Buster Gaines, a naive, newly minted high school graduate in need of college tuition money ventures out into the world on his own and aboard the Texas Eagle in St. Louis. There he begins a summer adventure in 1966 working as a switchman in the Texarkana rail yards - an often thrilling but always dangerous job. He finds companionship with railroaders who accept him as one of their own and soon he discovers the thrills of being free to make his own decisions. Immersed in the racially charged setting of the mid-1960s, Buster doesn't seem to understand the intractable code for social behavior operating in the South and finds himself at odds with it. He tries to befriend an older black railroad employee, but when warnings against fraternization are ignored, the stationmaster decides to punish him and arranges a transfer to the much rougher rail yards of Shreveport, Louisiana. Preceded by his reputation as a "nigger lover," Buster finds he has been sent to a world alien to him. He is confronted by the contempt of the district railroad superintendent and quickly learns he has no acceptance among the members of his new crews. Their disdain for the young outsider soon manifests itself in acts of ostracism and defamation - and ultimately physical confrontation. Cherishing his job as a railroader while fearing for his safety and even his life, Buster must persevere and adapt to the reality of being alone in a hostile world.
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