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Strangers on a Plane

Jan 11, 2012 by     3 Comments    Posted under: Slice of Life

I’m not usually big on conversing with strangers, especially when flying – but it has been known to happen on occasion despite my best efforts to the contrary. Last week, I was so happy it did. During my flight back home from Chicago with my fellow Daltonites, I ended up having a fascinating conversation with a gentleman by the name of David Bright – a 20+ year Navy veteran who is now working out of Charlotte as a software engineer for ADP.

Since serving as the youngest member of the Central Texas Civil War Roundable in his youth, David’s always had an interest in the Civil War. However, that interest took a turn toward the logistics of warfare after serving aboard an oiler off Vietnam as a new Navy ensign. In the late 90’s, he stumbled across a book titled “The Railroads of the Confederacy” by Robert C. Black that spread some light on the history of the Confederate railroads. After finishing the book, David began to wonder what impact different logistics decisions would have made for the Confederacy.

Not much had been written about the Confederate railroads since Black’s book, so David decided to delve into the subject to determine the answer to questions like, “the Confederacy was short on locomotives. How many did they have? How many did they capture and manufacture. How many did they need?” It was the search for the answers to those types of questions that led to the creation of David’s website, Confederate Railroads, which serves as the culmination of David’s work on those questions to-date.

With twelve years of his free time dedicated to the task and a good bit of traveling required by his current position, he’s been able to catalogue 14,000 pages on his website (including maps, original documents, translations and essays) and nearly 80% of the railroads and stations traveled to, I’d say David’s well on his way to unearthing some of those answers.

My conversation with David reminded me of an old adage I heard while growing up:

“The only thing that changes in a person’s life from year-to-year are the book they read and the people they meet.”

It’s pretty safe to say that I’ve got the whole “books they read” part of that adage covered, but I might be skimping a little on the meeting new people. Sure, I do the whole “networking” thing (both online and IRL) when I have time, but it frightens me a little to think of all the great stories I’ve missed by shying away from the randoms life throws at me. Here’s to a new way of looking at things in 2012.