Tin Lizard Tales: Reflections from a Train
Schuyler T. Wallace
Outskirts Press (2007)
Reviewed by Wendy Cleveland for Reader Views (5/08)
Schuyler Wallace and his wife, Carol (to whom he dedicates the book and describes her as a fantastic traveling companion) take a 30-day trip by train through the United States and Canada from Bakersfield, California in “Tin Lizard Tales.” (Tin Lizard was the name applied to streamliners by old-time railroaders which I did not know.) This 30-day trip encompasses stops in various cities from Sacramento, Chicago, New York City, Washington, DC, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Portland, and back home to Bakersfield. Along the way Mr. Wallace shares his experiences (some opinionated, some not) as well as the history of some of the cities. While they were traveling through Chicago there were essays on the Great Fire; Erie Pennsylvania on the fishing industry; New York City on the World Trade Center and Harlem, Washington, DC on Gettysburg, and Niagara Falls on Sing Sing Prison. Each section of the book was broken down by areas they visited. He describes the scenery and monuments like you were there. Their reaction to seeing the WorldTradeCenter site and the Statue of Liberty was particularly heart-wrenching.
Mr. Wallace was very vocal when it came to the environment (some of the places they passed in their travels were littered and dirty with graffiti), homelessness, poverty, and animal cruelty (he describes slaughterhouses of yesterday and today) which I found very hard to read. However, I did enjoy his comical side especially when he talked about his fellow passengers (the Balkan Bitch Chapter was hilarious) and the descriptions of the sleeping quarters as being smaller than an average casket. (That’s probably why they chose to make a few stops to stay in a hotel along the way. I know I would have.)
“Tin Lizard Tales” was well-researched, particularly the historical events and the evolution of trains and the Amtrack system. This book would fare well with both men and women who enjoy travel essays. As I’ve never taken a trip on a train before, I salute Schuyler and Carol Wallace for being able to travel and sleep on one for 30 days. He humbly sums it up at the end of the book “It was fun while it lasted, as they say, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”