Rail Pundit, we'll not forget you

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Friday, November 11, 2016

Edited 9:30 pm, November 11

For several years, it’s been a poorly kept secret that a frequent responder to my blogs was my friend and fellow journalist Larry Kaufman. His handle was Rail Pundit. OMG, but he could raise hell! I would read his posts taking one after another of you to task for  your alleged stupidities and think, geez, should I step in? One time I did intervene after Larry and another participant got really hot and personal with each other. Off list, I emailed them and listed the reasons I was proud to be their friend and suggested they had more in common than they thought. Within a week, they were the best of friends.

Larry got out of college in 1958 and went to work for the flagship of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, the Cleveland Press. He never stayed anywhere very long. I met him when he was transportation writer for Business Week and I was labor correspondent for U.S.News & World Report. Several times in his career he crossed to the “other side,” working in press relations for the Association of American Railroads, Burlington Northern, Southern Pacific and Norfolk Southern, somewhat in that order. But he ended his working life with flying colors, as the rail writer for the business newspaper Journal of Commerce. By then he truly had an insider’s knowledge of the railroad industry, and it showed in the stories he wrote. I admired the man greatly—not just for his intellect and guts, but for his good looks and world-class smile, neither of which he ever lost. And let’s not forget that for a couple of years he was a columnist for Trains Magazine.

In his retirement, I noticed that Larry was involving himself in the blogs on the Progressive Railroading web site. Believe me, he was pugnacious—always opinionated and in peoples’ faces. So when someone calling himself Rail Pundit began posting responses to my blogs with those same Kaufmanesque flourishes, I quickly emailed Larry and welcomed him. He asked why I thought he was Rail Pundit. I said don’t be silly, you’re pretty transparent. And thus began several years of almost nonstop entertainment as I watched Larry mix it up with one and all on my blog. I could not have been prouder to have a man of his energy and intellect sounding off under my banner.

One of my favorite Pundit quotes was from a year ago, when age and illness had begun to mellow Larry. I wrote a blog entitled “Hypocrite of the Year” that attacked Connecticut Senator Blumenthal for being two-faced—never mind what for. Larry shot back: “When picking a hypocrite of the year, don't forget the entire Congress.  Yep, the same guys who like to refer to themselves in the third person as ‘this honorable body...’”  

But he could also be as blunt as a sledgehammer. Replies to a blog on the threat of a railroad shutdown because positive train control could not be completed by the statutory deadline got a bit heated and political, and Pundit told one person: “You present yourself like the angry, old, white guys who think Donald Trump is the solution to every problem this country faces.” Yes, he was a liberal Democrat of the old school, and proud of it. I loved this shot across the bow of someone who referred to “brain-dead liberals”: “Care to tell us what you are prattling about?  What has your comment got to do with railroading and/or?  I bet I can find someone just as intelligent as you who thinks you should not be allowed to vote.”

These were among the nicer things he said in posts. I tolerated almost everything he wrote because quite often the egos he so gleefully deflated were ones I thought needed a pin stuck into, and Larry could do it so well.

A bit over a year ago Pundit and I had lunch in Denver. Larry was not well. His kidneys had failed as a byproduct of some medical problem and he was on dialysis three days a week. There were other health issues. And then his contributions to our collective conversations tailed off and ceased.

Larry Kaufman died Tuesday in Golden, Colo., where he lived with his second wife. He always spoke so well of Donna that I regret we never met. He was a part of our community and will be missed, I suspect most of all by those who he fought with hardest.—Fred W. Frailey

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