Leap into the Snow
[Note: photos on this page represent the story and were not taken by the author.]
February 11, 2005
Bob sent me this story I believe is worth putting in the Big Four Memories section. I can't imagine having to jump from a moving train in frigid weather no less. See if he will give you permission. Also encourage him to share others as he is a good writer and has a good memory. He even remembered we had a little black dog as he delivered our mail one year during the Christmas rush! He might also have some of his dad's experiences to share as his dad was with the Big Four. He said they came to Wabash in 1945.
Karen Smith Dinsmore (Memories of a NYC RR Train Girl)
From: Robert Stierwalt
Feb. 10, 2005
I thought I would relate a story of an adventure on the railroad.
During the holidays the younger guys in seniority generally got called for the extra jobs when the older men laid off. I don't remember the exact year but it was in the early 60's when I was called the day before New Years for an extra north from Anderson to Elkhart a trip of 128 miles. It was really winter in Indiana at that time, cold, cold, cold and a heavy snow on the ground. I reported for duty at the prescribed time, late in the evening and was pleased to see we were assigned a couple of EMD (General Motors) covered wagons. A lot of the men called these engines the Cadillacs, they were very comfortable and always warm. We left the engine house and tied onto our train of about 80 cars of mixed freight with about 20 cars of coal on the rear end close to the caboose. We made the air test and got permission to depart and cross over the B-Line and head north. We picked up our train orders downtown Anderson giving us the right to operate on the railroad between Anderson and Elkhart: example "Engine 1869 run extra South Anderson to Elkhart". and we got a second order reading "Extra 1869 north take siding and meet number 75 engine 5608 at Boliver".
We started north and the engines were doing a good job as we rumbled through the countryside on a cold winter's night, the last day of the year. It was clear and it was cold but the cab of the engine was warm and with most things closed because of the holiday we looked forward to a quick trip to Elkhart. The only problem with the train was the coal on the rear end, the slack in the train would run in when we encountered hills and when we had to stop. Extra care had to be taken with the air brakes to avoid harsh slack action that could result in the train being torn in two.
We were rolling right along, stopped for the block which guarded the interlocking with the Nickel Plate Road at Alexandria, and then continued through the Indiana countryside. Through Summitville, then Fairmount, (James Dean was born here), Jonesboro and into Marion where we got a green signal to cross the Pennsylvania railroad. After passing Kent Tower we had a green at 3rd street and away we went heading out through north Marion toward Wabash. The next challenge would be Wabash where we would encounter a 2% grade after passing the river and the depot, it would be quite a drag up the north hill.
We started down the south hill into the Wabash River valley; everything going great, it was a nice train to handle using the train brakes against power to keep the slack stretched and we came down the hill very smooth. Then 30 MPH across the bridge, past the depot and started up the hill, we soon slowed down and with the engines in the 8th throttle notch we were on the hill. We were on a dead pull and the EMD's were doing good, just a touch of the sander valve once in a while to keep the wheels from slipping and keeping my eye on the AMP gauge to reduce the amps when they became too high to also prevent slipping. With the engines mostly in the 8th notch we sure were making a lot of noise heading up the hill in the cold still winter night. Finally we drug over the hill and were very happy to not have to double the train.
By the time we reached Speicherville we were almost back to track speed and approaching Urbana with Bolivar not far where we had a meet with the southbound. The Engineer on the southbound, #75 was my good friend Earl Sharp. I saw the interlocking signals at Bolivar in the distance and prepared to begin stopping for the siding around the curve. I moved the automatic brake valve to the application position, drawing off about 7 to 9 pounds then to the lap position and released the engine brakes to prevent train slack from running in. I completed stopping the train about 3 or 4 car lengths from the switch. The brakeman got down and threw the switch to head into the siding. As he got back on the engine he said, boy is it cold out there, the snow is crunching under my feet.
We headed in and started down the siding; there was a road crossing about half way through the siding and with the snow as deep as it was I was worried about the crossing being covered with snow from the snow plows. We moved very slowly and as we approached the crossing I could see in the glare of the headlight the crossing was snow covered and it looked like the automobiles had packed the snow in pretty good. As we started across the crossing, I felt the wheels on the engine raise up and drop off the rail (derailed) I put the train in emergency. And guess what, the coal on the rear end came running in, shoved us over the crossing, and we started down the ditch on the west side. The lead engine started to turn over and we decided very quickly it was time to exit, the fireman, the brakeman and I jumped out into the cold and landed on the frozen snow and ground.
Looking back we saw the train had stopped but the lead engine was tilting at about a 45 degree angle, only the fact it was coupled to the second unit was keeping it from turning over. We looked the situation over and decided to try to crawl back in the cab to get warm. The Conductor walked up and we told him the situation so he went back to the company phone booth by the siding and called the dispatcher and reported the derailment, also told him the road crossing was blocked and to alert the police and fire departments in North Manchester. All we could do at this point was to get comfortable and wait.
When I landed on the ground after jumping I hurt my left knee and it was throbbing but at least we were warm but terribly hungry. About an hour later a car drove up to the crossing and a fellow walked over; turned out to be the agent at North Manchester. He filled us in on what he knew and asked if we were hungry, to which we replied YES. He said, "I will go home and have the wife make some ham sandwiches and some coffee." An hour later he returned and we had a feast.
Sometime around 7am the Wabash Yard crew arrived after being called out to pull our train to clear in the siding. #75 sitting north of the southbound signal cut their engines off and brought them to us. Since they had three units, they gave us two and kept one which they later tied unto our second unit, so we each had two units and we left the derailed engine in the siding. It took quite a while to do all this switching around but we finally got things arranged in weather 15 below zero. We headed north and then #75 went south. No more problems for either of us.
I hope you enjoyed the story; I went to the hospital in Elkhart, got my knee x-rayed, nothing broke. I had to take x-ray treatments on it for awhile but it got OK. .
Robert Stierwalt hired out 6/25/53 at Anderson . In the middle 60's became road foreman at Corning, NY-Trainmaster Bay City,Mich - Detroit as Rules Examiner and then Labor Relations in Detroit, Altoona, and Indianapolis Then back to Detroit until retirement in 1990. His father was the engine house foreman at Wabash. Now resides in New Mexico.