Isaac has always loved trains. From his earliest memories, trains have been scattered in his room, on his book shelves and in his thoughts. His favorite places to visit while traveling have been historic railroad museums in small towns through the U.S. At just 16 years old, he is often described as an encyclopedia of railroad knowledge. However, the thought of writing railroad stories did not arise until recently. His answer to a question he was asked during a recent interview, namely, “What caused you to start writing?” tells the story. He responded: “That is a rather interesting story, because up until recently, I didn’t enjoy writing. My desire to begin to write a book was a good example of the power of having a story that I really wanted to tell, and wanting to tell it until I finally sat down, wrote it for a little while, and then discovered that I really enjoyed writing”.
Isaac was influenced by several factors that caused him to put pen to paper and write. The way things began was wanting to write a book series about a short line railroad through the Ozark Mountains. What really started the ball rolling was finding a photograph, and drawings, in an old book from 1950 (American Locomotives 1900-1950 by Edwin P. Alexander) of Cotton Belt #412. In reading that section of the book, Isaac found that the locomotive had formerly operated in Arkansas, and probably was retired in the era he wanted the book to be in. It was a perfect fit. Worked in an area reasonably close. Likely retired in about the right time. In addition, he just flat out liked the engine.
The first book of the Great Railroad series is about the beginning of a short line in the Ozark Mountains, with the look and feel of a classic. It is 5 short stories about the retirement and sale of Cotton Belt #412, a small Baldwin Mogul-type switcher, followed by his use in the construction of the Ozark Mountain Railroad. The book ends shortly before the line opens, just after the engine (now Ozark Mountain Railroad #1) is named after one of the line’s initial investors. It is a wondrously illustrated choice of reading for train lovers everywhere; or a new favorite for young readers of short stories.
Parents and children who desire wholesome entertainment will enjoy this book, as well as train lovers of all ages. Being a train fan Isaac tried to, with the exception of the trains talking, make the stories as realistic as possible to the way a real American railroad operated. Isaac always appreciates help and/or correction to make his books even more accurate to the way a railroad is run.
Help is what Mr. Adam Burns, of American-Rails.com provided. Isaac was seeking obscure information about upcoming (and current) characters. He often digs in the archives of a museum in the Ozarks that accumulated railroad items from a small and now closed museum in the South. He loves to dig through the archives of former railroads including employee records, purchases and sales of equipment, original shares of stock and even accounting ledgers of every penny ever spent by the railroad. In this museum, the manuscript and all original notes from author James Fair, who wrote the book The North Arkansas Line, is displayed and a box of his research material is available for personal review. But after coming up short, Isaac contacted Mr. Burns and was thrilled to find assistance in researching the Arkansas & Ozark’s two locomotives, GE 70 tonners #800 and #900 (Thanks to Mr. Burns, we found out that #900 is now Santa Maria Valley #70), and Cotton Belt #412, formerly Blytheville, Leachville and Arkansas Southern #12, and originally Texas State Railroad #7.
Isaac has found that people are very kind in sharing information, history and memories of railroad knowledge wherever he goes. He has always been fascinated with the railroad and history surrounding how it brought life to towns across the nation. However, he is concerned by the lack of interest and exposure from children younger than himself and hopes that his book series may renew an enthusiasm for American railroad history. He also hopes to begin collecting as much railroad information he can through personal interviews, as he realizes the generation with the most first-hand testimony may not use the internet or have interest in writing a book. His thought is that if he could obtain about 20 people who formerly worked on now defunct lines, he would ask the same questions and document the answers in a book that might provide historical insight to railroads that ran between 1940’s through the 1960’s. Any thoughts or potential candidates regarding this project would be greatly appreciated.
Isaac is currently a sophomore in High School. His dream is to inspire children of all ages to learn about the impact of trains, and perhaps one day to build a line himself. You can sign up for Isaac’s blog where he discusses the history of the railroad and often includes videos of interviews with local experts and museum visits. He uses this information to write the “Great Railroad Series.” When he is not writing, you will find him in the Ozark Mountains enjoying all that life on a homestead provides. His beloved animals, LEGO trains, shooting sports, photography, art, science, survival skills, and reading are among his favorites.
Book 2 will be out in early Spring of 2018!
Some recent reviews on Book 1:
- "Readers of all ages, and stages will enjoy this wonderful story.
Train lovers and historians of course will LOVE it, but the story line is written so well that EVERYONE will be drawn into the tale.
The characters are wholesome, encouraging, and kind of heart; something that is very important to our family."
- "The illustrations are beautiful and help spark the imagination as you read along.
The quality is outstanding and VERY professional. Our family looks forward to the continuation of the series and watching this gifted author."
- "What a wonderful read for anyone who has been told they are old and useless and have no purpose anymore. This is a story about a steam engine that was made for a greater purpose that led to a more fulfilling journey. I kept thinking of the beloved classic, "The Little Engine that Could" and found myself cheering the main character on. I love that the series teaches on some actual railroad history in the Ozark Mountains area. This would be wonderful supplementary material for homeschoolers who are learning on the history of the railroad, or for anyone who loves trains as much as the author of this series. The additional materials to further learning and enjoyment offered at the back of the book are a plus! I look forward to reading more of this series in the future."
- "All my grandchildren are fascinated with trains. This was a wonderful story to read to all of them. They range in ages from 3 to 7 and were captivated just as I was to follow the journey of this treasured locomotive. Beautiful illustrations with a story to match. I look forward to reading more from this Series."
- "As a fan of historical fiction I found this book to be enchanting. It blends historic fact with fantasy that all ages can relate to. I love the message in the background that one is never too old to be useful and achieve success. The intelligence of the young writer appears in many different shapes and forms. I would recommend the story to all regardless of gender or a deep interest in trains. I look forward to the next book release. Congratulations to the author."
- "What a great book! My wife and I both read this book and we loved it! Isaac ben Levi, you definitely know how to draw your audience in. We really did love it. When it came to the end, we both wanted more! Please, tell us ... is there going to be a sequel? Go #1!"
- "Highly recommend! Wonderful reading for our sons, ages 5 and 9. Story line is engaging and pictures include authentic detail. Love the ties to actual history of the Ozark Mountain Railroad. Looking forward to other books in this series. Thanks to the author for including the free coloring pages on his website. And the Lego build is pretty cool, too!"
- "Though I believe it's intended more as a read-aloud for younger children, both my 12- year-old and 9-year-old daughters loved this book. The story is engaging and the language is not dumbed down in any way. We are eager to read the next installment of Andrew's adventures when it is released."
- "A great story from the eyes of a locomotive. Couldn't put it down once started reading it. Great gift for a child."
To order a copy of "Great Railroad Series: Our First Locomotive, Book 1" please visit the image link below.