Maybe it's true that you're blessed if you have good friends in high places. Or maybe, as noted in the '60's, it's even better to have high friends in good places. But if you're a person who, like me, has always had a thing about trains, it's really, really good to have a friend who owns a railroad.

Tom Gray is my new friend. His family owns an excursion rail line, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, in the historic silver mining town of Virginia City, about a 45 minute drive up the Geiger Grade from Reno. Virginia City is where the Comstock Load fortunes were made and where Samuel Clemens cut his journalistic teeth.

This is the off season for excursion railroads, and a good thing too, because their 82 year old steam locomotive that wows the tourists up in Virginia City has been ambushed by suddenly more stringent federal regulations. It seems that a boiler explosion (NOT in Virginia City) that claimed a few lives has put the heat on this country's steam locomotives.

While his steamer is having its boiler refitted, Tom, a stockbroker during the week, spends his weekends up at the railroad museum in Portola, California. There, a recently-acquired cute old yard diesel is being repaired so that it may stand in for his steam engine for a year or so.