Jackson’s biggest tourist attraction is now the subject of a full-color children’s book created by two local author/painters.
Aaron Horrell, owner of the Painted Wren Art Galley in Cape Girardeau, and Barb Bailey, gallery manager, have collaborated on a children’s book that tells the story of a trip aboard the Iron Mountain Railroad, complete with the James Gang Robbery.
The 78-page hardcover book, which just arrived from the printer, is richly illustrated with 28 full-color reproductions of their fanciful, original paintings.
“Adventures on the Rails Vol. 1” contains two stories. The first is a reproduction of a 1992 black-and-white book Horrell wrote and illustrated years ago after riding the train pulled by the old steam locomotive, No. 5. It’s titled, “Baby Cinders & No. 5.”
Horrell originally published this story as a stand-alone paperback book. “They sold a lot of them here,” hesaid of the train’s Depot.
“We have a few at the gallery,” added Bailey.
“They are smaller; it’s not a very big book,” Horrell continued, describing his first effort. “I wrote it out freehand because I didn’t have a typewriter, and I didn’t have the access and knowledge to write something and have it taken someplace else to have it printed.” A local firm printed the original book for Horrell.
The second story is based upon a trip Horrell and Bailey took in early July on the Iron Mountain railroad, and is titled, “The James Gang Robbery.”
Originally, Horrell and Bailey were going to rework Horrell’s first book, replacing the hand lettering with typeset copy and adding color to the black-and-white drawings.
“We talked about it for two years, probably, and just never did it,” Horrell said.
Bailey said she was selling some of their other books (the current book is their 16th children’s book published since 2017) at the Jackson farmer’s market, which sets up beside the train one day a week during the summer months, when one lady asked, “Do you have a book about trains?” Bailey told the woman No, but she started thinking that she and Horrell should write one.
“We had talked about redoing his story, and we decided we would just keep that story and make a new story to go with it,” Bailey explained. “In order to have a hardcover book, we had to have at least 74 pages.
Barb called Elane Moonier with the Iron Mountain Railroad to let her know they wanted to write a book about the train, and Moonier invited them to take a ride.
“Elane invited us to ride on the train. We did. We took pictures, we took notes, we talked to people, and we came up with a new story,” Bailey said.
The artists chose animal characters to depict the crew and visitors aboard the train.
“We pretty quickly realized instead of trying to do little kids, this [book] would be a whole lot more fun with tourists being zoo animals from other countries,” Horrell said.
“We normally use animals as the characters in our children’s books,” Bailey added.
The crew consists of local domestic farm-type animals, while visitors to the train are exotic animals from faraway lands — ones you might see in a zoo. The artists ran their ideas past the real crew for approval, because they didn’t want to offend anyone with their animal choices.
In the story, the train’s crew retains their actual first names. For example, Elane Rabbit, who serves as the train chief, is based upon Elane Moonier. The engineer is Aspen Fox. The main conductor is Mariah Owl.
Unlike a lot of books with illustrations done by computer, the illustrations in this book are all hand-painted.
Painting in acrylic, Horrell and Bailey worked on two 6”x8” paintings at a time. Horrell started each painting, “getting them halfway organized,” he said. Then he passed the work on to Bailey, who added her personal touches and handed them back.
“So eventually, I’ll get it back from Barb; I’ll paint some more, give it back to her; she paints some more. It works out really well, because if I were doing them myself I wouldn’t come out with the same colors that are on each one. If Barb were doing them herself, they wouldn’t come out the same either. The color selection is different from artist to artist.”
The story is a retelling of the authors’ train ride. “There are certainly facts in there,” Horrell said. “It’s fun, but it’s factual in a lot of ways. And it’s a good read. It’s funny. There are some facts, but there is a also a good deal of humor.”
We want our books to be fun for the kids to read, and they learn a little something along the way, too,” Bailey added.
A wild turkey dressed as a conductor yells “All aboard!” in the same manner that it’s yelled in real life when one rides the train. The train car behind the turkey is green, and the windows resemble the windows on the real train.
Another signature of Horrell’s and Bailey’s paintings is that the artists try to hide a heart somewhere in each picture. “It might just be one heart; it might be several hearts,” Bailey said. Searching them out adds fun to reading the story.
Aaron generally writes the story lines for the books. Bailey types them into the computer, editing and embellishing what he writes.
Bailey is the “computer genius” of the two partners. She handles the layout, covers and publishing aspects of the book. Horrell oversees her work and is amazed by what she does.
Once the electronic files are sent to the printer, it takes about two weeks for the books to arrive.
The new hardcover book is self-published by Kindle Direct Publishing. It is available for purchase at the Depot, at the Painted Wren Gallery, at craft shows and farmer’s markets when Bailey is there and on Amazon.
Meanwhile, Horrell and Bailey have not slowed down. They are already working on their 17th children’s book, “Bandy the Rescue Pilot,” about an Australian Shepherd who flies a helicopter and has a beagle for a sidekick.
For those visitors who come to Jackson to ride the train and want to keep the adventure alive, “Adventures on the Rails Vol. 1” is certainly one colorful, fun way to do so.