Currently viewing the tag: "James Rada Jr."

A new serial fiction story for your enjoyment about the odd effects of grief.

Written by James Rada, Jr.


Her own screams woke her from her nap. That’s how it always was for Betty Douglas. Sleep was a fleeting thing, if it came at all, and it was never a peaceful affair, just something she did to pull herself through to the next day.

Yet the next day was never any better than the one before it. More of the same emptiness. More of the same fears. More of the same pain.

Betty never left her property anymore because she would have to go past the end of the driveway and that was an evil place. A place where death was stronger than life, and it hurt her to see it. It reminded her of what Old Kiln Road had done to her son…her Peter.

Can an inanimate thing kill?

She had asked herself that question 10,000 times if she had asked it once. Around the 4,000th time, Betty began to think the answer was “yes.”

Old Kiln Road was evil. It was a murderer. In particular, the stretch of road that ran in front of her home. The road ran from Roddy Road, north, with a couple of hard turns to Motters Station Road. In all, it was about 2.5 miles long, with a few dozen homes along it and a lot of open space.

For as long as Betty could remember, there had always been a lot of roadkills on Old Kiln Road. Back when Betty used to like to sit on her front porch, she saw a dead animal almost every time she walked out her front door because most of them seemed to be along the stretch of road that ran in front of her property.

Rabbits, dogs, cats, possums, raccoons, and some unidentified remains. Still, she hadn’t ever thought it was anything more than the result of a losing battle between Mother Nature and modern technology.

The only thing Betty had thought was odd was how completely the dead animals decayed. She never had to take a shovel out to the road to bury the dead animals because they always seemed to disappear after a few days.

And there was never any smell. Oh, she’d seen the birds picking over the bones, and the flies swarming over the bodies. Then one day, she would come out, and the first corpse would have vanished, a brand new animal laying splattered on the road.

In all her years of porch-sitting, Betty had never seen an animal killed, only the remains. Then one overcast day, she saw it happen. Normally, she wouldn’t have been outside on such a dreary day, but the house was stifling hot because the air-conditioning needed a shot of freon. Her husband, Jack, had called the repairman the day before, trying to get him out to the house.

So, Betty had walked out onto the porch to get away from the heat. She sat down in her favorite chair, a wooden rocker Jack had bought her when she was pregnant with Peter. As she rocked back and forth, Betty watched the sparse traffic go back and forth on Old Kiln Road, a car every 10 minutes or so, if that much.

She wasn’t the only one watching either. On the other side of the two-lane road, a beautiful collie sat in the grass, its head swinging back and forth. The dog had to be someone’s pet. Betty wondered where the dog had come from and why it just sat watching the road. It looked as if it was waiting for something.

From the south, an unseen car engine roared as the driver picked up speed on the straight stretch of road. Betty’s house was close to one end of that stretch and the only one within a quarter mile.

Peter came to the door and said, “Mom, can I have a cookie?”

Betty looked over her shoulder. Peter was standing in the doorway, smiling that innocent way he had of grinning. Betty couldn’t resist him.

 “Only two. And put the jar back when you’re done,” she said.

Peter went back inside the house, and Betty again turned her attention to the dog on the other side of the road. It was standing now and stretching as if it was preparing to cross the street.

 “Don’t come now, puppy,” Betty muttered to herself. “Can’t you hear that car coming?”

The car was maintaining a good clip, probably going about 50 miles an hour. The collie watched it come. Betty was happy that the dog wouldn’t become roadkill. It was such a pretty dog.

Right before the car passed the dog, it suddenly jumped onto the road. The collie was too close to the car for it to slow down and let it pass. It happened so quickly, Betty only had time to open her mouth to yell. The truck hit the dog, knocking it to the ground and then catching the collie under the truck tires. The car slowed, but rather than stop, it sped up to get away from the scene of the accident.

Betty’s scream died in her throat as she just stared at the corpse. The dog had committed suicide. That’s the only way she could describe it, as she gaped at the mangled, bloody corpse.

Of course, Jack hadn’t believed her. She had told him the whole story when he came home from work that night. He had just muttered, “Stupid mutt,” and went off to watch the evening news. Peter, on the other hand, had asked her if he could have a collie for a pet.

Betty knew it was more than the fact that the dog was stupid. The collie had seen the car coming, and it had jumped in front of the car. That night, Betty sat out on the porch, staring at the corpse. The first scavengers, the birds, left near sunset, leaving the disfigured corpse laying on the road. By morning, other small scavengers would have come and picked over the dead collie.

Even as Betty watched, a raccoon crossed the street and stopped to smell the corpse. While it was chewing on the dead collie’s ear, a car along the road drove by and flattened the raccoon. Betty almost screamed.

She had lived in the house for seven years without ever seeing an animal killed on the road, and now she had seen two animals killed within half a day of each other.

She shook her head back and forth. Had the collie moved? No, it was dead. She had seen it killed. But the dog’s corpse was moving. It was sinking into the road as if it was a ship sinking in the ocean. How could that be? The asphalt was a solid surface.

Why hadn’t she ever noticed this before? No one had ever mentioned something this odd to her, but who actually watched the road? Peter was always playing in the backyard, and Jack was usually away at work. But it had happened. She had seen it. When she had slowed down enough to pay attention to things, she had finally noticed what had been happening right in front of her own home.

That night, Betty dreamed of Old Kiln Road as a giant beast. The road was actually a long, black tongue, leading into the dark throat of a sleeping beast. The tunnel of trees that shaded the road at the top of the hill formed the throat. And the beast was always hungry, even in its sleep. It was like an angler fish that dangled its bait to attract food. The road was the bait that lured other animals into the maw of the beast.

Catoctin Furnace vs. Thurmont

by James Rada, Jr.

In September of 1838, a Mechanicstown, Maryland (present-day Thurmont), resident wrote a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser.

He told the following story. Earlier that month, shortly before sundown, around a dozen employees of Catoctin Furnace had had too much to drink. They came into town with two slaves for the purpose of “using up people.”

The men started a fight with two townspeople. “The people, anxious to persevere the peace, and apprehending the consequence of their remaining in town, used every means to persuade them from the place. They, however, refused to go and became more violent, until at length, one of the citizens, after in vain urging a Negro fellow to throw away some stones with which he had armed himself, attempted to take them from him by force; this the Negro resented, with violence, and the citizen knocked him down,” the newspaper reported.

Apparently, when at least one of these people tried to get back to his house, the Furnace mob followed him with clubs and knives, “invading and disturbing the peace and quiet of his family, compelling him to escape through a window to which fortunate circumstance probably he owned his life,” according to the letter writer.

The town constable got involved and arrested the slaves and imprisoned them. However, the Furnace workers instituted a jailbreak and freed them.

The letter writer said, “This act, though highly outrageous, the people were disposed to tolerate, as some of the rioters proposed to depart, and here it was thought the matter would end. We were, however, disappointed. Someone demanded more whiskey, and this the landlord refused to give, supposing no doubt, that they already had too much, and dreading the consequence of giving them more. Upon this, one of them left the crowd, but returned in a moment with an axe, swearing that the landlord who refused to sell liquor ought to have his sign post cut down, and accordingly commended hewing at the post.”

Finally, the people in town had had enough and fought back. One of the citizens tried to pull the axe away from the worker and received a severe blow. Suddenly, people were arming themselves with stones, bricks, bats, or whatever they could grab.

The workers were eventually driven out of town “some of them so severely beaten that they could not reach the Furnace, though but three miles distant, without having their wounds dressed,” according to the letter writer.

Interestingly, the letter writer noted that it was a good thing that the slaves left before the fighting began. He said that he had no doubt that if they had gotten swept up in the fight, they would have been killed.

Once the workers were driven out of town, residents appointed guards to patrol the streets. At the close of the letter, the writer pointed out that the people of Mechanicstown were peaceful and hardworking, but “any attempt to disturb the people hereafter, in a similar manner, will be opposed by an efficient force well prepared for the purpose.”

The story shows that there was tension between the blue-collar laborers and slaves of the Furnace and the small businessmen and farmers of Mechanicstown.

A unique aspect of this story is that slaves stood with Furnace workers during the fight. The white workers even rescued the slaves from jail.

This 1890 view shows the Ironworks, the Catoctin Furnace Supply Store, and the Manor House.

Photo Courtesy of

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the great national project that failed to live up the dream. It never reached its ultimate destination, which was not Cumberland, Maryland (where it wound up), or the Ohio River (as the name implies). The early vision of the canal planners was something far grander and longer, and it’s just one of the secrets of the C&O Canal.

In his new book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History Along the Potomac River, award-winning writer James Rada, Jr. (pictured right) tells the stories of the canal, its people, politics, and connection to history.

If you’re wondering where the canal could have gone, one possibility was that it would have ended at Lake Erie to offer competition to the Erie Canal. You can discover and alternate starting point in the book.

Other “secrets” of the canal include: Discovering the connection between the C&O Canal and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; Finding out how building the canal led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution;    Discovering how the Johnstown Flood helped kill the canal; Solving the mystery of two murders on the canal that never actually happened.

“I’ve been writing about the C&O Canal for eighteen years,” Rada said. “It was the subject of my first historical novel. I love it, and I keep coming back to it as a topic for stories.”

Rada considers “secrets” in this book as stories that aren’t widely known. When speaking to audiences about the topics of his other “Secrets” books, he has found that people whom he expected to know all of the stories in his book knew half of them.

“And those were people who you would expect to know all about the topic,” Rada said.

These are stories that Rada discovered looking through old newspapers and journals, and they cover a wide range of areas.

“These are stories that caught my attention in one way or another,” Rada said. “They aren’t the types of stories you find in history books about the county, but they are part of the area’s past.”

Secrets of the C&O Canal contains sixty-seven black and white photographs and illustrations that help bring the stories to life.

“I love writing about history,” Rada said. “I love finding interesting and unusual stories about people and places, and I haven’t come across an area that doesn’t have plenty of these stories.”

Secrets of the C&O Canal is the third in a series of books that Rada is writing about regional topics.

James Rada, Jr. is an award-winning writer, who Midwest Book Review called “a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.” Leatherneck Magazine called The Last to Fall “a superb book.” Rada has two dozen writing awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists, Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, Maryland State Teachers Association, and Utah Ad Federation. He has been writing about history for nearly twenty years and still finds it fascinating and new.

“History is not boring. It’s full of love, adventure, comedy, and mysteries that still aren’t solved to this day. It’s those types of stories I like to write, and I believe I’ve pulled together a great collection of them for this book,” Rada said.

Rada is the author of twenty books, most history and historical fiction. His articles have been published in magazines like The History Channel Magazine, Boy’s Life, and Frederick Magazine. He also writes four local history columns for The Cumberland Times-News, The Gettysburg Times, The York Dispatch, and The Catoctin Banner.

Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History Along the Potomac River retails for $19.95 and is available at local booksellers. For more information about James Rada’s books, visit his website at

by James Rada, Jr.

Hitchhiking Marines Get a Special Ride

Marine Pfc. Harold Payne and Pfc. William Weaver were stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, but when they got a weekend pass near Christmas of 1956, they decided to head home to the Midwest. Payne was from Akron, Ohio, and Weaver was from DeWitt, Michigan.

The snag in their plan was that neither Marine had a car, so the young servicemen set out on foot, thumbing for rides as they went. Since they were wearing their uniforms, it was relatively easy for them to get rides at first.

They were about halfway along their 700-mile journey on the Friday afternoon of December 10, 1954, and the pair found themselves at Grafton Street and Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. Despite being in uniform, no one seemed to be willing to give the Marines a ride.

They watched as a procession of dark vehicles approached along the road.

“At first when I saw these cars coming along, I thought it was a funeral procession,” Payne later told the Akron Beacon Journal.

Lucky for them, a decorated World War II Veteran was in one of the vehicles. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was a former five-star general and had been the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the war, was on his way to Camp David with his wife, Mamie.

“The president’s car was stopped at a red light, preparing to turn onto the main highway, when Eisenhower saw the two men and ordered the motorcade to a halt,” reported. “He dispatched James J. Rowley, leader of the U.S. Secret Service, to ask if the Marines would like a lift.”

They quickly accepted the offer. “Eisenhower didn’t exactly scooch over on his seat or have Mamie sit on the servicemen’s laps, but he did direct them to a waiting vehicle in the motorcade,” according to

The Marines rode in a car, two vehicles behind the president and one behind the first lady. “Got a good view once in a while of the back of the president’s head. Mrs. Eisenhower turned around every so often, and I could see her pretty well,” Payne told the Beacon Journal.

The president’s valet and a Navy doctor rode in the same vehicle as the Marines. They talked on the drive to Hagerstown, where the president dropped the Marines off before heading over Catoctin Mountain to Camp David.

Meanwhile, in Hagerstown, Payne and Weaver decided that if they were going to have time to spend with their families, they had better pay for some transportation.

“It got cold, and I hopped a bus to Pittsburgh and then another one home,” Payne said.

Their hitchhiking journey turned the men into folk heroes, as newspapers across the country carried the story that the president had picked up the hitchhikers. The president did something similar three years later, when he saw Airman Second-Class Jerry Beswick hitchhiking through Frederick. The president was passing through the city on his way to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and he gave the airman a lift to the town, where he then caught a bus to continue his journey. He had his car stop next to the airmen. Then he rolled down the window and said, “I thought we’d give you a lift.”

This wasn’t the first time that the president gave a lift to a hitchhiking serviceman. “He rarely passes them on the highway,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Photo shows President Eisenhower in a motorcade.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Deb Spalding

In addition to serving as The Catoctin Banner’s Contributing Editor, and writing the monthly column “Looking Back” that appears in the Banner and four other newspapers, full-time freelance writer James Rada, Jr. is the author of 18 books. These include five historical novels, seven historical non-fiction books, and others exploring a wide range of genres including young adult fiction, thrillers, and fantasy.  Jim said that 80 percent of what he writes is history based, adding, “If I have an interest in the story, I will explore it.”

Raised in suburbs of Baltimore, Jim first discovered his love for writing while in kindergarten. He dictated the words for his first “book,” Mickey’s Dream, to his teacher and then drew pictures to go with it. It was about Mickey and Minnie Mouse going on a date.      Then, in third grade, he and a friend wrote stories about the Bionic Boys. Jim called these stories fan fiction since they were watching “The Six-Million Dollar Man” on television. Seeking to encourage Jim and his friend in their writing, his third-grade sent them to the first-grade classes to read their stories to the students. They loved the stories. Jim explained, “Seeing that reaction from the kids — that’s what hooked me on writing.”

Though his work spans several genres, the foundation of his writing is, “To share the stories of ordinary people who have led extraordinary lives.” He was interviewed as a subject on WHAG’s Sunday Newsmaker in October. You can view the interviews online at

Jim’s short stories were first published when he was in high school. He also wrote his first novel, The Guardian Angel, in high school, but he never published it. Jim has claimed a natural growth in his writing, starting with short stories, and progressing to novels.

A graduate of Brigham Young University, he majored in Mass Communications with an emphasis in advertising. This gave him experience in copywriting, ad production, and public relations. He even sold newspaper ads in college.

After college, while working at a biotech company, he began selling some short stories. He said, “Short stories didn’t pay well then, and they don’t pay well now. I was just happy to be published.”

The time was 1993 and Jim decided to become a free-lance writer. He advises promising writers, “Start while you have a job. Develop contacts with magazines and news-papers for articles, so you get the clips you’ll need in your resume. Work with a lot of different magazines.”

Jim and his wife moved to Western Maryland in 1994 where he eventually took a job as a newspaper reporter. As a reporter, Jim drove in demolition derby, flew in a B-17 bomber that had to make an emergency landing, rode with police on drug bust and had to sit in the back with the perpetrator, and had a lot of fun experiences.

Other assignments weren’t so fun. September 11, 2001 was his day off. When he heard about the planes hitting the Twin Towers in New York that morning while running errands, he went in to work to give extra help. He was told to take a photographer and head towards Summerset, a town about 45 minutes away where a plane was said to have crashed. Jim said, “Even the police didn’t know where they were going.” They finally arrived at the site at Shanksville where Jim went house to house to interview people. He was there all day and wrote an article about the crash and their impressions of the day. He was one of the first three reporters on the scene. By afternoon, tons of people had arrived.

His first two novels were published in 1996. One was a young adult novel and the other was a thriller. While they sold plenty of copies, neither one made him a lot of money.

Then in 2000, he decided to publish his third novel himself. Canawlers would become part of a trilogy following a fictional family during the Civil War on the C&O Canal as they faced problems on the canal that were caused by both the Union and Confederate armies, as well as problems caused by Mother Nature and the railroad. He wants his readers to understand is that the canal was the true dividing line between north and south, not the Mason Dixon Line. He said, “The people working the canal were truly caught in the crossfire at that time.”

He advises wannabe authors that marketing is more work than writing the book and putting it together. He described, “Promotions, press releases, talking to people, book signings, and shows, it’s a lot of work.”

His family moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 2004 when his wife got a job as medical technologist for Frederick Memorial Hospital. Jim worked for a short time as a reporter before becoming the editor with the Dispatch newspapers in Emmitsburg where he worked until he became a full-time freelancer in late 2008.

His most recently published book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy, is Jim’s first biography. It is about the experiences of 92-year-old Chuck Caldwell. When Chuck was 14 years old, he attended the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and has autographs from the soldiers. He fought at Guadalcanal as a marine. He also worked with the aboveground atomic bomb tests in Las Vegas. Jim said, “He has a rich history of military experience, perseverance and determination that others need to hear.”

Jim has received many writing awards from the Maryland Delaware DC Press Association Society of Professional Journalists, Associated Press, and others.

Visit or to learn more and purchase his books.


James Rada, Jr. is shown at a library exhibit, one of many where he promotes his books.