Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Railroad John and the Red Rock Run by Tony Crunk illustrated by Michael Austin

Text © 2006 by Tony Crunk
Illustrations  © 2006 by Michael Austin

This is what you would call a tall tale. Lonesome Bob is headed to the town of Red Rock for his wedding to Wildcat Annie who is “..wild as a panther, but sweet as a honeybee’s gold tooth.”  Accompanying him is Granny Apple Fritter.  Wildcat Annie is very prompt and the wedding will start precisely at 2:00. If Lonesome is even one minute late, there will be no wedding. The engineer of the Sagebrush Flyer for the Red Rock run is Railroad John. Railroad John assures Lonesome Bob, with the refrain that he utters whenever an obstacle is encountered, “I’ve driven this train for forty years and we’ve never been late once yet.”

The ride to Red Rock is far from uneventful.  Passengers are confronted with one calamity after another.  First, the train is waylaid by an outlaw named Bad Bill, “the vilest, orneriest outlaw that ever scuffed up dust.” Bad Bill does not want money or other valuables.  Instead, he seeks some hot coals for his fire breathing palomino.  Flame, as his horse is aptly named, needs the coal to eat.  After Bad Bill absconds with every piece of the coal which provides fuel for the train, the Sagebrush Flyer is stranded.   Lonesome, rightfully so, despairs that he will be late for his wedding.   It is Granny Apple Fritter who comes up with a solution to their predicament. She offers the Hard-Shell Chili-Pepper Corn-Pone Muffins that she baked for the wedding reception. The muffins are, “hot enough to set fire to an iceberg," so they are used to heat the furnace to get the stem engine chugging along.   
Unfortunately that is not the last setback the passengers experience.  There is a fierce rainstorm that washes the bridge away, but quick thinking Lonesome uses his guitar strings as a lariat to lasso the other side of the bridge and send the Sagebrush Flyer swinging over to the other side.  The passengers' happiness is short lived for they then exhaust Granny’s supply of Hard-Shell Chili-Pepper Corn-Pone Muffins and are once again stranded. A distraught Lonesome “squeezes out tears the size of elephant’s eggs.”

Just when it seems as if things cannot get any worse, yet another catastrophe strikes. There is a tornado, an “Idaho spine-twiner.”  It lifts into the air the Sagebrush Flyer, passengers and all. It sends them swirling through the air, but then quite unexpectedly, gently sets them down at their destination, the town of Red Rock. Railroad John is a man of his word because the time is 1:59.  Lonesome Bob and Granny Apple Fritter dash to the chapel  with one minute to spare, but to Lonesome’s dismay, Wildcat Annie is not there.

Don’t fret, Wildcat Annie has not left Lonesome at the altar. It turns out she was delayed because she captured Bad Bill and gang and retrieved the coal that he stole from Railroad John. In addition, Wildcat Annie presents some Hard-Shell Chili-Pepper Corn-Pone Muffins to Granny Apple Fritter and guitar strings to Lonesome Bob as a wedding present. Lonesome Bob and Wildcat Annie get married and afterwards there is one heck of a hoedown.
Tony Crunk has written quite an outlandish and hilarious adventure. He uses very colorful colloquial English which provides many opportunities for the reader to ham it up and use a southern drawl.  Railroad John and the Red Rock Run was a hit in our home from the first time it was read and a year later it is still in frequent rotation. My children’s absolute favorite part of the book is the following illustration and the passage describing the effects of the tornado:

The passengers, “…looked out, and a cloud of feathers came flying past – then they saw the chickens! A clump of needles came flying by  - then they saw the porcupine! A slosh of milk came flying by - then they saw the cow!"

The sepia toned illustrations of Michael Austin resemble old photographs and are truly a joy to view. The two last pages of the book provide even more of a  treat, but you will have to read Railroad John and the Red Rock Run to find out what they are.


  1. Hi DQ, thank you for commenting. I'm hoping more people will comment, when they see a book that interests them. Go to and you can request that the book be sent to your local branch. The Chicago Public Library is such a wonderful asset. I am sure that once you borrow this book, your boys will love it so much you will have to buy it. Just like we did!