No, that’s not a typo in the title. It’s about the hero of a Western novel who so resembles him that you’d think he was an earlier incarnation of the famous president.
Railhead is the novel, by California writer Guy Franks (Old Line Publishing, 256 pages, $17.95) and the hero is Robert Riordan, a decorated Union officer in the Civil War, Illinois legislator and businessman who, with his wife Helen, is on a trip in 1869 on one of the first transcontinental passenger trains to California. He is recognized on board by an enterprising young reporter from Maine whose assignment is to tell of the life of the towns springing up along the Union Pacific line. The young man introduces himself and that is the beginning of what turns out to be long-term relationship.
The book has, in addition to the hero and the young reporter who records everything, a crooked town marshal, predatory mafia-like bosses, elected officials with questionable ethics, and cowed citizens. Oh, and don’t forget the pretty, but hard-to-get girl who makes the young reporter’s heart flutter.
Riordan, approaching 70, is looking for a new challenge to which he can apply his drive for clean government, free enterprise, stability, and economic growth. When they stop in the town of Goshen, Wyoming, he quickly sees the opportunities and the challenges thwarting them. He decides to stay and runs for mayor. Pete Hammond, the reporter, he hires as a campaign assistant and, after he wins, as city clerk.
Hammond had only intended to stop in Goshen a night or two, but when he and a train friend decided to visit some of the town’s saloons everything changed. At the Headquarters Saloon, owned by Con Moyer, a drunken bully he had encountered on the train, he was slipped a drugged drink, then harshly beaten by Moyer’s thugs. When his friend, Pat Dunn, tried to intervene, he was shot dead.
After Hammond recovered and helped Riordan win the election, the new mayor launched a series of scenarios that thwarted the machinations of The Majority, the name of the mob in Goshen (rather than a majority, it consisted of a handful of ruthless predators).
In one of these encounters, he manages to get the town marshal to step down and brings in Gil Donovan, a fabled law-and-order man who had tamed more than a few towns.
The Majority then contrived to get the local union of teamsters (which they controlled) to refuse to unload the rail shipments of goods on which the town’s merchants depended to stay in business.. They made outrageous demands, including that the town council raise taxes. Riordan quietly called on the nearest Army post to provide soldiers to unload the rail cars and thus ended the strike. He persuaded the teamsters that they would get better pay by directly negotiating with the local merchants and letting business grow.
Riordan’s stock with the citizens was very high, but the hated Majority was not on the ropes just yet. They had some more tests up their sleeves, including a final dramatic one that could have destroyed much of the town.
Through it all Riordan, whose nickname was “Butch,” exhibited all the characteristics we associate with Ronald Reagan: self-confidence, self-reliance, optimism, modesty, loyalty, tolerance, good humor, determination and reverence for God. Also, several of his anecdotes will sound very familiar to Reagan followers.
To see how everything turned out, you will have to read the book.