When you come to a railroad crossing, and are stuck waiting for a lengthy freight train, how often do you take the time to think about the history of that railway?
For Ralph Orlandella, the railroad and its history has played an influential and important part of his life.
Orlandella, born and raised on Elm Street in Lodi, recently authored the novel “Search for Judah’s Gold,” which deals with much of the history that Orlandella has surrounded himself with. His book blends both real-life history and fictional drama into a compelling tale about a search for lost gold hidden somewhere along the original route of the Central Pacific Railroad.
Orlandella, a volunteer docent at the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento since the museum opened in 1981, talked about his book while surrounded by the history that has played such a pivotal role in both his day-to-day life and the writing of his novel.
Q: What was your life like growing up?
A: My father and uncle owned a fruit-packing shed, and I would often go to visit them to watch them load the refrigerator cars that were bound for the East Coast. I went to grammar school at St. Anne’s.
Q: What prompted your interest in trains?
A: What got my interest really going was that we used to travel to the East Coast every year at Christmas-time, and I got to ride the California Zephyr. That’s where I got my exposure, and developed my love of railroading. The California Zephyr had five vista domes. I liked it so much that I bought three cars and ran them in the 1980s: The Silver Thistle, Silver Patio and Silver Buffet. They were all art deco design. I was able to take my love of trains as a kid and turn it into a business for a while.
Q: Do you still live in Lodi?
A: No. I lived in Lodi until I graduated from college. My first job carried me to the Sacramento area. I live in Elk Grove now. My roots are very much in Lodi. If I drive anywhere in that area, I try to stop at the A&W for old time’s sake.
Q: What genre is your book?
A: I’d classify it both as historical fiction and action/ adventure. It starts out more as the historical-fiction, and moves to action-adventure in the second half.
Q: Why historical fiction?
A: Even though the story is fictional, it could’ve happened. Many of the characters actually existed. Though much of it is fact, I’ve dramatized some parts.
Q: What kind of audience would enjoy this book?
A: Those who like railroad history, and those who like action/adventure novels would enjoy this book. Especially those who enjoy things to do with California. It’s a merger of both. It’s more intended for those who are into action novels, maybe action movies — that kind of reader. It’s not strictly history, but historical fiction.
Q: How significant are the locations in the book?
A: If I write about a specific area or spot, I’ve generally been there, and know it very well. I tend to take things that I know very intimately and put them in there.
Q: How long did it take you to write the book?
A: About a year off and on. The writing process took about six months, and another three to figure out how to self-publish. I had these ideas floating around for about three years, and writing helped to alleviate the boredom that came with retirement.
Q: Will you write another book?
A: Yes, but this will be a prequel to what I’ve already written. I wrote this book with the intent to do a prequel.