Delaware Before the Railroads
Independently Published (2022)
Ten-year-old Dave Tabler decided he was going to read the ‘R’ volume from the family’s World Book Encyclopedia set over summer vacation. He never made it from beginning to end. He did, however, become interested in Norman Rockwell, rare-earth elements, and Run for the Roses.
Tabler’s father encouraged him to try his hand at taking pictures with the family camera. With visions of Rockwell dancing in his head, Tabler press-ganged his younger brother into wearing a straw hat and sitting next to a stream barefoot with a homemade fishing pole in his hand. The resulting image was terrible.
Dave Tabler went on to earn degrees in art history and photojournalism despite being told he needed a ‘Plan B.’
Fresh out of college, Tabler contributed the photography for “The Illustrated History of American Civil War Relics,” which taught him how to work with museum curators, collectors, and white cotton gloves. He met a man in the Shenandoah Valley who played the musical saw, a Knoxville fellow who specialized in collecting barbed wire, and Tom Dickey, brother of the man who wrote ‘Deliverance.’
In 2006, Tabler circled back to these earlier encounters with Appalachian culture as an idea for a blog. AppalachianHistory.net today reaches 375,000 readers a year.
Dave Tabler moved to Delaware in 2010 and became smitten with its rich past. He no longer copies Norman Rockwell, but his experience working with curators and collectors came in handy when he got the urge to photograph a love letter to Delaware’s early heritage. This may be the start of something.
Hi Dave, welcome to Reader Views! Tell us about your writing journey.
I got the writing bug in 1995. My father had just turned 70 and decided he wanted to write a memoir about what it was like to work on the UNIVAC, the very first computer as we know computers. He asked me to help him edit the book, and that drew me in. I have written a blog on Appalachian history from 2006-current day. About 2 years ago, I decided I wanted to hold a printed book in my hand. They seem more permanent than web creations. That was my jumping off point for this project.
What is Delaware Before the Railroads about?
It’s a historical overview of the First State from 1610 to 1832, when the railroads began running. The book is photographically driven, rather than text heavy.
What inspired you to write this book?
I came across a delightful 1938 Federal Writers Project guidebook to Delaware, which featured a slew of tours one could take in various parts of the state, highlighting famous landmarks. I was curious to know how many of those landmarks were still standing 85 years later. The answer is quite a few! I began retracing those tours, photographing the sites and recounting their stories using my own research.
What is Delaware best known for?
It’s right there on the state flag: December 7, 1787. The date Delaware became the first state to sign the US Constitution.
What would most people be surprised to learn about Delaware?
That we’re EAST of the Mason Dixon line. Most folks assume that line is only a north-south divider. It was actually drawn at a right angle.
How involved was your research for this book?
We are fortunate to live in an age when a vast amount of research can be done online. Ancestry.com, Internet Archive, Hathitrust, Newspapers.com, and many more such sites really save time and aggravation for history researchers. Nonetheless, I did find myself inside the Delaware State Archives and the Delaware Historical Society Archives on a regular basis. There’s still a world of material that hasn’t been digitized.
How long did it take you to write Delaware Before the Railroads and what did that process look like for you?
I get up at 4:30 a.m. each day, and write for 2 hours before breakfast. Then, depending what else is on the schedule that day, I’ll add in as many more as makes sense. But at least that amount every day. So I was able to photograph and write the entire book in just under a year.
Where did you get all the photos used in Delaware Before the Railroads? They are absolutely exquisite.
Thank you. I took the modern day images. I was trained as a photographer, and when I was coming up cut my teeth on National Geographic, Smithsonian, and a regional magazine called Arizona Highways, all of which have the highest photography standards.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
Just how willing to share their knowledge most museum curators are. When they encounter a kindred spirit who’s excited by history, it brings out their own enthusiasms.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you started out?
How much there is to learn about correctly formatting a book to look professional. I assumed I could do my own copy editing. Nope. I thought I’d be able to design a slick cover. Nope. And surely I could lay the guts out any way I pleased and still have it look like a high end publishing company’s work. Nope. I had several trusted friends pull me aside and insist I hire out every one of those functions. I’m glad I listened to their advice.
What do you like to read and which authors have inspired your own work as a writer?
I’m a big magazine reader. I like the Atlantic, Harper’s, the New Yorker, the Nation. Ripley’s Believe it or Not is a big influence, as is Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” radio program. Both brilliant short form storytellers. On that note, I love classic short story masters such as Saki, Maupassant, O. Henry, Chekhov.
So, what’s next for you? Are there more books in your future?
Yes. The Delaware book is the first in a 3-book series. Working on the 2nd one now, which will cover 1832-1907. The railways to the start of the automobile.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, as a writer or regarding life in general?
My dad encouraged all his kids to cultivate “stick-to-it-iveness.” Life will deal you setbacks. Get up, dust yourself off, keep going.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
Only write if not doing so will make you miserable. And don’t wait for the muse to strike. Sit down, begin, get it down. Eventually, the muse will show up.
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