

Then, suddenly, it was gone. It was a time on which we now look with nostalgia.

Railroads, such as the B&O, the Western Maryland and the Norfolk and Western, dependent on the bulk freight traffic of the Appalachian coal fields, resisted the change, mainly to placate powerful mine owners. But economics said otherwise, and within a few short years the era of the diesel had dawned.

Lost were the great plumes of smoke and steam, caught in the early sunlight on a cold winter day. Lost was the throaty roar of the steam whistle. Lost, too, was much of the romance of the railroad engineer, who worked his way up through the system, personified by such romantic heroes as Casey Jones, with eye on the track and hand on the throttle.

Much of this is captured by the Gallagher photographs and the Kelly prose, both of which perpetuate the memory of those so-recently gone days. Unfortunately, one of my B&O memories is missing from this book: the Cincinnatian, which followed a daylight route through some of the most beautiful scenery in the East. Oh well, you can't have everything.

Geoffrey W. Fielding writes from Baltimore.

THE Baltimore writer Bill McCloskey doesn't fool around when he goes fishing.

He works as a commercial fisherman where the weather is cold, the work is messy and dangerous and the pay is terrible. Then he writes about it -- smoothly and enthusiastically.

A few years ago, Mr. McCloskey spent a season or so with fishermen in the waters off Alaska and produced a documentary novel about them called "Highliners" (a reference to the painted waterline that's high and out of the water on fishing boats when they're not laden with a catch). Now he's written "Fish Decks" about his subsequent adventures as a fisherman around the North Atlantic -- including the Chesapeake Bay but with more emphasis on the traditional grounds off New England, Newfoundland, Labrador and Norway.

"Fish Decks" is an admirable piece of journalism, as detailed and informative and empathetic as "Highliners," but frankly, as much as Mr. McCloskey clearly loves the life of commercial fishermen, both of his books on the subject make a landlubber wonder how anyone could ever choose such a risky and thankless occupation.

Somebody's got to do it, presumably: Fish keep a lot of people alive. And the fact that commercial fishermen (there are apparently very few fisherwomen) are among the last people on Earth who hunt for a living is doubtless very romantic. But commercial fishing also offers a hundred ways to freeze or drown or get crushed or maimed or cut to the bone. Few fishermen make a middle-class income dodging all those perils. All of them spend a lot of time away from their wives and sweethearts.

Mr. McCloskey seems to agree with watermen's complaints about restrictions on oystering and crabbing in the Chesapeake. More surprising: He seems to sympathize with those who club baby seals to death for their fur and who argue that seals would otherwise become so numerous they would starve and get infected and infect the fish in their waters.

The "Fish Decks" chapter on the Chesapeake stars such Eastern Shore veterans as Capt. Lester Lee of Kent Island, Capt. John Dize of Crisfield and Capt. Wade Murphy of Tilghman. Captain Murphy also appears in two recent picture books, "Chesapeake Bay" and "Chesapeake Country" -- and if he isn't careful he'll create the impression that watermen are supposed to be friendly to writers.

John Goodspeed writes from Easton.

John Goodspeed

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